In the beginning of 2018 I wrote for a student newspaper to which students from a school in Israel and from our school in Berlin could contribute an article. The advice was to write about something that has been on our minds lately, such as a movie or a book or a recent event. Apparently what has been on my mind was the debate aroud the hashtag #metoo. It was the time when Catherine Deneuve and around 100 other prominent french women had published their letter containing their statement towards the debate. The news of that letter had moved me to address the #metoo debate in my article for the paper. After sending the article to my teacher, she started a discussion with me over e-mail concerning my opinion. She seemed to disagree with me but of course accepted the article. It wasn’t like I didn’t know it was controversial. I have now decided to publish an overhauled version, overhauled because I felt like I could make things a little clearer than in the version before. It is a sensitive but nevertheless relevant subject.
Here we go:
The #metoo debate: a summary and commentary
The so called #metoo debate has been going on for quite a while now and it has brought up many dark secrets and fights, but also an opportunity for once quite voiceless people to raise their voice and tell the world their stories.
The hashtag originated in 2006 when the activist Tarana Burke wanted to raise empathy for Afro-American women who had to experience sexual abuse. A heated debate started in October 2017, when actress Alyssa Milano posted a message on the social media Twitter under the hashtag #metoo. On the same day the hashtag was used around 200 000 times, on the next there were already over half a million tweets. In her message she replied to the Harvey Weinstein scandal, where several women who worked with him, accused him of sexual harassment and abuse. She also wanted to raise awareness of the problem of sexual harassment in general.
“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‚Me too.‘ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” tweeted Alyssa Milano.
Throughout the debate many other actors were accused of sexual harassment, such as the German director Dieter Wedel.
A new turn was brought to the debate when Catherine Deneuve and many other women wrote a letter to the French newspaper Le Monde. In this letter they say that they think the #metoo debate has gone too far and serves “the enemies of sexual freedom, of religious extremists, of the worst reactionaries.”
“Rape is a crime. But insistent or clumsy flirting is not a crime.” is what it said in the letter.
This letter has split the opinions. One side agrees with the letter, the other one is outraged and thinks it is disrespectful toward the “victims” in the debate. Soon after she apologizes – not for her letter though.
“I welcome all the victims of odious acts that may have felt aggrieved by this letter published in Le Monde. It is to them and to them alone that I apologize.”
The debate has actively continued since then, revealing more and more celebrities who have misused power positions by sexually assaulting people.
Like many people I’ve followed the #metoo debate on the news since it began with the Harvey Weinstein scandal and I’d first like to acknowledge the many girls and women who were brave enough to speak up and share their stories. Also, I want to recognize the many popular women who used their fame to raise attention and help. I think talking about rape and sexual harassment instead of hushing it up is a great step into the right direction and something we can all do.
Simultaneously, I agree with Catherine Deneuve and her letter. Just like her, I do not intend to criticize women who speak up about being raped, but I want to draw a line between rape and actions like briefly touching a woman’s knee or complementing her in any way, even if she does not agree or appreciate it. If every woman who didn’t like the way her co-worker talked to her complained about that on the internet, the real problems like rape will drown in the many messages. Rape, and other crimes, are thus belittled and devalued. And when talk about rape appears in the same space with talk about awkward coworkers, this may take dangerous turns.
Especially in the way we deal with our sexuality, male or female or anything beyond. Parts of the debate have turned into a chivvy against males expressing their sexuality and inviting females to do so as well. If she wishes to respond that is her own choice and she can make it clear what she wants. This is a form of initiating contact between each other, similar to a little boy pulling a little girl`s hair to see her reaction. She may cry and go tell her parents, she may start avoiding the boy, she may accept the invitation to a friendly fight and start becoming friends with him on the base of that first contact. It’s up to her. She should be allowed to have that choice, the experience to handle a situation like this. And so do grown women.
By telling men (and women) to hide their sexuality, to confine it to their most private surroundings, sexuality will seem like something unnatural, something repulsive, something that has no space in modern society. It may become virtually suppressed by social standards, resulting in an unnatural handling of the subject.
Again, I am not talking about sexual assault, rape, violence and other crimes. The offenders deserve punishment and it is frustrating to see how rarely they face any appropriate juristic consequences. I wish every victim justice and the chance to continue their lives as good as possible.
They were victims of crime. But expressing sexuality is not a crime. And please don’t make it become one.