My Appeal to Those Suspicious of #MeToo
It was quite a controversial piece, written by a political activist. This piece addressed the entertainment industry, and how women have been especially susceptible to abuse and degradation. To be honest, the hard-nosed emphasis on how women are at most risk of victimization came across to me as a bit sexist: as if women were somehow inferior to men. Initially, I wasn’t quite sure if I could get behind it.
Now, if you think I’m describing a modern-day op-ed, you would actually be mistaken. I am referring, rather, to the words of the eighteenth-century abolitionist William Wilberforce in his mouthful-of-a-title book A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Middle and Higher Classes in this Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity. In section five of chapter four, Wilberforce addresses a problem in the performing arts in particular. Here’s how he begins this section (and I encourage you to read it in its entirety):
It is an undeniable fact, for the truth of which we may safely appeal to every age and nation, that the situation of the performers, particularly of those of the female sex, is remarkably unfavourable to the maintenance and growth of the religious and moral principle, and of course highly dangerous to their eternal interests.
Wilberforce doesn’t explore how or why the performing arts are unfavorable to women in particular. But he does go on to explain the Christian’s duty toward those who are being exploited. And the more I thought about it, the more I saw the connection between Wilberforce’s concerns and the concerns brought about by the #MeToo movement (which, henceforth, we will refer to without the hashtag).
The shared concern between Wilberforce and Me Too might be generalized like this: in society at large, and in unique ways in the entertainment industry, women are often faced with sexual objectification, degradation, and even abuse. (The purpose of Me Too has since expanded, and as a result “has come to mean different things for different people,” but sexual abuse is still a core focus of the movement.)
There are many factors that separate William Wilberforce from the Me Too movement. There’s the obvious amount of time between the two—over 200 years. Also, much of Wilberforce’s perspective would be viewed with suspicion, and possibly even disgust, by many within the Me Too movement. If Wilberforce were to be accused of sexism (rightly or wrongly), it would be toward women, whereas if Me Too were to be accused of sexism (rightly or wrongly), it would be toward men. And ultimately, Wilberforce’s deep Christian roots would give him a better handle on how to bring about true and lasting change, whereas many promoters of Me Too still suffer from a large degree of confusion about the solution (as I have noted here and here and here).
At the same time, there are some key similarities between Wilberforce and those promoting Me Too. Both share a concern for those whose plight has been ignored—and even exploited—by society. Both are willing to buck conventional beliefs and practices in order to promote cultural change. Both see greater value in human dignity than the masses content with continuing the status quo. And both have had a great impact on me, helping me to see with greater clarity the “open secret” that is our culture’s abuse of women, as well as my own heart-level complicity in that cultural mindset.
NO MOVEMENT IS BEYOND CRITICISM
Are there legitimate critiques of Me Too? Absolutely. For example, the movement “lacks specificity and, as a result, undermines the severity of the sexual harassment that props up rape culture.” Another concern is the willingness of the recently-formed Time’s Up campaign to accept contributions from “agencies [that] were integral to [Harvey] Weinstein’s ecosystem of victimization. . . . [These agencies] deserve accountability. Instead, thanks to Time’s Up, they get to be allies.”
Not all critiques of Me Too are created equal, however. The concern about the abandonment of due process, for instance, is not without merit, but it is overblown—especially considering that victims of sexual abuse have gone without due process for so long themselves. The injustice of false accusations is nothing to dismiss, to be sure. But when faced with the reality of decades (at least) of unjust sexual abuse, emphasizing concern over the possibility of future false accusations gives the appearance, if not the reality, of a warped sense of priorities.
Is there hypocrisy within the ranks of Me Too and Time’s Up? Yes, there is, as there is with any movement. Thankfully, people of differing political persuasions are also pointing out the inconsistencies, as evidenced by recent feminist critiques of the Grammys and Sports Illustrated.
All things considered, when critics respond to Me Too with nothing but suspicion or condemnation because it involves hypocrisy, I am reminded of another group of people—those who refuse to darken the doors of the church because “it’s full of hypocrites.” Yes. Yes, it is. Welcome to the human race. Hypocrites are everywhere, not just in the places you don’t want to associate with.
OF BABIES AND BATHWATER
Even with all its baggage, Me Too is, at its root, promoting a worthy cause—a cause similar to that championed by William Wilberforce in 1797. And long before Wilberforce, our Savior demonstrated a scandalous care for the downtrodden, including women. Part of Christianity’s legacy, in fact, is providing advocacy for the oppressed. Just because Me Too is largely “secular” (or whatever label you want to use), it doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate the good that is coming from it.
There is something special about diverse groups uniting for a worthy cause. For example, the pro-life movement finds support from religious and non-religious groups, from supporters and opposers of the patriarchy, and from people on varying ends of the political spectrum. The ideological melting pot that is the pro-life movement involves some contradictory worldviews. Those differences are worthy of debate in the right contexts, but they need not—and are not—hindering all participants from fighting for the dignity of the unborn.
Similarly, I may not be a card-carrying member of Time’s Up, and I may not be involved with Me Too in any official capacity. I am still grateful for what these campaigns have done in promoting the protection of women (and men) who are victims of sexual abuse and manipulation, and who have had little to no recourse. In the words of Val Dunham,
If nothing else, the Me Too campaign enacted a widespread solidarity victims of sexual violence are often not privy to. Survivors of sexual assault and harassment often endure the isolating darkness of silence, unaware of one another’s presence until someone is emboldened to whisper in the shadows. The campaign, however imperfect, fashioned fellowship out of isolation.
That is something for which we can all be thankful.