Margaret Atwood’s Criticisms
Margaret Atwood wrote an article for The Globe and Mail titled“Am I a bad feminist?”responding to the #MeToo movement and calling for greater transparency in investigating the claims of sexual misconduct, referring to the case of Steven Galloway, a former creative writing university professor from UBC. Accused of sexual misconduct, he was subsequently fired for the accusations. It was later revealed that there was no evidence for such accusations and Atwood believed the man was treated unfairly.
She asks, “If the legal system is bypassed because it is seen as ineffectual, what will take its place? Who will be the new power brokers?” In her article, she affirms that #MeToo is the product of a broken legal system as victims and allies of sexual abuse use the internet to take down abusive stars.
Victims have been empowered to tell their owns stories and with successful results. But Atwood remarks that the #MeToo movement brought upon an attitude of “guilty because accused” where “the usual rules of evidence are bypassed”.
Her article sparked debate and criticism on Twitter.Alicia Elliottsaid the letter “wasn’t calling for systematic change; it was upholding the status quo”. The status quo being, in this case, focusing on the perceived innocence of the accused over the needs of the victim. And she makes a good point.
In Canada, between 2009 and 2014, one in five sexual assaults reported by police led to a completed court case, about 1 in 10 of those court cases led to a criminal conviction. #MeToo wants to change the results of accusation, and to create a space for women to come forth with their stories in a world that silences and blames the victim.
The #MeToo movement is historical and absolutely necessary. Tarana Burke founded the movement in 2006 to spread awareness about sexual assault in underprivileged communities of colour.
The hashtag was adopted by celebrities in 2017 and took off after the accusations towards Harvey Weinstein were made public through online discourse. A multitude of stories came to light of his repetitive occurrences of sexual assault and harassment towards women, and men, within the industry. In Hollywood, it was also a well-known fact that he was a predator; it was commonly joked about at award shows and received snickers from the crowd. The accounts written about him are terrifying, disgusting, and quite frankly it’s shame it took so long for him to be “caught” so to speak.
Ultimately, Weinstein’s downfall, like the movement itself, was absolutely necessary. His life was rightfully ruined without a conviction as industry professionals and people around the world were served a wakeup call.
The waves and influence of this movement are unavoidable. It wasn’t too long afterward that Kevin Spacey’s downfall came with Anthony Rapp’s allegations of attempted rape when he was only fourteen years old. His career, his fame, his reputation – all swiped from under his feet, almost like he never even existed.
Women and victims have an enormous amount of power right now unlike we’ve ever seen before. No one knows how long it will last so it’s been used extensively and rapidly, taking down people left and right.
My Initial Response
It got to this point where I was reading different articles with different names with different and equally disturbing stories.
I quickly discovered my responses to these articles remained the same each time:
- Disappointment and disbelief
- Reading the account and feeling deeply disturbed
- Empathizing with the victim
I’ve discussed this issue with a wide range of people. Most women identified with one or a few of the women who came forward, and they gained support by posting #MeToo on Twitter or Facebook during its prime.
Some men also identified and empathized with the victims. Others were perhaps a bit more apprehensive, but overall saw the necessity in the movement.
I’ve noticed that many people, including sometimes myself, have a hard time separating the man from his work. Casey Affleck, luckily enough for him, experienced similar waves of accusations a year before the “Weinstein effect”, and just last year won an Oscar for his performance in Manchester by the Sea. Since this wasn’t a pressing issue in 2016, as it is now, his career was still intact and he was even celebrated for his work.
I saw the movie, it was good. His performance was great. It’s hard to separate Affleck from what he did to several women throughout his career, whose accounts of their experience with him, are just as terrifying as the accounts made towards Weinstein. Aggressive, entitled, powerful, and abusive.
When I asked the person, who didn’t see a problem with Affleck winning an Oscar, why he supported him, he said that he simply had the best performance that year.
My response: “If he was sent to a fair trial and declared guilty of his crimes he wouldn’t have been able to act in that movie.”
“Yeah, but he wasn’t,” this person said, and then added: “I separate the man from his work – you can be an asshole but still be great at what you do.”
I was troubled by these remarks because this is exactly the kind of behaviour that allowed Weinstein to prevail for so long. Opinions like this are, as Alicia Elliott said, “upholding the status quo”. And I’m quite certain that this person never took the time read the accounts written by Affleck’s victims, because I hope that if he had it wouldn’t have been so easy to say those those exact words. After taking the time to listen to the victims, I was then able to look at Casey Affleck differently because I placed what he did over his performances.
I know why it is so hard to look at these accusations and not want to believe the victims. Some of these people being accused are people that others have looked up to. When Johnny Depp was accused of domestic abuse, I shamefully admit that I didn’t believe Amber Hard, his wife and accuser during that time. I thought, what would motivate her to accuse of him of this? Money? Attention? A few months later, a video was released displaying his aggressive behaviour; screaming and throwing dishes around Hard, along with pictures of her bruises, and later, an article that stated she donated all of the money she received from her settlement with Depp, to an organization that helps women in domestic abuse. I couldn’t not believe her allegations and I was embarrassed that I didn’t before.
The most difficult part about peeking behind the curtain is that it forces us to examine our own behaviour, and some of us see are afraid of what we will see.
The main reason I’m discussing this, and my experience with the #MeToo movement is to demonstrate that I am simultaneously in support of the victims, that I want to believe the victims, but that I am also conflicted.
The Allegations against Aziz Ansari
I have three stages when it comes to seeing an article with allegations towards someone. Three steps, and these steps were carried through when I read a anonymous piece about a date-gone-wrong between a woman and Aziz Ansari.
Once I was finished this article, I was incredibly uncomfortable. The sexual encounter between Ansari and the women reminded me of the aggression and entitlement I’ve encountered throughout my University career. This was the first time I had read something where I could say “Me too”.
I believe the allegations and understand why this woman felt the way that she did. But this account lies under a mysterious grey area in which the notions of sexual assault, misconduct and a bad sexual experience become hazy.
Was this woman rightfully uncomfortable? Yes.
Can Aziz Ansari read minds? No.
I don’t have any license to say whether this was sexual assault, the only people who will know exactly what occurred were the people in the room, Ansari and the woman.
If Aziz Ansari’s allegations can speak to anything, it’s that it’s a symptoms of a much larger, systemic problem. Our parents’ generation call it “boys will be boys”, some girls in my classes call it “rape culture”.
I was floored to see men online commenting that if what Ansari did was sexual assault, then every girl they’ve been with was sexually assaulted. Because along with them were responses amongst female readers who noted their similar experiences. Both are indicative of the fact that we live in a world consumed with an incredibly unhealthy sexual culture. That some men must coerce, manipulate and press to get what they want, and that women must appease.
This unhealthy sexual culture obliges women to go along with uncomfortable sexual experiences when all they want to do is stop. It’s expected of men to decipher mixed signals and body language that belong to the grey areas of consent. To blame the women and say she could’ve gone home at any time isn’t fair, and to expect Aziz Ansari to read the mind of a woman who seemingly gave him consent, also isn’t fair. It’s so much more complicated than that.
Am I a bad feminist?
I want to avoid declarative statements, especially today. Declarative sentences are dangerous phrases that can’t be taken back. But, if I were to answer the question Margaret Atwood posed in her Op-ed, who answered yes, then I think I would also have to say yes, I am a bad feminist.
Right now, with the #MeToo movement, to be a feminist is to read an account of sexual abuse and to denounce the abuser. Women, and men, have taken this issue into their own hands due to an ineffective legal system that lets powerful people like Casey Affleck fall through the cracks. To be a feminist means to dawn a robe and type on Twitter, to denounce and defame, and in a sense, become an online vigilante. If the system doesn’t work for us, we must do it ourselves.
Right now, feminists have a bomb in their hands and a crowd full of the accused where there’s a 99% chance they’re guilty. Let’s say there’s a 100 people there. All of them are exposed to the shrapnel.
Let’s say one one person was innocent.
This isn’t based on any data, this might be an impractical analogy for what I’m trying to say which is this: While I have grown to be empowered and in support of the #MeToo movement it has also given me an increasing sense of anxiety.
I’m apprehensive right now because the movement has been adopted by rich female celebrities at the “Times Up” Golden Globes, who have used activists of colour as their new fancy accessories on red carpets, and bullied women who didn’t dress in all black.
I’m apprehensive right now because the movement has led celebrities to publicize their support, more as a public relations move than an act of integrity.
I’m apprehensive right now because I live in a new culture where being accused makes you guilty, negating all previous notions that a person is innocent until proven guilty.
People view this issue in black and white. You’re on one side or you’re on the other. Because I am empowered and I support #MeToo movement, I have one foot alongside line and because I am anxious, ask questions and have my doubts, I’m also alongside another.
Fairness hasn’t existed for victims of sexual abuse throughout history, that is why the movement started. Yet, the notion that we must believe all women that come forth, without question, is based on the logic that all women are incapable of lies and deceit. Anyone can capitalize on an issue that is trending during a specific period of time for an ulterior motive. And to treat all cases with the same weight and pressure, for example Weinstein and Ansari, is not fair. If feminism is about fairness, then what has feminism become in the post-Weinstein era?
I want to support and believe but I also want to be fair, and right now that makes me a bad feminist.
I wholeheartedly think that more focus should be placed on the people that come forward on their stories than the perceived innocence of those who are accused; placing more importance on the victims doesn’t mean we should completely ignore the latter. But I also assume that most people read the headlines in the morning and don’t take the time read the entire story. It’s difficult to peer behind the curtain and see what nightmare is on the other side, it’s difficult to see all sides of the story. But, what’s harder? I think it’s telling the story.