The Personalist Project


I have some brief remarks on the hashtag du jour that I'd like to share. Kate Cousino has already posted some noteworthy thoughts on the subject, here and here.

Said hashtag is #metoo, and here's its raison d'etre:

If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote "Me too" as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.

It's credited to celebrity Alyssa Milano, who credits an unnamed friend. Others say it was created by Tarana Burke years ago. Whatever the origin, there's a distinction that I think could clear up a lot of the disagreement about it. 

Lots of people I respect have jumped on the bandwagon and told their stories which, sadly, I don't find shocking. Or at least, I don't find them surprising. I could tell my own if I wanted to, incidents from 40 years ago up until one the other day in the Aldi parking lot. (The one thing that did surprise me was one levelheaded, trustworthy woman who said she had never been harassed or assaulted. I don't doubt her, but I was certainly surprised!)

So what do people have against the #metoo project?

Some see it as pressure to join in the indiscriminate man-bashing which, in some circles, has been unabated for decades. Some object to blurring the line between harassment and assault, noting that even though obnoxious come-on's and rape are on the same continuum of objectification and abuse, mentioning them both in the same breath minimizes the seriousness of the latter. One friend was furious at the idea of being pressured to produce her story of trauma for the pleasure of Facebook's voyeurs: just because a hashtag happens to be trending, do we all have to dredge up our most miserable memories on command? Because Facebook says so? And doesn't compressing these things into a hashtag just trivialize the whole subject?

In the end, more careful thinkers started pointing out that men also get harassed and even assaulted, that blurring the line has the virtue, at least, of not seeming to demand gory details, and that their own participation should be construed as neither man-bashing, nor trivialization, nor pressure to follow suit. And as usual, when a hashtag begins to spawn real conversations with real distinctions, the whole thing began to dissipate, and the internet moved on to the next (momentarily) big thing.

One commenter, author and speaker Leila Miller, after criticizing the campaign as man-bashing, took a step back and asked an interesting question:

Was the hashtag campaign meant to be a political statement/movement or therapy/healing? Can anyone tell me for sure? I took it as the former. For anyone who took it as the latter, and were searching for healing or solidarity, I can understand why you were hurt by my post. I never thought of it as a "healing" thing--we all heal differently and that's not how I heal--so I was not targeting anyone's healing.

And here's what I want to say. It's both. Just like it always is. You have a crowd, a throng, a community, of people who've all suffered some particular kind of genuine injustice. And on their heels--or striding self-righteously at their head--you have a gaggle of power-hungry politicians, or attention-hungry celebrities, or money-hungry moguls, who, for their own slimy reasons, are heading out on a click-generating crusade, using as pawns the victims (or survivors, if you like) in search of solidarity and healing. (Subjects like #metoo that involve both sex and violence are best of all--the kind that really make the ringleaders' mouths water.) Let's you and him (or better, you and her) fight, they urge gleefully. Then the pawns, instead of the ringleaders, get belittled and mocked, and come away feeling less understood and more hopeless than before that things will ever change. 

And the ringleaders quietly sneak off to count up their clicks. 


Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Comments (3)

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#1, Oct 20, 2017 1:29pm

Perhaps there's a lesson here about kneejerk responses as well. I think it is probably always an error to dismiss something as "merely political" simply because it comes from or is associated with a political movement or party you distrust.

The truth is that if something is to resonate and catch on--gather clicks or participation, or whatever--it needs to connect with the personal in some way. And any group of people--politicians, activists, or FB posters writing under the same hashtag--are first and foremost individual persons. We lose something if we don't take the time to listen closely and find out *why* something holds meaning for or has caught the imagination or sympathy of the people around us. 

The political IS personal...because the polis is made up of persons. 

Devra Torres

#2, Oct 20, 2017 3:25pm

Kate, as far as I understand, I agree completely. I'm not assuming that the fact that it's trending means it's merely a political stunt of some kind. The problem I was trying to get at was the way people see things through a political lens only and then attack the people who are actually suffering the injustice as if they're the perpetrators of a stunt, or as if they're just making tactical moves in a culture war.

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#3, Oct 20, 2017 3:45pm

Oh, I'm agreeing with you and expounding further, that's all! 

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