A year ago, the MeToo movement reared its head far above the acceptable ceiling of online polite conversation. I let out a sigh of relief.
Finally, scores of women (and far fewer men and transgender people) were sharing stories of catcalling, groping, harassment and assault. After a few hours, the narratives acquired a tinge of the archetypal – the bodies of women are never entirely their own. Laid bare for all the world to see was the ubiquitous nature of sexual harassment.
Unfortunately, within a few hours of the movement trending on Twitter, the trial by the Twitterati began. I watched as men in the public arena were humiliated for everything from a stolen kiss to a hand on the knee to far more serious accusations of molestation and rape.
I watched as minor infractions were clubbed with brutal rapes.
I watched as angry feminists and woke men abused an entire gender, and then issued hypocritical, public apologies when they were pulled up for the same behavior.
I watched as people become more and more tribal, and hateful, sexist hashtags like #killallmen and #Ihatemen were celebrated as solutions to sexual harassment.
I watched the online mob decide the fate of men who were guilty the second they were accused.
I watched illogical epithets such as #believeallwomen, #Ibelieveher, and #believeallsurvivors give the middle finger to due process. A bit of thought and care could have led to more compassionate hashtags like #listentosurvivors. Sadly, thought and care aren’t the founding principles of most Twitter gatherings.
I watched people put up lists of random men, but provide absolutely no reason as to why those names were on that list.
I listened to people complain about how the burden of proof for assault lies with the accuser, not understanding that this is how due process works: Innocence is assumed until a person is proven guilty. Hence, the accuser must provide evidence so the accused is not unfairly sentenced. This is a means to protect values of democracy and civil society, despite seeming unfair and rather long-winded on occasion.
I watched due process be damned. Who has the time and energy and money to fight a case through the legal system? Instead, why not publicly castrate someone and make them lose far more?
I watched how something good can become utterly depraved, when, under the guise of female empowerment, the goals of public shaming, systematic destruction of reputation and revenge are pursued.
I cringed when I saw pages and pages of texts on Twitter and Facebook, outlining private chats and sexting, and read intimate details of private communication between two or more persons. So intimate and detailed it only had a place in a court of law.
I hurt when I realized many of my fellow citizens have no interest in furthering a conversation about how men and women communicate, experience sexual arousal and orgasms, flirt and interpret nuance, draw boundaries, and create a sort of lose rubric that is culturally appropriate. Everything is under the umbrella of systemic sexism and the patriarchy; therefore, there is no discussion to be had. Men are at fault, and they must pay. End of discussion.
I watched how MeToo became a route to advance political agendas, with zero sympathy for Dr. Ford or Kavanaugh during the Supreme Court trials. It made me feel even more apolitical than before.
But worst of all, I watched how multiple public lynchings of persons were justified in the name of wokeness.
And this is my primary issue with the MeToo movement. I don’t support lynchings of any kind, online or offline. An online lynching is conceptually equivalent to the historical lynchings of black men on suspicion of sexual contact with white women. It is conceptually equivalent to the mob lynching of lower caste men in India, beaten to death for minor or alleged transgressions.
How far removed is an online lynching from a physical one? The systematic unearthing of a person’s data from decades ago to create an ad hominem attack is unjustifiable, unless it is used to build up a case in a court of law. (And even then, it is often unethical).
Are you now going to tell me it’s justified to ruin someone online because men hold all the power in a patriarchal society? You can tell yourself whatever you like. But it doesn’t change the reality of lynching, which uses extrajudicial means to punish a representative of a hated group, and control their behavior. It is a means of revenge, not closure.
The impulse to abuse a complete stranger, who’s been accused on Twitter by someone from their echo chamber, only shows how tribal and irrational people can become when fear and anger are roused. And nothing is more dangerous than unbridled emotion with no direction that has the power of the mob behind it.
The desire to strip men of their power for the cause of women’s rights, without giving them a chance to defend themselves, without caring an ounce about the impact on the women in their lives – their mothers, their sisters, their daughters, reeks of something sinister to me.
The ability to be righteous about something that doesn’t affect someone personally makes me sick. On countless occasions, I’ve heard women say, “So what if a few good men get lynched in the process? The movement is more important.” That’s where I draw the line. Because this is a movement about the struggles of people, and their lives and histories matter. They may not matter to you anymore, because you have successfully dehumanized them.
And yet, we believe we live in a civil society.
We believe that a civil society should not jail people for decades for possession of a few extra ounces of marijuana.
Then we must also believe that a civil society has a sliding scale for sexual harassment and abuse, so punishments can be appropriately meted as and when needed.
We must insist that a civil society has due process for survivors of assault and harassment, in a respectful manner, if they choose to pursue the matter legally. We must not be quick to dispense the same punishment for offenses of different magnitudes. Punishments could range from a slap on the wrist, a fine for smaller injustices, a suspension or termination of employment, or time in prison for greater ones and serial offenders.
We must have faith that a civil society seeks to integrate those who are capable of remorse for making women feel uncomfortable for smaller infractions. Sometimes, counseling may be all that is needed.
We must hold faith that a civil society can rehabilitate and re-integrate repeat offenders in certain circumstances, after they have done their time.
We must ensure that a civil society has equal rules for men and women for assault, if we want real equality. That implies an unsolicited dick pic is not more or less offensive than an unsolicited Brazilian wax pic, assuming all other factors are equal. It implies an unwanted grope remains an unwanted grope, irrespective of gender. And it implies that a grope is NOT equivalent to rape. Because it really isn't.
A civil society understands that most people aren’t monsters. Human beings are messed up, complex, and can carry on in the world despite large amounts of cognitive dissonance. We are flawed. Terribly flawed. But we have the capacity to bear much suffering, and become more than we were a mere thought ago.
We must strive to have a civil society that has space for civil discourse about uncomfortable issues with inherently blurry boundaries. It’s time for men and women to sit in the same room and have a real conversation. Perhaps, the time’s really up.