Why there are no witches to hunt in the #MeToo movement

Catherine Deneuve
CBS/Courtesy

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Your outdoor markets and Seine-side book stands don’t charm me anymore, French women.

The 100 artists and intellectuals in your ranks — most notably, the 14-time César nominee Catherine Deneuve — who signed a manifesto in Le Monde condemning the #MeToo movement for its “Victorian moral outlook” and “climate of totalitarian society” have turned me off of Francophilia for a while. I can’t stomach criticism that calls #MeToo a witch hunt. You can search and search: I just don’t think there are any witches to find.

#MeToo was started 12 years ago to validate black and brown girls’ experiences of sexual violence. As its founder Tarana Burke said in an interview with Business Insider, “#MeToo is essentially about survivors supporting survivors. And it’s really about community healing and community action.”

You know what it’s not about? Comforting men who are too afraid to flirt out of fear that they’ll be accused of sexual harassment.

I’m not going to coddle anyone here: It’s patently ridiculous to think that the #MeToo movement has suddenly made the dating world inhospitable. So, too, is it silly to think that artists are prohibited from making sexual — or even sexually provocative — artworks. And yet time and time again, these are the complaints lodged against #MeToo.

Austrian director Michael Haneke called the movement a “witch hunt (that) should be left in the Middle Ages” and claimed that he is fearful of “this crusade against any form of eroticism.” The signatories of the Le Monde manifesto worry that a Roman Polanski retrospective will be banned from the Cinémathèque Française, mourning the censorship of a poster featuring an Egon Schiele nude.

“Just like in the good old witch-hunt days,” the polemic claims, “what we are once again witnessing here is puritanism in the name of a so-called greater good, claiming to promote the liberation and protection of women, only to enslave them to a status of eternal victim and reduce them to defenseless preys of male chauvinist demons.”

Here’s the thing about calling #MeToo a witch hunt: Witches don’t exist. Women, on the other hand, have faced casual degradation since the category of “woman” was constituted. Rape, harassment and sexual assault occur every single day to women across the globe.

If men cared as much about combating violence against women as they do about being accused of sexual assault, we might not have to face the reality that one in five women have been raped, or that one-half of women have experienced sexual violence in their lives.

It’s the epitome of male privilege to be angry when a movement centering around women’s experiences refuses to validate men’s discomfort with it. My right to feel safe in the world, among my male friends and in my bedroom, will always be more important than men’s desire to bust a nut.

There’s a difference between sexual assault or harassment and asking someone out. If people don’t know where that line gets drawn, it’s high time for them to check in with themselves about how they interact with other people.

At the end of the day, the guidelines for what are appropriate are pretty simple. Even the French manifesto lines it out: “Rape is a crime. But trying to pick up someone, however persistently and clumsily, is not.”

There will always be another predator to dredge, which is to say, I don’t have to go hunting for another bad apple in Hollywood — it’s easier than catching a weird infection at a fraternity’s foam party. Not a single person who has tweeted #MeToo was searching for a witch. Every one of us, however, has stumbled upon an evil magician — a Harvey Weinstein, a Woody Allen, a Bill Cosby.

I don’t care if predatory artistry feels constrained by the movement. If “art” depended upon the degradation of women in order to feel cool or edgy, then that’s just shitty art. I didn’t lose one second of sleep when I found out that an upcoming Louis C.K. comedy special was canceled by Netflix. Nor did I shed a tear over the trashing of Kevin Spacey’s, James Franco’s or Charlie Rose’s careers. You’re going to masturbate in front of your coworkers? To quote the meme — then perish.

Contact Sarah Coduto at [email protected].