Shall we talk about #metoo?
I have got extremely mixed feelings regarding the whole thing – first and foremost, I am disgusted by all the abuse. The following post is just a flow of thoughts triggered by the campaign, with near to no distance given that we’re all swimming in the midst of these murky, muddy waters at the moment.
Mixed feelings about the choice of wording in the first place. “MeToo” inevitably implies “me too, I’ve also been a victim”, involuntarily creating an assembly of victims, when it would seem more appropriate to accentuate the abuser’s responsibility. It isn’t a question of delation, but rather an adjustment of the debate’s focus. What we want to denounce is abuse, not the perpetuation of an abused person status though the media: I am pro #HimToo.
Mixed feelings about the diversity of abuses denounced through the use of #MeToo. Everybody is telling their story, therefore #MeToo exposes the whole, frightening range of sexually connoted abuses that women who are expressing themselves have suffered. The issue here is that an ass groping and a rape don’t belong to the same sphere. Rape is being drowned among all the other assaults, which may undermine just how serious rape is.
Mixed feelings about what comes next. What are we going to make of this campaign? Although the possibility to express oneself on social media is already a leap forward for all the women who could not speak up before, what will we make of it all? If it changes mindsets, that’s already something positive but if it becomes a people’s tribunal without any legal or judiciary consequences, the point is limited.
Faced with such mixed feelings, I picked up a few classics, namely Naomi Wolf, political advisor, and Christina Hoff Sommers, author of “Who Stole Feminism?” and “The War against Boys”.
I mention these two authors because they have relatively opposite perspectives concerning the cause of women.
I also mention them because I find that they are the only ones to write anything intelligent concerning the cause of women, Mona Chollet aside.
The one, Naomi Wolf, wrote “The Beauty Myth” in the 90’s and edited it subsequently. She is a leading figure of Third Wave Feminism. In her essay, she outlines how Western women have are submitted to the tyranny of beauty, which notoriously imposes thinness, youth and whatever images the media bombard them with. According to our modern standards, a woman’s primary duty is to be beautiful (and it isn’t Instagram that can disprove this).
The other, Christina Hoff Sommers, strongly criticized Wolf and the Third Wave, blaming them for overly-victimizing women, while she wanted to present more equalitarian discourses.
Frankly, I believe both are right and that the truth, as it so often does, lies in the middle.
I find that women can be treated as second class citizens, yet I firmly equalitarian, as I have already expressed.
I sincerely believe that change will come and that it will also come from women deciding to place themselves on equal footing. Today still, women can be their own worst enemies when they try to squeeze themselves into pre-established boxes by pulling the feminist card (Hello Femen? Hello Emily Rajatowski?)
I know I am repeating myself but some women really are their worst enemy (open Instagram for two seconds). They stage themselves into excessively sexualized positions and outfits (when outfit there is), thus reducing themselves solely to the purely, brutally sexual and consumable dimension, given that they do it conforming to today’s beauty standards. It would become interesting if a woman, many women, could be valued and recognized socially while being the opposite of current beauty standards.
Instagram is a social phenomenon but it remains an epi-phenomenon compared to the abuses committed in real life.
As long as mindsets, laws and courts refuse to change, nothing tangible will happen. Change maybe isn’t for right now but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth working for future generations. Mindsets can only change if coerced through strong legal decisions, and only transmit themselves through education.
When we stop educating little girls to be “pretty” above all else, things might start getting a little better.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard someone praising my daughter’s beauty (the first praise and might I add the only praise) in front of my hyper-sensitive son who asks me if he’s ugly as his face betrays how bad he feels.
I’ve lost count of the number of princess-themed birthday invitations my daughter brought home. At three or four, I think it’s a little harsh, so I can’t help smiling when I see my daughter attending dressed up as Spiderman (her choice, not mine) when the other dozen are all dressed up as Elsa.
I’ve lost track of how many people talk normally to my seven-year-old son before addressing my four-year-old daughter in a different, totally silly voice.
We, as a society, value beauty, kindness, empathy and obedience in little girls. In boys, we value intelligence, physical strength and agility.
Since the dawn of time.
As the anthropologist Alain Testart argued in his essay The Amazon and The Cook, an Anthropology of the Sexual Division of Labour, before the erection of a predominant, non-pagan religion, women were as fit for war and hunting as men.
Only the erection of a predominant religion (let’s hazard a guess towards catholicism concerning France), can explain the degradation of the woman’s status to one of inferiority. Religion had to counter the total incomprehension of an inexplicable and worrying phenomenon that touched on the very integrity of human nature: menstrual blood. It also had to stabilize social cohesion at the smallest possible common denominator: family unity and descent. How else does a man make sure the heir is really his offspring at a time that predates genetic testing if not by acquiring full control of the one who bears life?
And patriarchy was born. The idea that the woman, not being man’s equal, could be made into a mere object of consumption. Social consumption of the trophy-wife, sexual consumption because she is physically inferior, sexual consumption because her first duty is to produce an heir.
She is still consumed today, that’s what #MeToo is screaming. Beyond the campaign and its infuriating illustrations, that’s what it all amounts to: the consumption of women with the sexual aspect always being the common denominator (women and sex, there’s enough material to write ten theses in sociology, psychology, anthropology). In the West, it’s no longer an issue of legal status, voting rights, marital obligations in order to secure the descent. Nowadays, it’s a question of sexual objectification, reinforced by diminished physical power compared to the abuser.
Mixed feelings, finally, when I talk with my dear teen. Simply because I cannot partake in the movement, having not experienced any situation of sexual abuse myself.
In the worst cases, my situations were slightly embarrassing (and mostly for the man in front of me) because caused by unwanted attempts that I quickly shut down with a stern eye or a cutting remark.
When I was 20, they tried to make me blush at work by telling dirty jokes. I answered, in full seriousness, with dirtier jokes and in the end I’m not the one who blushed.
When I was an associate, a partner thought it his right to kiss me without prior notice. My only response was a punch to his stomach (I’ve got a solid punch).
When I was already a mature woman negociating a financing contract, a man thought it was his right to play footsies with me under the table (he was kind enough to remove his shoe). I took the assembly as witness that I asked anybody playing footsies with me in moist socks to stop doing so immediately.
Now that I am a mother… Apart from telling them that they are humans before being man or woman, from raising them accordingly and helping them become extraordinarily humane people, what can I do?
Hannah is 18 now. Paloma is 4. I hate it when people tell them they’re pretty. And that’s all. No, that’s not all. A brunette and a blondie, they are indeed very beautiful but they are also incredibly rich in opinions, personality, altruism and kindness. They are honest and upright in their respective actions, and have no desire to sell themselves or to sell anything because they do not want to be consumed. They want to be the actors of their lives. Fully. I admire that and apart from giving them a hand, there’s not much I can do.
I want to teach them and their brother the respect that is due to every human being, be they man or woman, rich or poor, and that the quality of this respect must be the same for all. I also want to provide all the necessary support they need, with respect to their ages, to facilitate their understanding of the world they evolve in. That requires lots of reading, lots of pauses to reflect on life and how we live it, lots of distance and dialogue but it truly helps them.
As I mentioned, this article is really a flow of conscience (my first, I believe). Probably because the society we evolve in is so liquid that it’s difficult to stay on one course only.
Weill coat – JCrew jeans – Eric Bompard top – Matsuda sunglasses – Blue Velvet slippers