I have a confession to make: I’m sick of #MeToo. Whenever I see the hashtag, I feel dread. I lived through rape, abuse, and torture, so this is, in one sense, a personal reaction — reminders of familiar traumas make me hurt. That’s on me. No one else is responsible for my mental health.
But the dread is mixed with frustration. Me Too is a movement dedicated to eradicating sexual violence, started over a decade ago by Tarana Burke, a black woman from the Bronx — yet in interviewing (white) people about their use of the hashtag, I regularly encounter those who have no idea who Tarana even is, let alone her story, what she says her movement is about, her work (featuring Terry Crews!), et al.
I also encounter too many well-meaning people in denial about the fact that anything that’s constantly on the news is going to attract grifters and attention-seekers who feel the need to hijack an important cause.
The most obvious example is Jacob Wohl — a conspiracy theorist who attempted to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller by claiming he is a rapist. We were all so focused on the ludicrousness of Wohl’s scheme that we forgot its implications: Any popular movement, let alone popular hashtag, is going to attract its share of people with dubious agendas, and admitting this should not be tantamount to discrediting survivors.
Last year, I was taken in by a social media personality who wrote under the pseudonym Peter Delacroix, and went by Doc Petey on Twitter. As Task & Purpose, a media outlet that focuses on the military and veterans, lays it out here: Doc Petey “claimed to be a Navy corpsman with 25 years in uniform, multiple downrange deployments, a Purple Heart, and a Combat Action Ribbon.” Petey, who said to have transitioned from female to male following retirement, wrote and tweeted passionately about the sexual assaults he endured while serving this country. I wasn’t just sympathetic to Petey, I had come to care for this person.
It turned out that Petey had grossly misrepresented himself (herself? I have doubts about every aspect of this person’s identity now). Twitter user Snakeeater36 in particular should be noted for his work in uncovering Petey’s lies.
Snake and I are ideological opposites in many ways, which brings me to another problem with how #MeToo is being used — as a tool of partisan politics. I’m not right-wing, I’m not conservative, and my views on health care, social safety nets, taxes, incarceration, etc., align with the left — except that I am not just annoyed, I am disgusted with the left’s frequent piety and insistence on ideological purity.
If you cite the work of someone the left may disagree with — let’s use Snake as an example — you’re tainted. Nothing you say matters. This is pathetic.
To doubt someone’s #MeToo story is to alienate an entire group. To believe someone’s #MeToo story is to alienate another group. Outrage is always going to be more satisfying than nuance — but at what cost? I hope that Republican Senator Joni Ernst’s story may begin to shift our ideas about what tackling rape culture really means — yes, even people you don’t agree with may be secretly suffering from unimaginable pain! — but I have doubts.
At the time of writing this, me and a couple of my friends are observing (and documenting) how yet another apparent social media grifter is attempting to capitalize on a #MeToo story in order to solicit funds. Nothing this person has said adds up. Nothing from anyone else’s research adds up. Not only does this appear to be a grift, but it seems that pathological lying on a dramatic scale is involved.
It’s hard to know how to approach this, because, once again, I’d previously been taken in by this individual. They’re not a rando from the internet, someone close to me was once friends with them, hence I had no reason to doubt them. And yet it’s now obvious that this individual is hijacking #MeToo in order to get cash — and trying to get under my skin because they know that my past makes me sympathetic. Is it, perhaps, understandable, that the dread I feel is not the product of mere paranoia and exhaustion?
This brings me to my main point about how #MeToo is being abused: The purpose of the original movement is bigger and broader than talking about assault. Tarana Burke has done more than talk about it — check out her movement’s healing resources library, check out their toolkits, and check out what she says about race and the role it plays in her work and coverage of her work. What she does is comparatively rarely highlighted by the press, and it’s dismaying.
I want to mention one specific goal that is often overlooked: What about greater access to mental health care? Survivors need it. I’ve come to the conclusion that some of the grifters do too. Because perhaps SOME of these people wouldn’t be hijacking these causes if they could get some help.
It’s uncomfortable to talk about people who attempt to use #MeToo to settle personal grievances, and yet staying silent is worse. Last year, a casual internet acquaintance declared to me that she was “having a #MeToo moment,” because a guy she’d really liked had ditched her. She claimed that “the violation” of him not falling in love with her even though he’d previously said he was falling in love with her was “like an assault.”
I flashed back to a morning in a shabby but sunny east Moscow kitchen, where my husband, the man I loved and whose talent I worshipped, held me down and anally raped me. Many of the details are fuzzy now, but I remember the hand that was placed over my mouth to muffle my screams. I remember believing him when he said I was at fault, because he’d gaslit me so much by that point that believing was the only way to keep from going insane.
I’m sorry, but “he didn’t call me back” is not a criminal act. Rejection is not an assault. Conflating these issues is exploitative and demeaning.
No one owes us the validation of attraction. If you think you’re owed attraction — you’re in incel territory. Incels are of course actively dangerous, because they seek to do violence against women/seek to enslave women. But have I known women who plot to “take down” a guy because he didn’t give them the attention they felt was owed to them? Oh yes. I even know a guy who contemplated suicide as the result of it.
There’s nothing wrong with saying, “He dropped me and was an insensitive jerk about it — be warned.” But “I think he shouldn’t have a job anymore because he dropped me, so let’s tell everyone he’s a dangerous misogynist” is abusive. The funny thing about words is that they mean things. When men get together and call a woman a slut, we know the ways in which that scenario can escalate (for example: sluts are deemed “un-rapeable”). There are escalation scenarios as far as men are concerned too. It’s an issue in queer relationships as surely as it is an issue in straight ones. I would know by now.
I don’t just want to offer criticism of how #MeToo is being hijacked. I already talked about greater access to mental health care being an important aspect of tackling rape culture — and I wish to reiterate that. It can be important for people who commit crimes or, as the case may be, don’t respect boundaries. Not every person who commits an assault or violates a boundary is an irredeemable monster. Please recall that violence and abuse are often cyclical. For example, the cousin who abused me when I was little — it was the first great betrayal of my life — was himself horrifically abused.
I also want to say this: It’s important to understand that different people occupy different psychological matrices. As the result, we can misunderstand and/or hurt each other.
I thought about this when I re-visited my old essay about why conflating seduction with rape is a stupid idea. Actual seduction, just as an actual relationship, is about making a connection — it’s like being able to look deeply into another person’s eyes, an act that still comes very easily to me (but not at all easily to many others), and forming an intimate bond, creating a space that the two of you share.
But what about people who have trouble forming bonds and are used to feeling lonely and/or misunderstood? The thing is — people who don’t know true connection can view intimacy as inherently steeped in coercion, because they don’t know any better. In that sense, they can sometimes think that an assault is not really an assault. Alternatively, they may feel like rejection is A GREAT VIOLATION THAT MUST BE AVENGED — only they don’t realize that they’re the ones violating boundaries.
I absolutely don’t mean that you’re some kind of potential rapist or liar if you feel isolated and alone. In the 21st century, feeling isolated and alone is kinda the norm. But what I am saying is that having problems with forming bonds may sometimes result in behavior that’s shitty — trust me, I have been there myself — and that the internet, meanwhile, can reinforce that by reinforcing our isolation. This problem can manifest in different ways. If we’re cognizant of that, we can, perhaps, be more proactive when it comes to building a better culture and being realistic about the people we encounter along the way.
For me, this is what it’s all about. I like the idea that even if I never fully get over the bad things that happened to me, if I never become the writer I want to be, I would’ve at least made a difference in how people relate to each other, particularly during tumultuous moments for society, assuming there’s anything left of society in due time.
Only connect! That was her whole sermon. Because I don’t want to play zero-sum games. They’re rigged.
I’m indebted to the work of George Lakoff in helping me better understand how my ideological opponents think — and why.
I self-published this essay because the person who commissioned it ultimately thought it too much. There are no hard feelings! But please consider a donation, if you found it helpful and/or interesting, as I am now facing a significant shortfall.