2017: the year feminists captured a golden opportunity to fight and silent victims flocked out of their closets; the ‘me too’ campaign gave women a pedestal to wreak havoc on their male counterpart. It was a year in which Harvey Weinstein went from hero to zero. It was the year in which Kevin Spacey got exposed as being his own creepy character from House of Cards. The names do not stop emerging.
But, where will it end? First things first: I am an ardent supporter of all campaigns against sexual assault, as any self-respecting human would be. The men who have been convicted this year deserve their due comeuppance.
What I am against is the use of social media to ruin the careers or reputation of actors, politicians, presenters and many men in between by making vague, unsubstantiated claims that equate them to the heinous Weinstein.
The defamation of Ed Westwick, star of TV series Gossip Girl, in November of 2017 has been a fitting example of this.
He has been accused of sexual assault by three women, all of which he has denied. In January 2018, two months after the allegations, he was fired from his role in BBC’s ‘Ordeal By Innocence’. Since, they have stopped filming television comedy ‘White Gold’ which he starred in. Yet, this is the least of his problems. His name has been defiled, regardless of whether or not he committed the crimes. Many, including myself, have always admired and respected Ed Westwick as an actor, but our opinion is being criticised by fellow ‘me too’ campaigners for being ‘anti-feminist’, despite the claims being untested. Twitter has attacked anyone who still holds these once proliferated opinions of him; the hashtag #EdWestwick trended on twitter, with one tweet reading ‘RIP Ed Westwick, he ain’t dead but he is dead to me’. In our current climate, to be accused is to be convicted.
Why should the media and the public treat him in a differently to how the supreme court treats its criminals: innocent until proven guilty? Ed has been a victim of a hate campaign. If his name is cleared, the media has made him a monster. His life has been turned upside down, his reputation slaughtered. He will struggle to get back on to mainstream television.
Women have begun jumping on the ‘me too’ bandwagon as victims of incomparable claims to those who have been sexually abused. Lucy Hall from London responded to a NY times Op/ed on the matter. I quote: ‘as a recent survivor of rape, I have felt infuriated and confused by the laziness in the language of the topic’. What Lucy is trying to convey is that you cannot conflate rape with everyday sexual advances. To lump together sexual assault, sexual harassment and even unreciprocated flirting is to draw focus away from the true victims.
In my opinion, the campaign has lost the credibility it initially thrived on; women are using the hashtag as a method of legitimisation over men. They are personifying the cliché ‘give them an inch and they’ll take a mile’. If we are not careful we will lose all the gains that have been made by turning it into a farce.
One only needs to look back to the 1970s to see how prominent feminists, such as Andrea Dworkin, polarized the effort by taking it in an extreme direction that lost the popular vote. She became a symbol for ‘anti-sex’ and found enemies in free speech campaigners. After the publication of an open letter in French publication Le Monde, signed by 100 influential French females, the ‘me-too’ campaign is set to go the same way. It is losing integrity. But at its core it carries an incredibly important message which we need to save from distinction: that women should not be objectified and disrespected by men at any level.
The campaign has gone too far but it has not gone far enough. The Weinstein revelations highlighted how power and influence can be utilised by men, but also by women when they are in positions of power. This continues to happens every day we talk about it. However, what we should not do, which the campaign is doing, is create a taboo around sexuality. We live in a sexualised society in which men are predominantly expected to make advances on women first. If this has the capacity to be reported as ‘sexual assault’ just because a female does not replicate the feeling, the line will become increasingly hazy and uncomfortable for both sexes.
Sexual assault needs to continue to be treated with the utmost severity and the mobilisation of all women against all men is only going to worsen our situation rather than improve it. The ‘me-too’ campaign must change and adapt if it wants to make a lasting difference to women’s rights.