Sticking up for #MeToo

IssueJune - July 2018
Comment by Claire Poyner

Inevitably there’s been a bit of a backlash against the #MeToo movement, and sadly not just from the mainstream media, or from ‘Men’s Rights Activists’ either.

Some women who identify as feminist have declared that some of the ‘minor’ abuse women get shouldn’t be conflated with more serious charges such as rape. So some man had demanded a view of your more intimate regions of your body? Get over it! Grow up! That’s life! Don’t be a victim! Give him what for back! (Just a quick question. Does this apply to victims of racist verbal abuse? Should people of colour just ‘get over it’?)

Thing is, these smaller ‘micro-aggressions’ add to the general culture wherein powerful people feel totally able to get away with more serious assaults and abuse. And less powerful men get over their powerlessness by asserting their ‘authority’ over more vulnerable humans whether they be women, girls or ethnic or sexual minorities.

Moreover, expecting, demanding, that women just rise above it and ‘it doesn’t really matter’, means women will be less keen to speak out. Just by having so many women adding their experiences shows that women cannot just avoid the harassment by steeling themselves against abuse, or choosing to avoid it, certainly not on an individual level.

There are some women who’ve achieved individual power, getting to the top of their professions, and some consider themselves feminist. Did they get there by sheer hard work, being better than everyone else or were they just lucky?

I was at a feminist conference a few years back, where I muttered to myself: ‘Is it possible to be a conservative (big or small ‘c’) and be a feminist?’ The young woman beside me said ‘YES!’ in no uncertain terms. I guess it depends on the definition.

If you believe feminism means women can do anything a man can do, provided she works hard enough and has the talent (and if her menfolk allow it), then, yes, a conservative woman can call herself a feminist and she’d be correct.

If, on the other hand, you believe that feminism means women ought to be able to do anything a man can do, provided she works hard (harder than her male equals?), has a lot of luck, maybe a wealthy parent/partner, campaigns hard with her colleagues for entry into male sectors of society, then she might achieve.

There is, then, a conflict between ‘individualist’ and ‘social’ feminisms. Is feminism individual empowerment, or is it collective liberation (or both, or neither)?

There’s nothing new in this dichotomy between individualistic and collective feminisms; it’s reasonable to assume that the former attracts the more conservative feminists, the Emmeline Pankhursts if you like, and the social feminism attracts the Sylvia Pankhursts.

Social feminist theory demanded that women’s unpaid work be recognised. Historically, unless wealthy, many men could only ‘go out’ to work while raising a family when they had an unpaid childminder and domestic servant in the guise of a wife. Of course, women’s work in the home, being unpaid, was, is still, not really recognised as work of any value at all.

One bonus of the social feminism aspect is that it is intersectional and the #MeToo movement has shown that solidarity among women is possible. Individualistic feminism, on the other hand, places the responsibility on the individual woman, and not all women have the same privileges. Moreover it’s so easy to sympathise with the perpetrator.

My personal belief? Feminism without socialism is no feminism. And vice versa.

Topics: Feminism