Its appears that there is no lack of sexual harassment scandals reported worldwide. These scandals have ensnared public figures from disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein to famous director Doze Niu.
While the verdicts against them are not out yet, such cases have galvanised public support for victims of sexual harassment. As outrage against sexual harassment gained momentum through various platforms like the #MeToo movement, it has encouraged victims to testify against their abusers, igniting public conversation against such offences.
It is undeniable that the #MeToo movement has benefited our society, giving support to victims and deterring powerful people from abusing their positions. Perhaps, it might eventually be the catalyst we need to greatly reduce sexual harassment in the workplace.
Has the #MeToo Movement Gone Too Far?
While the #MeToo movement has being credited with seeking justice for victims, there have been concerns that the movement has gone too far. Notably, there have been concerns that the #MeToo movement, if managed improperly, is no different from a modern witch hunt.
Such worries are not unfounded. In the heat of the moment, miscarriage of justice could occur if people choose to believe the words of a malicious accuser. If due legal processes are not enforced, an innocent man could be ruined as a result.
According to a poll conducted by the National Public Radio (NPR) and IPSOS in the United States, more than 40% of the respondents felt that the #MeToo movement had gone too far. Other than the fear that an unproven allegation might destroy lives, respondents were concerned that the #MeToo movement could spawn a bandwagon effect by encouraging people to make malicious allegations.
Modern Day Witch Hunts?
Just look at the case involving the United States Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Just before he was about to be confirmed for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Courts in September 2018, he received an allegation from Christine Blasey Ford that he had sexually assaulted her at a party during their high school days many decades ago.
Notably, there have been concerns that the #MeToo movement, if managed improperly, is no different from a modern witch hunt
It did not matter that extensive background checks had confirmed that Brett Kavanaugh is a respectable person of integrity. Neither did it matter that his accuser had no evidence or witness to support her claims or the fact that she had made contradicting claims in her statements. Swayed by emotions, many people preferred to believe the accuser even if the allegations could not be justified.
Although Brett Kavanaugh was not found guilty and eventually confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice, his reputation is affected even if he is truly innocent. Many people have already deemed him guilty even if there is no evidence to prove so. A dark shadow will forever hang over him and his family due to this unproven allegation.
Some people have had it worse than Brett Kavanaugh. In March 2018, Benny Fredriksson, the artistic director of Stockholm’s Kulturhuset Stadsteatern, the city’s leading arts and culture centre, resigned and committed suicide after he was accused by his employees for misconduct. Apparently, he was driven to suicide after one of the local newspapers publicly accused him by quoting accounts of unnamed people.
Justice came late when investigation revealed no evidence of sexual misconduct by Benny Fredriksson. This resulted in a backlash against the #MeToo movement in Sweden, as the public started to recognise that the accused could be the actual victim and accusers might not be as saintly as portrayed. However, such a reflection came too late as an innocent man was destroyed.
Many people are coming to the realisation that what happened to Brett Kavanaugh and Benny Fredriksson could happen to them or their loved ones too. Due to the power of social media, all it takes is a well-timed allegation to destroy a person’s life within seconds.
True, we should spare no efforts to punish sexual harassers and seek justice for victims. However, it should not be built on the pain and suffering of innocent people, but on reasonable and just processes. If not, how are we different from the hysterical mobs that hung innocent people during the Salem witch trials?
The Dark Side of #MeToo
Defenders of the #MeToo movement are quick to point out the low rate of false accusation. For example, some sources estimated that only four percent of cases involving sexual violence are found or suspected to be false.
The rate of false accusation may be low. However, the mere possibility of its existence and the consequence of the law used by a malicious individual to destroy an innocent person’s life is enough to attract public concerns against the #Metoo movement.
Just look at the recent lawsuit involving a young male student from Pennsylvania, United States, who was victimised by false accusations. As revealed in the lawsuit, the young man faced multiple accusations from a group of girls who, in their admission, claimed that their accusations were motivated by the fact that they “just don’t like him” and “would do anything to get him expelled”.
The lawsuit also claimed that these school girls conspired among themselves and convinced their school to take actions against the male student. Without proper investigation, the innocent male student was unfairly suspended from school and detained. The truth finally came to light when other students managed to produce evidence to refute the accusers’ claims.
What stood out was that the family of the male student was forced to take up a private lawsuit as no actions were taken by the school or the police against the school girls when their false accusations were uncovered. Such a case make people wonder if the legal system is unfairly skewed against innocent males while protecting malicious accusers from punishment.
No matter the outcome of the lawsuit, false accusations will always remind us of the importance of due processes. A person should only be considered guilty after he is proven so in a court of law. The notion propagated by some fourth wave feminists, that women who make allegations of sexual misconduct must always and automatically be believed, is simply unjust and impractical in our world.
Unintended Effects of #MeToo
It might come as a surprise that the #MeToo movement has actually inconvenienced women in the corporate setting. Some women commented that the resulting hysteria has unintendedly chilled their relationship with male colleagues and supervisors.
In fact, Mike Pence, the Vice-President of the United States, claims that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife. He would not attend events involving alcohol without her by his side.
Perhaps, as a knee-jerk reaction to the #MeToo movement, some male supervisors are increasingly changing their working style to reduce contact with their female staff lest they get caught up in some #MeToo controversy.
According to a survey from women’s empowerment non-profit LeanIn.Org, which was founded by Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, male managers are now three times as likely to express discomfort mentoring women. They are also twice as uncomfortable working alone with a woman.
Such an atmosphere was also extended to beyond the workplace. The survey reported that men in senior positions were three and a half times more likely to hesitate having a work dinner with a junior female colleague than a male one. It was also revealed that they were five times more likely to hesitate travelling for work with a woman in a more junior position.
In fact, Mike Pence, the Vice-President of the United States, claims that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife. He would not attend events involving alcohol without her by his side. Apparently, Vice-President Mike Pence is not alone. Such a lifestyle, which could be considered restrictive in the modern age, is increasingly subscribed to by senior male executives as a means to protect themselves from baseless allegations.
If this becomes a trend, the careers of working women could suffer as mentorships and invitations to business trips and dinners are important for career development and advancement. This could unfairly set back the gains made by women in the fight for gender equality in the workplace.
A Matter of Balance
No matter the setbacks faced by the #MeToo movement, it is undeniable that it has brought positive changes to society. It has given a voice to victims and deterred people in high positions from misbehaving.
Although the #MeToo movement was started with good intentions, things may turn sour if we choose to ignore its dark side. Society may get tired of the #MeToo movement if false accusations and witch hunts become the norm. If this happens, genuine victims would lose public support and sympathy as people would start to question whether the victim is telling the truth.
This is not a scenario anyone wishes to see. The rule of thumb is that we should seek a balance in everything. Maybe it is time for cooler heads to prevail, to start a real conversation on how the movement should develop. With hope, we will get to see less sexual harassment, but without witch hunts and false allegations.