We Promise We Will Let You Know When #MeToo Has Gone Too Far, OK?
Has #MeToo Gone Too Far? It is the question being posed by various thinkpieces, about once a week, for at least the past year -- most of which come to the conclusion that while it has not yet gone too far, it totally could and we definitely need to be on the lookout for that.
"Sure," the thinkpiece writer posits, almost literally every time, "all of these things that people have gotten in trouble for have been bad. Sure, we haven't actually had a situation yet where a person accused a prominent man of some kind of assault and was proven to be lying about it. Sure, the only actual consequence that most of them face is people not liking them very much, or not following them on Twitter, or not watching their movies or buying their albums or wanting them to sit on the highest court in the land. But what if it does go to far? What if we see women just stabbing men to death for saying hello to them? And then everyone is all 'Oh, that's fine and normal' and all of those men are dead, all because you guys had to be mad about rape. WHAT THEN?"
As adult human beings, we all have the ability to discern things we think are bad from things we do not think are bad. We have the ability to discern things that seem legitimate and true from things that are ridiculous and obviously not true. For instance, you know that one girl who goes around saying she was Tom Hanks's brainwashed sex slave? No one believes her, except for other people who are also ... not all there. The idea that we live in a world where women can say literally anything and be believed is absolutely preposterous. Hell, there has yet to be a single instance in which a woman came forward and was immediately believed by everyone, regardless of whether or not she was telling the truth.
Also, as adult human beings, we can talk about experiences we have had that, while perhaps not something that would have led us to press charges, made us uncomfortable, that didn't make us feel good. People can even talk about things that bothered them that perhaps the ever-so-savvy thinkpiece writer would have been fine with, or perhaps even delighted by. By talking about these things, by having these discussions, we can work towards a place of better understanding for all of us. A place where everyone gets that sex is supposed to be a good, enthusiastic time for everyone involved, rather than something stolen from reluctant women by wily and conniving men.
I am not an idiot. Feminists, by and large, are not idiots. It is not necessary to worry that if we start taking survivors of sexual assault too seriously, we will end up in some kind of "The Lottery (But Just For Men, All Of Whom Are The Worst)" or "The Crucible (But Again, Just For Men)" situation. It is not necessary to worry that we will leap to categorizing every single human interaction as a sexual assault. Why? Because we are not stupid, and we all know the difference between a sexual assault and someone shaking our hand.
"Isn't it just possible though," wonders said thinkpiece writer, "that this is all just another moral panic? Like witch hunts or when people were afraid of kids who played Dungeons and Dragons and satanists in daycare centers?"
You know what? Let's talk about moral panics and what they actually entail! One of the key elements in any moral panic is the "folk devil," the thing or group of people that everyone fears could hypothetically wreak havoc on society. Women people thought were witches, goth kids, satanists in daycare centers, etc. etc.
#MeToo lacks this. It lacks the hypothetical. There are two things it focuses on -- specific acts committed by specific people and the personal experiences of those who have been sexually assaulted. There is no looming boogie man here, nothing lurking in the night. We are talking about specific things that people have already done and things that people have already experienced.
What does, however, fit the criteria of a moral panic is all the fretting over whether or not it has gone "too far."
The only true folk devil, the only boogie man here, is the sinister, vengeful and possibly fame- or money-hungry woman who just might, in the future, take advantage of this movement, and either lie about being sexually assaulted or categorize a perfectly consensual interaction as sexual assault and ruin an innocent man's life or career over it. That eventually, we will all go full Andrea Dworkin, categorize all heterosexual sex as rape, and it will ruin every man in America and also sex, for everyone, forever.
This is not to say that people have not ever, in the history of the world, lied about being sexually assaulted. Of course they have! People lie about all kinds of things. There have even been instances in which people actually believed they were sexually assaulted when they were not, as was the case with a lot of the Satanic Panic folks. But what we actually know about false accusations and those who make them just simply doesn't line up with the hysterical folk she-devil that these concern trolls have imagineered.
The real question here is What does "too far" even mean? What, exactly, is the slippery slope here? Fill in the blank -- "If this continues, then pretty soon _____." What? Men will have to ask permission before they walk up to a woman and grab her by the pussy? Sex might become too consensual? People might not like a certain celebrity anymore and it will hurt their ability to make even more piles of money? I've got news for you: People dislike celebrities all the time, and for reasons far less serious or reasonable than jerking off in front of someone without their permission or locking them in their sex office. This is America and no one is required to like anything or anyone. Some people don't even like Wonkette, if that is a thing that you can even believe!
If someone were to come forward about something and either have it turn out to be untrue or everyone feels it's not worth getting het up over for whatever reason, does that mean we should all just pack it in and call it a day? That everyone should shut up forever? That seems excessive! There are far worse things in our culture right now, things that truly have gone too far, that it feels a tad unnecessary to be concerned about this, or for people to be paid to be concerned about this at such frequent intervals.
Perhaps one could wonder, professionally, if we have gone "too far" in terms of electing sex creeps to office and nominating them to the Supreme Court? Perhaps one could wonder, professionally, if some people have perhaps gone "too far" in terms of trying to be "politically incorrect" and maybe those people are actually just jerks who want everything to be bad because they themselves are stupid and miserable?
Perhaps, even, one could wonder if "we" have gone too far in terms of believing in the folk archetype of the cruel woman who hurts poor innocent men for fun and sport. Putting The Blame On Mame: Has It Gone Too Far? or Barbara Allen Didn't Owe Sweet William Shit or Hard-Hearted Hannah: Maybe She Had Her Reasons, You Don't Know.
Why does it have to be a thing that actually helps people? Why is everyone so very worried about that?
I suppose we could say that #MeToo has gone too far when every man on earth is dead and their blood flows in the streets, simply ruining all of our favorite shoes. Maybe, at that time, we could look around and say to ourselves "Gee! Maybe we did take this a little far! Let's chill out for a while on all this murdering that we are doing."
For now, I think we are doing OK.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. In addition to her work at Wonkette, she also has a biweekly column at Dame. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse