This week I had the great pleasure and privilege of attending a live debate on the #metoo movement. I was sold on the fact the panel was made up of well educated and highly thought of women; many of whom are known for their feminist views, feisty rhetoric and having the guts to stick a middle finger up to those who loudly tell them “enough!”.
The Godmother of feminism, Germaine Greer was joined by the Times Columnist Melanie Phillips on the ‘it’s gone too far’ side, whilst newly elected leader of the WEP, Sophie Walker, joined forces with the indomitable Baroness Helena Kennedy QC to back the ‘NO WAY’ opinion.
Now, I’m self-aware enough to realise that I entered the venue with a very firm view that #metoo is still in it’s infancy and as a movement, it has the potential to help effect real change. So, let’s be honest, it was going to take a lighting bolt to change my mind, but my mind was open, and I went because I like to have my views challenged. You can’t grow as a person without first being tested, and I wanted Greer and Phillips to test me and really make me question my views. Sadly, I was disappointed.
I’m not going to give a line-by-line account of the whole session (a great synopsis can be found here – https://www.the-pool.com/news-views/latest-news/2018/12/Rachael-Sigee-on-MeToo-debate-Germaine-Greer#) but the feeling I was overwhelmingly left with was one of disbelief – how could these two women, who previously have been bastions in the fight for women’s equality, hold such dangerously anti-female views? I’m genuinely shaken by what I heard. Every word and view expressed was dripping with white privilege, disdain, and victim blaming. I’m not being dramatic when I say that if women acted according to their advice, these two would have blood on their hands. Let me explain…
Both stated that one of their objections to the #metoo movement was that it was “too Hollywood”. Their comments suggested the women abused there lost any ownership of their bodies the moment they discovered their talent and passion, and signed up to act for a living. Do you remember that scene from Notting Hill – the one where the table of drunken City wankers were discussing Julia Roberts’ character and saying she was obviously ‘gagging for it’? Well it seems they were right all along; actress does apparently equal prostitute – must be true, ‘feminists’ say so!
So much was said that I’m outraged about; Greer earlier in the day referred to Weinstein’s accusers as career rapees (what the..!!?), Phillips stated that the actresses only spoke up when Weinstein was no longer useful to them, that they took too long to speak up, that they continued to work with him, that they profited from the films they made…etc, etc. Yes, these two women – self-proclaimed feminists – spewed out every vile retort that we routinely hear thrown at victims of assault who dare to speak out – and not to highlight the despicable treatment victims suffer, but as a way of demeaning these women and discrediting their stories and experiences. Well pinch my arse and demand a blow-job — progress, it seems, is a fantasy!
Worse still was their advice to women about how situations of assault should be dealt with. Please never lose sight of the fact that they both stressed that they wanted more to be done to support the everyday women, the ones whose lives are so removed from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, they may as well live on the moon. Greer and Phillips say that these women – all women – when faced with the leering, groping, dominating oppression of a boss who’s demanding that little extra should… wait for it… use physical force! Yes, these two privileged older ladies believe that when faced with a man, who is mostly likely in a position of power and influence as well as potentially being physically stronger, should have the confidence and power to fight back physically. Neither displayed any recognition of the sheer terror that many women feel when they have children to feed, house and clothe – and no other source of income – and their job is threatened, no hint of a nod towards understanding the anguish that comes with being shunned by your co-workers, friends and potentially your whole industry and forced from a career that’s been hard fought for, and absolutely zero fucking hint of knowledge that many women who fight back suffer horrific beatings in return and many OFTEN DIE!!!! On the scale of bloody stupid advice given by apparently knowledgeable people, this ranks pretty damn highly! And let’s not forget, if you dish out a (much deserved) physical response, there’s the potential to have charges filed against you for assault. The man will deny he did anything wrong and you’ll still end up in court, telling your sexual assault story and being branded and liar and a fantasist, the only difference now is you’ll be the one leaving with the criminal record. Well done ladies!
Baroness Kennedy shared a story of a women she knew who seized the unwanted hand she discovered jammed down the back of her trousers, whilst in a busy public place, and got a broken jaw for her troubles. That woman was obviously in the wrong somehow – I’m just trying to figure it out exactly – shame Greer and Phillips didn’t see fit to share their opinions on this one…
So apart from being flag bearers for the view that sexual assault victims just need to toughen up or deal with it because it’s really not that bad, it seems that there is some confusion on Phillip’s part when it comes to a woman’s right to dress as she sees fit. In her opening words she stressed her view that #metoo was selfish because of the ‘me’ part (erm… OK, she obviously missed the whole point about sharing our experiences to show how no victim of assault is alone and that assault is endemic in all walks of life, but hey-ho, no one said anything about actually understanding the movement before joining the backlash!).
One example she gave as proof of this was the lack of Western feminist support for the women in Iran who want to remove their hijabs and are protesting in the streets, and often feeling the full force of the law in return. Now I find this reference ironic for a few reasons: firstly, Phillips is an outspoken critic of Islam and so, based on her inability to consider the female in every other situation she discussed, I can’t help but feel this was more of an opportunity to dig at the religion rather than to support the brave women fighting for the right to choose how they dress; and secondly, just a few minutes later she was back to bashing the ‘hypocritical women’ of Hollywood for wearing black at the Golden Globes to support equal rights and the #metoo movement, but flashing a little too much flesh (in her opinion) at the same time.
So, obviously, there must be a scale somewhere that clearly shows how much flesh is acceptable before you tip over into losing your right to protest the oppression of your gender. I’m guessing you’re good if you fall between ‘covered but no headscarf’ and ‘cap sleeves, hint of ankle’, but dare to show a thigh, some vertebrae or god-forbid, some boob and you are definitely gunning to be one of those awful “career rapees” and have forfeited any right to a voice. So, the ‘feminist’ lesson I take from this is you should fight for the right to dress how you choose, but when it’s granted, don’t take the piss ladies or it’ll be rescinded quicker than you can say “no Harvey!”. Have I got this right Melanie, it is a bit confusing?
I could go on forever about so many other things they said that had me shaking in indignant rage, but I want to end on a positive. For me the #metoo movement is about strength. It’s about a no-boundaries, accepting movement where women – all women – black, white, trans, gay, cis, rich, poor, whatever – can virtually link arms with each other to say ‘you’re not alone in this, we have your back’. It is a new movement and it has so far to go – and it is definitely not without its pitfalls, but this is a start. Men and women are now discussing the prevalence of sexual assault in everyday life and having meaningful open discussions about what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to the treatment of women. It is a new type of feminism; very different to that which Greer and Phillips championed back in the 60’s and 70’s and sadly, to me they have shown that they won’t be playing a part in it. It feels like, after winning the battles of their day, they have settled back into being part of the establishment. They are now accepted, mainstream, so why bite the hand that feeds them, even if it’s the same hand that oppresses them, they did their bit right? It’s disappointing and concerning but it’s OK, we have new generals – women like Helena Kennedy and Sophie Walker who are battling for all women, not just the ones who are like them – and who knows, with them leading the charge, maybe – just maybe – this time, we’ll win the war.