Sometimes, I can’t focus on fiction writing because a real life social topic is roiling in my brain. I saw an article about Margaret Atwood’s critique of the #MeToo movement, in which the public calling out of men who have raped, harassed and pushed for compliance rather than consent was referred to as “witch hunts.” No. They’re not. The two movements are not at all parallel.
Witch hunts were a way for men, who held all the social power and controlled all governing mechanisms, to keep women from speaking out about their experiences and to enforce compliance and subjugation to the men in their lives. It was a tool for perpetuating an existing system of oppression. They were “keeping women in their place” by wielding their power.
Today, women are using the only means of social power we’ve managed to accumulate to call for accountability. We aren’t trying to get compliance or silence offenders or perpetuate an existing system of oppression. The established systems of supposed justice have proven to be anything but for women. We continue to be relentlessly subject to violence, harassment and denial of wealth in a capitalist world. We are subjugated as “less than men” in the social hierarchy. We are punished in direct and indirect ways for speaking our truth, asking for justice or demanding our rights. Autonomy over our bodies is withheld and perpetually assaulted even further.
When men were doing witch hunts, they were torturing and killing women. They were throwing them in nasty jail cells, stoning them to death, drowning them, burning them, crushing them or hanging them. Men today aren’t even being slapped, much less having any other kind of physical violence meted out against them. Women aren’t going around executing them. The two movements simply do not compare. To try and conjure up the comparison is to erase the brutality of witch hunts, while attempting to mislead people about the nature of #MeToo.
Let’s get real. The worst non-judicial ramification for men who are accused of treating women like shit is that they might lose a job or support for their work. Given that men have dominated the economic systems and denied access to wealth for women, I don’t see this as a social disaster. All they have to do to regain their ability to work is make a meaningful apology, acknowledging their wrongdoing and speaking about how they will learn to do better. What they get out of doing better is far better more rewarding relations with women. Women who were hunted had no such positive outcome offered to them.
The use of public shaming in witch hunts was to remind other women not to resist their oppression. “Comply or die.” The ensuing public discourse was used to instill fear and demand silence. The use of public shaming in the #MeToo movement is to ask us all to wake up and resist this oppression. The ensuing public discourse is about learning to shift away from a culture of violence, coercion and compliance to one of consent. Instilling a public ethos of consent is a gateway to liberation for everyone, when we start applying it intersecitonally. #MeToo is demanding that we have compassion and we talk.
I’m disappointed in the likes of Margaret Atwood who want to erase the realities of all the different layers of oppression which are intertwined but experienced differently. Its not serving a compassionate world to deny the import of particular forms of oppression. Sexism is one of the oldest and deepest forms. It oppresses half our population. Within other oppressed demographics, women are more oppressed. Black women, transwomen, Indigenous women, disabled women …. they all face more oppression than their male counterparts. If we can shift the public ethos regarding sexual relations, we will have done a massive piece of work towards generating a more compassionate and just world for everyone.
No one is saying that the work is limited to this. We are saying that the work must include this. That, just as every white person has benefited from racism, all men have benefited from sexism. So, calling them out and having them face rather meager ramifications, in comparison, is not a witch hunt. Its a needed transition for which we’ve found no other successful vehicle.
While women are murdered by their partners every day, being paid less for their work in almost every field, being denied control over their bodies and living in constant anxiety about being harassed or hurt on the street or in a room with a man, its a fitting use of the only power we’ve managed to gain to consolidate our voices and force a public dialogue to build a more compassionate world. Its anything but a witch hunt.