Tanking the public perception of a movement fighting for the public good doesn’t come out of nowhere, to be sure. It’s a steady decline into a slog of unforgivable PR moves by reprehensibly bad actors. As they say, the path to hell is paved with good intentions.
At its core, the #MeToo movement was supposed to call for safer workplaces free from sexual harassment, assault, and quid pro quo attitudes toward women. Who could be against that? That’s just the thing – no one is against that. This is a trick that misguided movements use to scapegoat their poor optics and unethical behavior on behalf of an ideology or cause. However, where the social movement went wrong isn’t only in what they did do but what they didn’t. They didn’t do victims of sexually inappropriate behavior in the workplace or anywhere any favors by dismissing male victims, platforming opportunists with questionable stories, or chalking up every false accusation through misguided witchhunts as righteous collateral damage.
The Evolution of #MeToo
Of course, it’s unequivocally good that predators of the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby faced retribution for their immoral acts and were ousted from their respective industries. However, it mustn’t be overlooked that many of these power-abusing men skated by for years or even decades, thanks to the glaring silence of their colleagues, male and female alike. It’s certainly true that women are more vulnerable to sexual predation, but they aren’t the only victims. Yet, that was the singular narrative the #MeToo movement got carried away with and ignored the fact that women can be abusers, false accusers, and even complicit in protecting male predators.
Activist Tarana Burke first coined the term #MeToo in 2006, but it wasn’t popularized until 2017 when actress Alyssa Milano encouraged survivors of sexual assault to share their stories on Twitter with the hashtag #MeToo. The hashtag went viral, with millions of people sharing their stories, though it was mostly women whose voices were amplified, supported, and believed. The following year, countless powerhouses in the entertainment industry faced their days of reckoning through public condemnation, legal disputes, and Hollywood blacklisting.
This influence carried over to the broader culture, transforming workplace policies, employment practices, and intersexual relations. A significant attitudinal shift occurred. Now, sexually inappropriate behavior and comments were taken much more seriously. However, this quickly morphed into a general anxiety about miscommunication that wafted over co-ed spaces in work, educational settings, and so on.
There was reason to worry reasonable objections to inappropriate behavior would be weaponized by the same ideological groups that parrot faux statistics like one in four women being raped on college campuses or that only 2% of all accusations of sexual assault are false. In reality, the minimum rate of false allegations proven to the legal standard is 2-10% of accusations reported to the police, not including cases thrown out due to insufficient evidence or accusations made outside the legal system.
A movement that is based entirely on self-testimony is ripe for exploitation.
Pretty soon, you had women conflating minor inappropriate comments or jokes with rape and, worse, equivocating them as equally egregious. When you muddy the waters, you lose people, and that’s precisely what happened with this movement. You had a well-meaning, reasonable objection to a problem co-opted by people acting in bad faith – people who wanted things. Quotas, kangaroo courts, presumption of guilt, and an entire system overhaul, collateral damage be damned.
Forgotten Male Victims
The forgotten male victims in the wake of #MeToo are two-fold – those falsely accused and those who were victims of sexual misconduct themselves. A movement that is based entirely on self-testimony is ripe for exploitation. Where you may want to amplify the voices of the unheard, the grifter desperate for personal gain sees an opportunity for manipulation. The proponents of the #MeToo movement were not just dismissive of false accusations but in denial. They didn’t realize, or more cynically, didn’t care, that when they parroted slogans like “believe all women,” they were also saying “dismiss male victims.”
This resulted in bolstering the voices of people like Amber Heard unquestioningly (who was later found guilty of defaming her ex-husband, Johnny Depp) by publishing an op-ed about him abusing her. Career, money, reputation – gone in an instant, only for it later to come to light that people had the story all wrong. Depp had evidence to suggest he was the true victim of assault, psychological torment, and other forms of abuse.
The faith the #MeToo movement misplaced in women and their “harmlessness” resulted in real lives ruined and reputations tarnished, some being victims themselves. Then there’s the issue of what the #MeToo movement didn’t fight for – male victims of Hollywood predators. This was recognized as a female issue and an extension of the misogyny ingrained in our society, so male interests took a backseat.
Hollywood superstar Bryan Singer, director of films like X-Men, The Usual Suspects, and Superman Returns, was accused by four men who claimed to have been sexually assaulted by Singer when they were underage. The accusations were brought forth in The Atlantic in 2019 and referenced alleged assaults that occurred between 1997 and 1999. The men recounted the graphic violations they allegedly experienced, and one claimed that underage boys were brought to Singer to curry favor. Singer outright denied these allegations as being categorically false, but they weren’t the first allegations brought against him. Dating back to 1997, a lawsuit was filed by a 14-year-old extra in the movie Apt Pupil, who accused Singer of asking him and other minors to film a nude shower scene. The lawsuit was dismissed, but two other extras filed similar lawsuits.
In 2014, two men filed lawsuits against Singer, claiming sexual assault while they were underage, one of whom was former child star Michael Egan III. However, these cases were dismissed, and Singer’s attorney proved that neither Egan nor Singer were even in Hawaii at the time that Singer allegedly raped him in Hawaii, complicating the history of allegations brought against the director. Then, in 2017, a man named Cesar Sanchez-Guzman claimed in a lawsuit filed against Singer that he raped him when he was 17. Singer settled the case for $150,000. Singer’s last movie was Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), which he was fired from after the unexpected unavailability of the director left them hanging and clashes on set between Singer and lead actor Rami Malek.
Following his firing from the movie, the allegations in The Atlantic came out, and Hollywood distanced itself from Singer during awards season. Bohemian Rhapsody was nominated for Best Picture but not for Best Director. Over the last few years, Singer has been hiding out in Israel, taking a break from the spotlight but gearing up for a potential comeback if Hollywood will have him. It’s worth noting that Singer, who has denied all of these allegations vehemently, has a reputation that precedes him. He’s known for having a hot temper, getting into heated altercations with his cast and crew, as well as being surrounded by young boys, and was likened to a Harvey Weinstein-like figure in that his alleged sexual proclivities via raunchy sex parties were an open secret in Hollywood. What is true and what isn’t is for you to decide, but there’s no denying that the treatment given to Singer was much more quiet, subdued, and pushed under the rug than Weinstein.
Two high-profile celebrity photographers, Bruce Weber and Mario Testino, were also accused of sexual misconduct in an investigative piece for The New York Times in 2018. Testino, who was a favorite of the British royal family, known for snapping engagement shots of Princess Kate and Prince William and many others within the family, was accused by several male models and assistants of unwanted sexual advances and exploitation dating back to the ‘90s. Weber, who was the visionary behind racy ads for Abercrombie & Fitch and Calvin Klein, was accused of coercive sexual behavior, molestation, and pressuring male models into unnecessary nudity. Both men denied all of the unsavory, detailed allegations brought forth by 28 models spanning decades.
Male models are especially vulnerable to exploitation. Former model Trish Goff told The New York Times that male models are “the least respected and most disposable.” Talent agent Gene Kogan said, “It was general practice to give a model a heads-up about a specific photographer who we knew had a certain reputation.” Models alleged Weber was given to private audiences with young men, on long walks during lunch breaks and private visits in his room, and that it was so common, they had a term for it: getting "Brucified."
Vogue cut ties with both of the industry giants. After cutting ties with the photographers, personal friends of hers, editor-in-chief Anna Wintour said the allegations were “hard to hear and heartbreaking to confront,” adding that she “believes strongly in the value of remorse and forgiveness.”
Despite the exposé of the two photographers in what was described as yet another industry-wide open secret, the two haven’t exactly been out of work. Just a year later, Kim Kardashian chose Testino to photograph her and her family, posting a black and white photo of her and North West to Instagram, as well as a shot of Kim for Testino’s infamous towel series. He also opened an exhibition at Hamiltons Gallery in London from November 2019 to February 2020. As for Weber, he’s certainly not unemployed. Since the allegations, he’s published a book of photography, directed a documentary, and shot a cover and spread for the April 2022 issue of ICON magazine.
The Phenomenon of the Perma-Single Male
The tendency to overcorrect for a cultural problem is all too tempting. Whether it was in the workplace or the dating sphere, men got careful. They felt awkward about meeting women alone for business meetings or mentoring them. They became paranoid about gaining verbal consent or even approaching a woman at all. According to a survey published in Date Psychology, 45% of young men aged 18-25 have never approached a woman in person. The top reasons cited for not approaching were fear of rejection and fear of social consequences. In another survey, 53% of single men said the fear of being called creepy reduced the likelihood that they would interact with a woman.
Normal men fear harmless flirting will be perceived as harassment or that consensual sexual activity will face revisionist history in the memory of a scorned woman.
Now, let’s get something out of the way. There are intuitive social cues (for neurotypical people, anyway) that leave little room for question regarding when it is and isn’t appropriate to approach a woman with romantic interest. Let’s assume we’re all reasonable here and don’t need to go through an etiquette class. Why this sudden paranoia and risk aversion? Why are men opting, in droves, to remain single, celibate, and isolated from the opposite sex? This is where #MeToo-ers get smug and pompous: “If men are afraid to date and be intimate with women because of #MeToo, that says more about them than anything. Only predators have reason to fear.”
But it’s never just the predators that have reason to fear. There’s always an overstep. Innocent people get hurt. Normal men get discouraged from forming meaningful romantic relationships with women for a number of reasons. Fear of rejection is a familiar anxiety to men, except it’s grown to greater proportions. Today, it’s not just a fear that the woman will not be receptive to his advances but that she might suddenly change her mind. That normal, harmless flirting will be perceived as harassment or that consensual sexual activity will face revisionist history in the memory of a scorned woman.
You might think this is an overreaction, but in recent years, the different categorizations of sexually inappropriate behavior have become erased, muddling the conversation about sexual harassment and assault. You have women recording themselves in gyms wearing as little clothing as is legal in a public setting, recording themselves lowering their exposed bits in a squatting position, and having huge public meltdowns when they notice a man in their vicinity glancing at them. It happens so often it’s spurred an entire genre of viral videos of this exact circumstance playing out: Guy is trying to mind his business. He sees a woman essentially in her birthday suit recording herself (and often hogging equipment) when the woman pre-emptively jumps down his throat.
The reaction is usually so out of proportion to the offense (a quick, harmless glance for reasons she cannot determine) that the man is left speechless and, in all likelihood, a little socially traumatized. The video then spreads across social media, poisoning the minds of everyone involved. The women react predictably with “Mind your business, she can wear what she wants without having to worry about men gawking at her,” while the men look on horrified, and that’s the day they decide they would rather be single at 35 than dare to look at a woman in a gym, let alone approach her. This is your brain on #MeToo propaganda.
Tragically, you can think of the movements for justice for female survivors of sexual assault and the fight for male victims as two distinctly different social movements. One is primarily concerned with the propagation of feminism, the presumption that all women tell the truth and never lie, nor do they have the capacity to be abusers themselves. The movement for male victims tends to be in opposition to the #MeToo movement for reasons that are crystal clear: They worked hard to silence men who were falsely accused, insisting that it simply doesn’t happen, and left male victims out of the conversation almost entirely. As a result, we’re left with a fractured culture that feels emotionally stunted – unable to approach a woman, unsure of how to work together, emotionally scarred, and, worst of all, damaging public faith in the accusations of genuine victims.
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