The problem with double standards in reactions to #metoo

It’s mid-December, and the #metoo movement, launched into the public eye by the revelations about Harvey Weinstein, is still going strong. Earlier this week, Salma Hayek joined over 30 other women who have accused Weinstein of sexual harassment and assault with her chilling piece for The New York Times. For two months now we have witnessed a steady stream of infuriating and heartbreaking accounts of assault and harassment – stories that every single woman I know can relate to. We have also seen some powerful men finally face accountability for their actions, while others emerged from public shaming seemingly unscathed.

My own reactions to #metoo have ranged from deep sadness to burning rage; checking the news every morning has become akin to a game of Russian roulette:

Will I contain the urge to slap the next man who throws a sly “Hey, beautiful” at me as I pass by? Will I settle for silent contempt for the manspeader on the tube? Will I literally end up screaming at my screen after reading yet another “Can we even look at women at work anymore!!” hot take of the day?

In times like these, you just never know!

But more recently, my anger has turned to women.

It’s not news that women are complicit in upholding the very patriarchal system that harms us. This fact has been brought back into the spotlight yet again this week with the analysis of voting patterns in the highly publicised elections in the US state of Alabama, where 63% of white women voted for a candidate accused of having sexual relations with underage girls. Although their candidate lost in Alabama, this trend echoed one from the US presidential elections last year, when white women came out against Hillary Clinton en masse.

There is much to be said about internalised misogyny and the benefits of upholding oppressive structures that white women have reaped in countries like the US. But while we’re talking about the problems that conservative white women pose to the fight for gender equality and women’s rights, we also need to consider the liberal women whose actions betray these causes.

In the post-#metoo mediascape saturated with vibrant discussions about sexual and gender-based violence, it is easy to miss the less “hot” stories that caused my anger to boil over. Here’s a sample:

There was, of course, Lena Dunham’s statement in support of a GIRLS writer accused of rape by actress Aurora Perrineau. As masterfully translated and unpacked by Marisa Bate, the statement highlighted Dunham’s very toxic brand of white, wealthy, exclusive feminism that consistently privileges and trusts some women (read: white and wealthy women) over other.

Then there was Dylan Farrow’s op-ed in the LA Times that pointed out how many A-list actors have continued working with Woody Allen despite her allegations against him. Farrow’s comparison of Kate Winslet, Blake Lively and Greta Gerwig’s comments on Weinstein and Allen needs no commentary, and her highlight of the statements made by other prominent women – Ellen Page, Jessica Chastain, Susan Sarandon – leaves hope that not all artists I admire have lost their spines just yet.

But the biggest disappointment came from where I least expected: it was J.K. Rowling refusing to sack Johnny Depp and recast his character in her Fantastic Beasts film franchise, despite abundant evidence of Depp’s abuse of his ex-wife, Amber Heard. Like many, I grew up on Rowling’s books, a whole world where friendship prevailed and bullies got what they deserved. Rowling’s Twitter presence also portrays her as an ally to those bullied, abused and oppressed. To see her side with a bully in real life felt like a sucker punch.

If the hypocrisy of these influential women doesn’t make you angry, consider this.

Double standards are a double-edged sword, and we cannot afford to submit to them, not if we’re planning to fight on for equality and justice.

To believe only some survivors of sexual abuse but not others, to take down only men we didn’t particularly like in the first place but not all those accused of sexual misconduct is to betray these causes. If Weinstein, Spacey, Louis C.K., and Franklin have to go, so do Allen and Depp, and so do many more, in all industries – because make no mistake, there are men like this in every single industry, every workspace, every position of power.

Double standards, of course, don’t exist in a vacuum, and while they speak volumes about the moral integrity of individuals, they are also a reflection of the general ethical state of society.

Picking and choosing which survivors to believe and which predators to condemn only upholds the whole system that enables men to abuse their power and sexually harass and assault women (and less powerful men) in the first place. The intersectional dimensions of this cannot be overlooked, either. It is not a coincidence that the only two women whose allegations Weinstein responded to, or that the woman whom Dunham chose not to believe, were women of colour.

We cannot call ourselves feminist, or claim to support equality and human rights, if we apply these values haphazardly and opportunistically in our own judgements. This especially matters for those who wield significant influence in the public arena. The message that actions of Rowlings, Winslets, and Dunhams of the world send out – that not all women are to be believed and, by extension, that feminism is elitist and exclusive – matters.  It shapes the public opinion of movements like #metoo. It informs how we deal with sexual and gender-based violence going forward. Perhaps most importantly, it jeopardises other people’s efforts to advance us as a society to a place where equality becomes a reality.

Of course, most of us not Rowlings or Winslets. We do not have cult followings nor can we singlehandedly influence the public opinion. Still, we would be fooling ourselves in thinking that our actions don’t matter. In this singular time in our history, when #metoo has opened up a space in which women are ready to speak and people around them are ready (or, at least, have) to listen, we cannot condemn sexually violent men but keep silent when women we admire turn a blind eye on their violence. It’s not only morally rotten but it also perpetuates the myth that men – only men – are responsible for the inequalities, injustices and violence that fester in our society. And that, to me, is one of the greatest lies ever told.


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