A reader named chamdam asks: “do you believe in the #MeToo movement?”
Thats a simple question, with a rather complicated answer. At this point, the initial wave of energy and emotion #MeToo brought has dissipated for the most part, and we can observe whats left in its wake. In my Consent in the #MeToo era article, which was written at a time when the #MeToo wave was still rising, I wrote the following regarding #MeToo:
“…I don’t think there’s anything that controversial about it. A man (and it’s almost always a man) should not pressure a subordinate for sexual or romantic favours, in return for job security or advancement. A woman should not be made to feel uncomfortable at her place of work, based on lewd comments made about her, or having to overhear locker room talk by men.”
I don’t really agree with the first sentence anymore, but I still stand by the rest of it. A man shouldn’t do these things. Exhibit A for this sort of behaviour would be Harvey Weinstein. According to wikipedia there’s currently about 90 women alleging sexual misconduct against Harvey Weinstein. These allegations range from proposals of sex in return for career advancement, to physical coercion and attempted rape. It is interesting to note that it is the sheer number of these allegations that lends weight to the belief that Weinstein is guilty. As I understand it in many of these cases there is little evidence that can serve to prosecute him, but thankfully there is enough to bring some criminal charges against him. As it turned out there were rumours of his behaviour for years, but such was the climate of fear around him, that most women were too afraid to speak out. No one really believes that he is innocent, even if in certain cases a woman might have exaggerated her story to gain some sympathy by joining the hate Harvey Weinstein bandwagon.
What Weinstein is primarily guilty of is coercion. He abused his position of power and authority to control many an actress’s career, to try and pressure them into having sex with him. In many cases the woman was faced with the choice of giving into him, or having her career potentially ruined.
However as #MeToo played out over the course of a year there was a mob mentality that seemed to develop, and any allegation against any man, particularly those in media related jobs or anything with public visibility, was enough to condemn him, destroy his reputation, and cost him his job. Some allegations seemed to be over a single awkward attempt at flirtation, or low level physical escalation, perhaps even boorish behaviour that was unwelcome. I understand that there could be a power dynamic at play, but shouldn’t the accuser at least try a straight up refusal instead of awkwardly smiling and trying to be non-confrontational, while secretly nursing a grievance? Note, that I have less sympathy for scenarios where an advance was clearly rejected, and the man didn’t relent, continuing over the course of days, months, or even years. This is called harassment, and was trademark behaviour for Harvey Weinstein.
I want to use two real world examples of #MeToo gone wrong to illustrate my thoughts. Gregg Zaun was a baseball commentator for a Canadian sports tv channel – Sportsnet. In November of 2017 he was fired by his employer after several co-workers came forward with allegations of inappropriate behaviour. This article in the Toronto Sun quotes a former coworker as saying that his offensive behaviour included wearing undershirts around the office, and making rude sexual comments directly to women, or in close proximity to them. In fact she connected his misbehaviour with his on air personality of aggressive masculinity. She went on to state that his actions were done with the intention of making women uncomfortable. Another link within the same article quotes a coworker as saying that the entire work environment was sexist, and women didn’t feel empowered to speak up about their discomfort. There is a quote from Zaun as well:
“My remorse . . . is that it was never raised before and I naively believed that my language and behaviour were not considered offensive,” the statement said. “I regret my blindness to the impact of my actions that I would have corrected at the time rather than allowing the harm felt to continue to fester.”
My thoughts when reading all of this was that this seemed to be more a failure of management than Gregg Zaun. It seems there was a male dominated culture of sexism at Sportsnet, where Zaun was perhaps the most obvious actor. He didn’t act out against women behind closed doors, but in the open, part of, and contributing to the sexist environment. It makes sense that female employees lower down in the pecking order would feel disempowered to speak up to an all male management team about their discomfort. Especially if management themselves were contributing to the environment. This discomfort led to resentment that festered, as they believed Zaun was being a jerk on purpose. The truth I believe lies somewhere in between this, and Zaun’s statement that he was simply naive. There’s no doubt that Gregg Zaun was a privileged employee, and his office behaviour was an extension of his on camera personality as the “Mansplainer”, which had made him popular. A manager should have noticed and taken the initiative, and told Zaun to tone it down when he was off camera, as he was making his female coworkers uncomfortable. Instead management tolerated, even indulged Zaun, until #MeToo hit, and they got scared when one of their female employees finally complained. Then Gregg Zaun was fired without so much as a warning, which in my opinion he has a right to be upset about. I think he should have been given a second chance, to see if he could correct himself. And if he didn’t change, then by all means fire him. A brave man might have even found it in himself to personally apologize to his female coworkers. That quote from him written above would have done a world of good if spoken directly to them, instead of as a postscript to his broadcasting career.
The second example of #MeToo gone wrong, is much more indicative of the irrational mob mentality that many people feared the movement would become. It actually unfolded near the end of 2015, before #MeToo really began. It involves a Canadian writer named Steven Galloway, who at the time was the chair of the creative writing department at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada. In November of 2015 he was suspended from his position by UBC due to allegations of sexual misconduct involving a former student who remains anonymous, and was simply referred to as MC (main complainant) throughout the case. The specific charge was that Galloway had raped MC four years earlier in his office. Weirdly enough both of them had then gone on to have a two year affair (they were both married at the time), which MC doesn’t deny, but attributes to a type of “Stockholm Syndrome”. Galloway denied the rape charges. He says he broke off the relationship in 2013, and while MC was upset at the time, the two remained on friendly terms. In 2015 before the allegations broke out, Galloway got the inkling that MC was about to go to UBC authorities with the affair, which of course is against ethics guidelines as they were teacher and student at the time. He had called MC and left a voicemail where he said that he would inform his superiors about the affair. In the recording he actually said the words “turn myself in”, and apologized to her. This recording would be produced by a woman named Chelsea Rooney, another former student of the creative writing department – who became MC’s unofficial spokesperson, as proof of Galloway’s guilt. Rooney also claimed at a meeting with faculty that she could produce 19 different complainants with allegations of sexual misconduct against him.
These unproven allegations were enough to seal Steven Galloway’s fate. The University decided to suspend him without an investigation into their veracity. After this many indignities and abuses were to be inflicted upon Galloway, with the majority of his colleagues believing him a rapist and acting towards him upon this assumption. The mob hate moved to social media, where his name was tarnished even more. Journalists took up the story. About a month later – December 2015, UBC commissioned an independent legal expert – retired female BC Supreme Court Justice Mary Ellen Boyd, to investigate the allegations against Galloway. The supposed 19 allegations turned out to be 8 (including Rooney), and upon investigation they were determined by Justice Boyd to be completely frivolous. After interviewing MC about the specific instances of supposed rape, all the inconsistencies in her story made it obvious to Boyd that it was made up. MC and Chelsea Rooney were shown to be crazy liars. The details of the whole story are documented in this excellent article by Brad Cran. The results of the Boyd investigation were not made available to the general public, and the university administration used that to their advantage to fire him, even alluding to the report as giving them just cause to do so. However the faculty association had access to the findings, and supported Galloway in an arbitration hearing against the university, pointing out that Boyd’s findings had effectively thrown out the allegations, including the charge of rape from MC. Despite this the social media hate cloud around Galloway remained strong, even trying to discredit Mary Ellen Boyd, who given her background and credentials should be considered beyond reproach with regard to her handling of the case. However as the findings of the Boyd report became better known around the end of 2016, a backlash against Galloway’s treatment began within the Canadian literary community. A letter signed by many of Canada’s leading writers was made public. It’s contents criticized UBC’s handling of the Steven Galloway affair, and demanded an external investigation into UBC’s conduct. One of the signees was Margaret Atwood, a feminist icon, and arguably the greatest writer Canada has ever produced. The social media mob turned on the signees, and Atwood in particular was targeted by twitter feminists. Atwood responded with her own statement, which includes the following:
“…the UBC process was flawed and failed both sides, and the rest of my position is that the model of the Salem Witchcraft Trials is not a good one. (Those accused would almost certainly be found guilty because of the way the rules of evidence were set up, and if you objected to the proceedings you would be accused yourself.)…
To take the position that the members of a group called ‘women’ are always right and never lie — demonstrably not true — and that members of a group called ‘accused men’ are always guilty — Steven Truscott, anyone? — would do a great disservice to accusing women and abuse survivors, since it discredits any accusations immediately.”
The problem with a hashtag like #believewomen, in my opinion, is that it’s actually rather demeaning to women. The implication that a woman is always telling the truth when in conflict with a man, renders all women into a kind of faceless, amorphous blob, the only trait to take note of being their group identity based on their gender. It doesn’t take into account individuality. That there are bad women and good women, just as there are bad men and good men, and everything in between. Furthermore as we’ve seen it attacks some of the foundations that our society, particularly our legal system, is built upon – the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and the due process that carries it out. Steven Galloway was awarded a fee of $167,000 in arbitration from UBC, however after legal fees, and credit card debt is accounted for, he’ll be broke. His name has been tarnished to the point that he hasn’t been offered any writing assignments for two years, which makes it difficult to provide for his family of four children. The whole thing has left him suicidal. MC remains anonymous, and working as a professor at another University.
To conclude, clearly UBC is at fault for acting upon accusations as if they were evidence of guilt. Boyd’s report not only showed the instance of supposed rape was highly unlikely to have occurred, but also that actual sex at the time, date and location specified was almost impossible. As for Steven Galloway, it’s obvious to me that the affair should never have happened. That it happened is undeniable however, and it had to have started (and continued) somehow. Part of getting better with women (and men) is recognizing warning signals, and knowing when to steer clear, or not get too involved. I’m sure there would have been signs of crazy from MC before too long, and Galloway chose to ignore them. He did so at his peril.