July 17, 2019 | 92° F

FOWLER: #MeToo is about more than physical assault


Opinions Column: Sex and the City


An echo from the Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanagh debacle, and a sentiment being expressed throughout the #MeToo movement in general, is this notion that as women come forward about sexual assault, men are being “attacked.” The movement to somehow implicate men as the victims in the #MeToo movement is strong enough that there is an (admittedly relatively unpopular) #HimToo hashtag. The most popular example of the #HimToo movement is a mother’s post about her son being afraid to go on "solo dates due to the current climate of false sexual accusations by radical feminists with an axe to grind.” Twitter successfully memed this post (and the man in question posted about how he was against the general notion), but the sentiment of men being afraid and feeling victimized by women standing up still stands. The notion of men being under attack seems to fundamentally misunderstand many important goals and implications of the #MeToo movement. When news becomes sensationalized in such a way, it can seem as though the #MeToo movement functions only to take down high-profile people in highly visible ways — but I doubt this captures the full scope of the movement. 

David Roberts wrote, in an article for Vox, that the #MeToo movement is not fundamentally about taking down movie stars or political figures or CEOs: “Highlighting the abuses of the powerful is meant to illuminate the fact that those sorts of abuses are ubiquitous.” Roberts talked about the fact that the structures which allow abuse on the level we see to get there are engrained within us at a very young age. Women are cognizant of the ways in which they can be hurt by men very frequently, and the examples of what women must do to protect themselves from men seem common knowledge — you carry your keys between your fingers (which, realistically, could this stop anyone?), and you do not walk alone at night. There are things, not necessarily dangerous, but still upsetting. While women can do certain things as protective measures, there are things women cannot protect themselves from, such as an unsolicited photo on your phone or a catcall walking from your car to your home. The latter happens to me quite frequently in my home in New Brunswick. I am catcalled at least every other day. Some of the things that happen are relatively innocuous, so much so that for awhile I assumed people were talking to my roommates on the street as often as they were talking to me, and that the the only thing differentiating our encounters was the use of some PG terms of endearment (which, although annoying, are not terribly offensive). I asked my male housemates if people usually spoke to them while they were walking home and they told me no one ever had. Another time my encounter was more anxiety-provoking was recently when I was coming out of a Wawa in New Brunswick and a man, standing with a group of men, said "hi" to me, and then upon my ignoring him, demanded to know my name, calling after me, walking toward me until I got into my car and quickly drove away. Even though these situations never have become physical, they still make me anxious. Despite how angry I am to be catcalled, I never show this anger. I always smile a half smile, I keep my head down, I respond politely. Because I never know when these things will happen I am usually relatively on edge — if I am in a dry spell of catcalling something will quickly happen to put me back on edge. That is what these encounters do, they reinforce my position as submissive and afraid, subject to the will of men. 

I think the #MeToo movement, at its best, aims to call attention to these structures — the first step in the long work of uprooting them. Even in the case of high-profile abuses, we can see the (more subtle?) effects of the patriarchy. Rebecca Solnit points out in an article about the movement, in regard to the Bill Cosby trail. “How many women would it take to outweigh Bill Cosby’s word? Ten? Twenty?... But what it really took to outweigh Cosby was, finally, a media and justice system and society that was willing to hear those women and let their testimony be consequential," Solnit said. "... We are not talking about isolated incidents of men who assault women (and sometimes other men): we are talking about elaborate social systems that cover up and protect those men and punish those women more if they don’t silently accept their punishment.” The #MeToo movement functions not only to highlight horrific cases of assault, but hopefully to expose the more subtle things at work within the everyday lives of women and men. 

Ashley Fowler is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in English. Her column, “Sex and the City,” runs on alternate Thursdays.

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Ashley Fowler

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