Confessions of a Last-Wave Feminist
Ladies, I gotta come clean. From the first time I saw it on a social media post, #metoo has rubbed me the wrong way. And I don’t mean, like, in a #metoo way.
The first wave of confessions was powerful — a silent but staggering wail that exposed the shocking pervasiveness of sexual assault and oppressive harassment in a nation that regularly applauds itself for equality.
For me, though, the hashtag became a maimed meme when women began tossing unsolicited ass pats and insufferable catcalls into the mix along with the egregious, menacing affronts. Though these may all be evidence of men treating us like property, it feels both insensitive and overly fragile to lump together the rapiest of rape with the old man saying, “Hey, how about a smile, sweetheart?”
Then came the naming and shaming, the firing and blacklisting and the systematic picking apart of each public apology like flesh from a carcass. That’s when my hackles went on high alert — and for a couple of good reasons:
I distrust a mob mentality, even one that starts with good intentions. When a serial predator like Harvey Weinstein is finally exposed after decades of premeditated perviness, it feels like sweet justice. But when the headlines give way to accusations of male celebs using “sexually explicit language” and trying desperately — even repugnantly — to get laid, it feels a little like dude-hunting season.
I’m equally wary of the trial-by-Twitter trend that’s impacting careers while skirting due process. Hanging a proven boob grabber or weiner waver in the public square and beating him with a stick may be satisfying, but it doesn’t address the larger systemic problem that made him think that was reasonable behavior.
However … it’s entirely possible that the #metoo moment is making me uncomfortable for some lousy reasons, too.
Sensitivity is not my strong suit. I don’t suffer from the need to “be nice” that keeps some women from speaking up in the moment when they’re harassed. I’ve said “Don’t call me honey” in professional settings and “Don’t touch me” in social settings. I once slapped a coworker across the face — in the office, in front of people — for his rude remark about how I was dressed, then sat remorseless through the official HR rebuke that followed.
I seem to have an acute aversion to victimhood, which — apart from being a privilege enjoyed by women who’ve never been assaulted — may be a generational thing. As Gen-X feminists, my peers and I handled the imbalance of sexual power by ignoring it outright, roaring through both the workforce and the dating world in airtight “you don’t scare me” armor, muttering our mantra on loop until we believed it: They don’t have the power to hurt me … I won’t allow it … I’m tougher than I look.
So when young women huddle together in groups to point fingers at men who hurt their feelings, I have to be honest: It doesn’t look like empowerment to me. Neither does anonymously cataloguing every salacious detail of your atrocious date with a sexually aggressive comedian (if she gets to be anonymous, then in my column, so does he). That’s not power as I recognize it. Or as I’ve always known it … and frankly, um, thought I had to embrace it.
But zealous conversations with smart, evolved millennial girlfriends are teaching me to think differently about this collective cry of “ENOUGH” that’s emanating from women in every corner of the country. I’ve learned that airtight armor is out of fashion (though I’m gonna feel naked without mine). And I’m warming to the idea that the New Empowerment — the new tougher-than-I-look — might be having the gall to say, “Why should we have to avoid creeps, or pretend they don’t ruffle us? Why can’t we just insist that they not be creeps?” I mean … I honestly didn’t know that was an option.
I don’t love some aspects of this movement. But I raise the Crystal Fist of Sisterhood to any hashtagging whippersnapper who dares to dream of lowering our guards and raising our expectations.