#MeToo has spread much farther than Hollywood in recent months, and as a result a lot of powerful men across many industries are now facing allegations of sexual assault. But while men are arguably being outed (or re-outed) thanks to the empowering momentum of the movement, many of these disgraced dudes are using #MeToo as a weapon of self-defence—and that’s a problem.
On Feb. 7, when model Kate Upton accused Guess co-founder and former CEO Paul Marciano of sexual harassment and assault while she was working for the brand, 65-year-old Marciano vehemently denied the allegations and threw in a reference to #MeToo. “I fully support the #metoo movement. At the same time, I will not allow others to defame me and tarnish my reputation,” Marciano said in a statement.
Marciano’s faux #MeToo support is as unique as Guess launching a Marilyn Monroe-inspired campaign. When former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown was accused of inappropriate sexual behaviour and harassment by two young women on Jan. 24, the 39-year-old also used the movement as part of his defence. In a tweet, Brown said: “I am immensely grateful for all the support expressed to my family and myself. #metoo can be a tool to lift society and I applaud that effort. False allegations however undermine that good work. The truth will come out.”
Disgraced actor James Franco also tipped his hat to #MeToo when he denied the multiple sexual harassment allegations made against him by former acting students. While refuting the reports on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Franco took the opportunity to voice his support for #MeToo and Time’s Up by saying, “The things that I heard that were… not accurate, but I completely support people coming out and being able to have a voice because they didn’t have a voice for so long.”
I am immensely grateful for all the support expressed to my family and myself. #metoo can be a tool to lift society and I applaud that effort.
False allegations however undermine that good work.
The truth will come out.
Thank you to all.
— Patrick Brown (@brownbarrie) February 6, 2018
In other words, Marciano, Brown and Franco think #MeToo is good in general—unless it’s directed at them. Then, it’s bad.
The problem with men using #MeToo as part of their defence strategies is that it undermines the truth-exposing aspect of the movement. After over 80 people came forward with sexual assault allegations against Hollywood heavyweight Harvey Weinstein (who used vicious tactics to silence accusers—including professional spies), the discourse around workplace harassment changed. People began openly speaking about sexual assault—particularly in public and on social media—in a way we haven’t seen in recent history. The Weinstein shitstorm was a tipping point, and #MeToo is women saying they will no longer tolerate suffering in silence.
But when men use #MeToo in their statements against sexual assault allegations, they’re not-so-subtly suggesting that #MeToo has gone too far, resulting in “innocent” men being targeted by rabid and man-hating feminists, as Postmedia columnist Conrad Black “eloquently” suggested. Men who cite #MeToo, only to turn it into #NotMe are hoping that people will believe their claims of innocence because it seems unfathomable that SO many men are capable of such bad behaviour. But the sad reality is many are.
According to a recent survey by the Angus Reid Institute, nearly nine in 10 women have “taken steps to avoid unwanted sexual advances at work” while more than half of women surveyed say they have been sexually harassed at work in their lifetimes. And these are just at-work accounts. Factor in unwanted touching, rape and sexual assault outside of the workplace and you’d be hard pressed to find a woman who hasn’t experienced any form of harassment.
On the other hand, in a Quartz article on the reality of false rape claims (spoiler alert: they aren’t common—the percentage of women who lie about sexual assault is between two and 10 per cent), writer Sandra Newman points out that innocent men rarely face such charges, and when false claims are made, they are usually done by people who have a history of deceptive behaviour. “Adult false accusers who persist in pursuing charges have a previous history of bizarre fabrications or criminal fraud,” she wrote. “Indeed, they’re often criminals whose family and friends are also criminals; broken people trapped in chaotic lives.”
Factor in the sad stat that men rarely face charges for sexual assault allegations, and sprinkle in the depressing reality that women commonly face professional repercussions for speaking out against assault and you’ll start to see that there’s really no benefit to lying about abuse. This was the case for Salma Hayek, who said that she was punished at work for rejecting Weinstein’s sexual advances. “I don’t think he hated anything more than the word ‘no,'” Hayek wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. “The absurdity of his demands went from getting a furious call in the middle of the night asking me to fire my agent for a fight he was having with him about a different movie with a different client to physically dragging me out of the opening gala of the Venice Film Festival, which was in honor of Frida, so I could hang out at his private party with him and some women I thought were models but I was told later were high-priced prostitutes.”
Stories like this are why it’s so infuriating to see so many men use #MeToo to squash their accusers’s credibility. #MeToo is an initiative that’s built on believing survivors of sexual assault, and giving them a long-overdue (and much-needed) voice. When it’s used as a harmful tool to discredit women, to imply that women are jumping on a bandwagon and heading on an anti-male witch hunt, it’s an injustice all over again. #MeToo should be a movement that sheds light on myths surrounding sexual assault and brings attention to how widespread and common this problem is.
If men want to deny sexual assault allegations made against them, fine—that’s their right. But using #MeToo to defend themselves? That’s just straight-up bullshit.
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