Has the Me-Too/Times-up backlash against men gone too far? How to restore good gender relations? And is a feminist also a sexist?
All men who have (or have had) a genuine and positive close relationship with a mother, wife or daughter would be strongly against any violent activity towards women – such as bashings, rape and even murder. We also think that any ‘real man’ would agree that no woman should have to put up with the behavior of a demonstrated sexual predator such as Harvey Weinstein (1) or Larry Nassar (2) – let alone a truly evil and depraved person like Charles Manson (3). In short, we believe that most men would support at least some of the basic aspirations and standards or values which inform the spontaneous #metoo social media focus and phenomenon.
However, as is starting to be better recognized (e.g. 4) the #metoo uprising (which includes a reasonable focus of concern and push for change) seems to have also been somewhat hijacked by male-bashing extremists, by some women who want to believe that all men (and relations notions of masculinity and ‘maleness’) are inherently bad and either put in their place or destroyed, and by all sorts of people (including uncritical media who have joined the latest frenzy). These ‘hijackers’ are people who are often either so confused and suspicious or rather incompetent and/or dishonest that they tend to lump not only all men but all categories of miscommunication and also behavior (including flirting, innuendo, and even well-intentional ‘chivalry’) into a category of ‘sexual harassment’ further linked with associations of violence, bullying, evil, etc. This is not only widely and enthusiastically reported by an uncritical media (many of them a disingenuous ‘male feminist’ type of man) but actively encouraged by people who love a frenzy, a scandal and a bandwagon to latch on to inflate themselves – that is, people who are NOT genuinely interested in justice, fairness and improving future and global gender relations. This is all further epitomized by how #metoo has morphed into #timesup (i.e. which also has all manner of extremist and male-bashing associations as well as reasonable ones about the transition to a new 21C paradigm of gender relations that incorporates and reconciles rather than polarizes and tries to selectively destroy masculine roles and stereotypes from the past) (e.g. 5).
Of course, the problem with any vigilante crusade or ‘witch-hunt’ is that as the fairness of due process (and natural justice) is ignored or dispensed with altogether, it becomes enough just to name some man to humiliate or blacklist them and/or destroy their reputation and career (with the media hungry to complicitly assist). For instance, the career of the boorish pest (more than anything else perhaps) actor Craig McLachlan was effectively destroyed in recent weeks (6). Likewise just one anonymous and secret claim never revealed or tested against the respected and brilliant Geoffrey Rush lead to a media headline which has effectively trashed his reputation as well whatever the result of his legal action to defend his name (7). Both McLachlan and Rush were hastily lumped in with Weinstein, etc as ‘sexual predators’ but given no real chance to defend themselves in public and/or in the media. Amongst those who do really deserve to be ‘named and shamed’, there will be many unfairly and/or disproportionately vilified and attacked. In this way #metoo also became the excuse or pretext to (a) go after all men in general as well as any particular case, (b) to do so also in terms of misrepresenting or exaggerating trivial items or even mere misunderstandings for other agendas (e.g. to also ‘settle’ personal scores or grievances, minor or even imagined slights, personality clashes, and hasty judgments about people’s intentions from possibly misunderstood words or actions), and to generally spread and enflame self-reinforcing and also self-defeating aspects of fear, suspicion, anger and hatred.
It has thus become too easy in any individual case to label and destroy, to know the real truth, and also thus too hard now to defend when ‘named’ (i.e. for anyone to really know the full truth). But the real crime is how the use and abuse of ‘naming’ has moved from the individual level to attacking all men. In short, its hard to comment on individual cases but overall #metoo has become basically a counter-productive and destructive force. As was well-put by one of the few men game enough to even try and point this out (the comedian Dave Chapelle): “You got all the bad guys scared, and that’s good…But the minute they’re not scared anymore, it will get worse than it was before. Fear does not make lasting peace.” (8a). As was even better put by the wise writer Ursula Le Guin: “Anger continued on past its usefulness becomes unjust, then dangerous . Nursed for its own sake, valued as an end itself, it loses its goal. It fuels not positive activism but regression, obsession, vengeance, self-righteousness. Corrosive, it feeds off itself, destroying its host in the process” (8b).
Last week I heard the universally respected Ita Buttrose say on a television chat show that “… men should respond to some of the unfairness of #metoo. Why aren’t they sticking up for themselves as a gender – like women are doing?” The answer to this mainly lies in how in Western countries a form of radical feminism has generally taken over education, bureaucracy and even sections of the media for a long time now (i.e. Hollywood and the entertainment and hospitality industries in particular being privileged and largely exceptional anachronisms). Our use of the term ‘radical feminists’ does not just include conventional man-haters and peddlars of a ‘patriarchy conspiracy’ view … but also a certain type of millennial sense of entitlement and victim mentality motivated rather by a youthful blend of ignorance, immaturity and ego. The radical feminists also tend to unfairly and selectively impose their notion that all women are oppressed also on women from other cultural contexts [I was once at an academic conference where many women from the Asia-Pacific region got together to voice their frustration at and challenge to what they saw as the uncritical arrogance at privileged western feminists dominating the conference who (a) also presumed to speak for ‘them’ and (b) failed to appreciate the complexity of gender relations in all cross-cultural contexts and across the tradition vs. modern society divide.]
Because of this many men have been effectively intimidated, too often denied a real chance of self-defense, and even bullied into silence (corresponding to how more moderate feminists also too often default to more extreme views). We are not just talking about those ‘accused’ but those that plead for due process, for greater fairness and for an end to lumping all men into the same predator category. An example of this is the actor Matt Damon whose challenge to #metoo was also quickly beaten down by a vicious public and social media campaigns for daring to plead such a case – and forced to make a groveling apology for even existing let alone trying to bring greater reason, balance and fairness into the picture (9). And then there is the ‘revenge porn’ case of a woman who targeted a Netflix star (Aziz Ansari) at a party, got them to go out on a date (and expected ‘interaction’) which they found disappointing (10) – so this became another #metoo beat-up when this anonymous woman went to a newspaper and had a reporter to pay her money and write up an account of the date as a focus to apparently try and bring another man down.
Even fair-minded women and also moderate or more ‘balanced’ feminists who have tried to caution those pushing the #metoo frenzy have all been quickly targeted, attacked and silenced as well. This is similar to how the woman who began a feminist hatchet job on the so-called men’s movement only to realize there was a valid other side of the story being ignored [in the documentary film Red Pill] was soon being nastily attacked by the sisterhood for daring to break ranks (11). In relation to #metoo, respected actresses like Catherine Deneuve (who represented the letter of challenge to #metoo by 200 high profile French women ) (12) and writers like Margaret Atwood (13) have been quickly taken to task and often nastily so by the radical feminist party-line which has become the orthodoxy also of respected public media as well as social media networks – their crime being to dare to suggest that women in general need to take greater responsibility for themselves and not so easily lapse into either a victim or revenge mentality .
#Metoo does not resolve but just intensifies an underlying contradiction and challenge for females young and old generally – some wanting to impress, seduce and appear attractive to men (and/or other women) especially, and some don’t. As Brigitte Bardot, Pamela Anderson, and others (e.g. 14) have pointed out (and naturally have also got attacked by #metoo-ers for their trouble), some of the actresses now leading the way with #metoo also knowingly (and hypocritically) flirted and seduced to get roles or opportunities. Not even the common sense solution (i.e. to act now, not just plan to complain later) as well as critique of one of the most radical feminists of all time (Germaine Greer) was taken on board or tolerated by the RFs (15). The most noted and active exemplar of this non-constructive, unbalanced and generally male-bashing approach of radical feminism in Australia is perhaps Sydney Morning Herald commentator Clem Bastow (e.g. 16) – who has also long regularly attacked the one woman who they really need to start listening to about a more balanced perspective on gender relations (Bettina Arndt) (17).
One of Arndt’s (18) most powerful and valid points is that schools have become increasingly feminized (i.e. male teachers have been scared out of primary schools and pre-schools especially) in recent decades such that boys are now being increasingly disadvantaged (e.g. Cf also 19). This is exemplified by the ‘boys and literacy’ crisis, falling rates of male university graduates, and the general confusion and alienation of all males young and old effectively denied positive role models from the past, present or future (e.g. 2018). All this is further reinforced by how growing divorce rates in many societies are also linked to growing suicides and breakdowns by men (i.e. husbands and fathers increasingly seen by women and also the legal system supporting a new view of men as disposable and increasingly denied any traditional or basic rights as a husband and father).
Long ago (before also encouraged into ‘silence’) we used to give a ‘gender and language’ lecture each year in QUT Faculty of Education programs where we would often pose the following to help predominantly young female (as well male) teachers of the future to understand the distinction between 2nd and 3rd wave feminist perspectives (i.e. the contradictions of equality vs. difference obsessions): is a feminist a sexist? This rhetorical question also suggests the common sense point which is hard for anyone to really argue with that any female as well as male who views, stereotypes and/or judges another individual in terms of their gender first is by definition a sexist. Radical feminists as well as a certain type of ‘traditional men’ both need to stop reinforcing an either/or mentality about this. But men in modern/western societies have been increasingly denied their traditional roles, stereotypes and values which have all been increasingly denigrated (including those associated with archetypes of the courageous hero, the principled warrior, and especially the responsible and respected ‘father’) but are not offered or allowed to come up with new ones which can promote a positive masculinity (which is why radical feminism has done so much damage in a counter-productive, self-defeating way).
This effective ‘emasculation’ of men is in contrast to how females young and old are now able to keep their traditional or domestic roles, models and/or active stereotypes if they choose (including sexuality), but also are increasingly encouraged to take on both new professional or career aspirations and also those traditionally the province of men (e.g. all football codes are now female professional sports in Australia). [We support the latter but are just pointing out the bigger challenge here of reinventing masculinity – which women need to support (rather than just attack) in their own future interests]. Boys and men need to and should be able to connect with and adapt also traditional models of masculinity as one of the foundations of new models of identity within a 21C framework of complementary and convergent gender relations. As Kimberly Hite (20) has usefully put it: “Not all men are monsters as a lot of radical feminists attempt to portray. In fact, most men are highly respectable… it has become the norm [of 3rd wave feminists] to shame men for their common behavior and assign the negative traits of a few to the entire male population. Not all men are sexist, and they’re certainly not all rapists. Portraying them all in a negative manner in order to help raise awareness for female issues is in itself sexist”. [Anyone needing or wanting to learn about and better appreciate the complexity of gender relations in changing times could do worse than watch the brilliant new movie ‘Three Billboards Outside Epping, Missouri’ (21)]
– CKR 27/1/2018