The Me-Too Movement: Some Thoughts
The Me-Too Movement to call out sexual harassment and abuse, and hold accountable those who perpetrate it, is inspiring, important and long-overdue. And it is not without dangers.
It does take tremendous courage for those who have suffered harassment and abuse to come forward, to speak and to not be cowed by those who prefer they would shut up and go away. Shame and self-blame seem the almost universal experience of those who suffer abuse. Now blame and responsibility is being placed where it belongs — on perpetrators not victims.
Here’s a connection that may initially strike you as odd. In chapter 9 of the Gospel of John, we have one of the most carefully worked out dramas in Scripture. Jesus heals a man who has been born blind. You’d think this would be cause for general rejoicing.
Think again. What this gospel drama shows is the way that people prefer blindness. Once healed by Jesus, the man’s neighbors no longer know him. His parents won’t support him. He’s kicked out of the synagogue by the religious authorities. The encounter with Jesus and healing bring, not rejoicing, but trouble. Well, that’s how it goes more often than we may imagine.
When victims of sexual abuse and harassment have found the courage to speak up and out — with the healing that taking such action implies — they have too often have been met with disbelief and condemnation. The Academy-Award winning movie Spotlight, on the Catholic sex abuses scandal in the Boston Diocese, did an excellent job of showing the complicity of multiple layers of society (extending far beyond the Catholic Church to include even The Boston Globe itself) that preferred to remain blind.
But now the pendulum has swung and that holds some danger as well. Too easily an accusation translates into assumed guilt and pariah status for the one accused. That is one danger — that innocent people will be accused and summarily condemned.
There’s another larger danger in this necessary moment and movement about which I am concerned. Recently, David Brooks did a column on a controversial Canadian psychologist, Jordan Peterson. Peterson, who teaches at the University of Toronto is the author of “Rules for Life,” which is a bracing call for accepting personal responsibility. He is You Tube star, attracting more than eight million viewers.
Brooks makes the observation that Peterson seems especially to be meeting a need of young men. Here’s Brooks:
“But what’s most interesting about Peterson’s popularity, especially the success of his new book, “12 Rules for Life,” is what it says about the state of young men today. The implied readers of his work are men who feel fatherless, solitary, floating in a chaotic moral vacuum, constantly outperformed and humiliated by women, haunted by pain and self-contempt. At some level Peterson is offering assertiveness training to men whom society is trying to turn into emasculated snowflakes.”
Over the last ten years or longer, Linda and I have paid attention at school award and recognition ceremonies to the gender of students honored. Always far more girls than boys, not infrequently, all the award recipients are girls. I’m not sure schools would allow the reverse to happen — all boys up front. But these frequent scenes ought to cause concern. What’s happening with boys?
There is ample reason to be concerned about men in our society, particularly young men. Will the Me-Too Movement, have as a secondary and unintended effect, rendering a further blow to men’s self-respect? I hear too many casual statements on the order of “men are jerks,” while “women are great.” But it is never good when you have to put someone else down in order to lift yourself up.
All of this unfolds in a cultural climate heavily influenced by identity politics. It is the essence of identity politics to treat group identity as paramount. Instead of seeing individuals, we consider people in terms of their group and celebrate or denigrate them accordingly. Too many young men, as Brooks notes, are already walking around with their heads down, having difficulty facing life.
Rather than another blow to masculine self-confidence and self-respect, a better outcome of the Me-Too Movement, would be that men take from it, as many are apparently taking from Peterson, a call to courage and responsibility. This would include standing up against sexual abuse and harassment — taking personal responsibility, and getting on with facing life with confidence.