Feminism Must Not Be The Boss Of #MeToo

We need to believe women in the #metoo movement, but we need to believe men as well.

Last week in New York a female professor was found to be responsible for sexually harassing one of her students.

Avital Ronell was suspended from New York University after a Title IX report (Title IX refers to a federal law in the US that requires any higher learning institution to conduct a formal investigation into any alleged instances of sex discrimination by staff or students) found that she was responsible for sexually harassing the student.

The investigation went on for 11 months and the confidential finding was handed down earlier this year.

Not long after the investigation was completed, a group of female academics, many of whom are prolific feminists and many of whom have worked with Ronell before, wrote a letter to the university in her defense. In the letter, they attest to: "The grace, the keen wit, and the intellectual commitment of Professor Ronell and ask that she be accorded the dignity rightly deserved by someone of her international standing and reputation."

New York University. Image: Getty.

It comes in the time of #metoo, a global hashtag movement that means two things; people feel more empowered to speak up about bad behavior and call it out, and that people are finally being held to account for their bad behavior over the years.

Feminism has been a big champion of the movement, and rightly so. As a feminist, I believe in equality. Equality of opportunity and access, and also social, political and financial equality between women, men, and every other minority group that makes up the world we live in.

Can you imagine if Don Burke’s mates had written the same letter?

Most decent humans would have outright condemned them. And feminists, myself included, would have been the first to jump up and down and shake our fists and demand better for the women who had survived his harassment over the years.

So why aren’t we doing the same now?

For years, perpetrators of sexual harassment in the workplace have been able to hide behind their work mates -- their friends, peers and superiors in the workplace who knew, (or sometimes didn’t) about their behavior but covered it up regardless. They dismissed any accusations or reports as baseless misunderstandings because ‘he’s a good bloke’ or ‘he didn’t mean it’.

Men are finally taking notice. Image: Getty.

Feminists, and in the wake of the #metoo movement, society more broadly, have been quick to condemn this behavior, and rightly so. The idea that someone’s experience of sexual harassment or assault in the workplace isn’t worthy of discussion or recourse, or worse, isn’t worthy of belief because you like someone is ignorant, ridiculous and hurtful.

Feminism has done a lot of amazing things over the years, and its work is far from over. I’m proud to be a feminist and can’t wait to see how far we can advance equal rights over my lifetime.

But the #metoo movement, while it has been helped and championed by feminism, cannot be run by feminists if we are going to pick and choose whose case is worthy of believing.

If we really believe in equality, then we need to remember that sometimes, women do bad things too.

Yes, studies show that women are less likely to do bad things than their male counterparts. Women are also less likely to be taken seriously than men. We are more likely to be the victim or survivor of sexual harassment, assault and abuse. We will earn less in our lifetime because our work is valued less and we are more likely to be passed over for promotion. Statistically, we do have it harder than men and feminism has gone a long way in helping us to begin addressing some of these issues.

However, #metoo is not about gender, and it’s only a bit about equality. Mostly, it’s about power. As feminism does its job, and we get more diversity in power, it is sensible to assume that the perpetrators of harassment, and the survivors, will shift a bit in terms of demographic. Anyone, male, female, black, white, rich, poor or otherwise who has power over someone else, has the ability to wield it in an unfair, threatening, damaging way.

Not everyone is going to use their power to do good things. You can’t pick and choose who gets in trouble for it, because that’s not equality either. And you certainly can’t pick and choose in the name of feminism. Because picking and choosing is not equality, and equality is what feminism is all about.

Recent studies have shown that around one in five victims or survivors of sexual harassment in the workplace are men. People who come forward with these complaints are incredibly brave and vulnerable, and male, female, trans or otherwise, if their claim is found to be true, then we should support them, regardless.