Adult Women Against #MeToo Folly

AfA: Section for Adult Women and Gender Relations

As adult and emancipated women, we observe the #metoo moral outrage with astonishment and concern. In the name of awareness raising, sexual abuse now sells better than sex itself. But awareness about what exactly? Diverse subjective experiences are thrown in together: from women who were actually raped, via sleazy comments, catcalling to career opportunities offered in exchange for sex and so on. Suddenly, we are surrounded by female (and other) exhibitionists who narrate, with great passion, the tiniest of their unwanted sexual experiences. Someone has touched your ear? – We can assure you: many of us have had to deal with far graver assaults. But we did not use those instances to stage ourselves as hypersensitive victims, attract publicity and fuel a lynch mob justice. Instead, we have been politically active and fought for laws that protect women and others against severe abuses against which they cannot defend themselves individually.

We are also taken aback by the parallel rise of the ‘empathetic men’ who equally passionately embraced the #metoo, and with all seriousness believe that this artificially fuelled hysteria contributes to the betterment of the social relations between the sexes. Leading male feuilletonists fall in love with their own self-image as they praise #metoo while condemning critical voices as those of reactionary patriarchal profiteers and defenders of privilege.

We cannot shake the suspicion that with the #metoo, these ‘empathetic men’ and ‘new wave feminists’ have yet again reduced women to pure sensory beings, capable only of undifferentiated irrational yelling and the ‘feminine hysteria’ – precisely the stereotype that classical feminists have been fighting against. Once again, women are cast as incapable of precise rational judgments, political imagination and strategy. Not to mention that once again, sex is, according to these men and new wave feminists, something absolutely foreign to us. Hence, we must be protected from anything that has to do with sex that is rendered as always potentially traumatizing rather than primarily pleasurable. We have been there before – in the Victorian era. Even then did men take it upon themselves to protect us, women – and our delicate ears – from anything that touched upon sexuality.

1. Awareness is Not the Problem

The silliest of these arguments, put forward by #metoo proclaims that this social media fuss has created an awareness about the prevalence of sexual harassment against women. Has this not been already the case before – at the latest following the notorious New Year’s eve in Cologne, 2015?

We must insist: in all cases of harassment directed at adult women, we have to do with matters that are – to both men and women – fully transparent; there is nothing mysterious about these actions. What we need is not more awareness raising but the enforcement of existing laws and rules of behaviour in the public space.

The term ‘sexism’, used in the debate, is misleading and apolitical. What we are fighting against here is not contempt for women or a traditional prejudice about their alleged inferiority in the workplace. Rather, the problem is that the ‘losers’ respond with sexual or personal attacks, be they top down or bottom up, precisely there where they see female superiority, be it in professional competence or in class.

2. #MeToo is Elitist

It may be the case that the celebrity actresses have now also encouraged women in low-paid occupations and with limited access to media to report abuses and defend themselves. However, it is more likely, that these women who have been offered high-paying careers in exchange for sex, divert our attention away from the far greater suffering of women in low-paid occupations, who become victims of abuse without ever getting any benefits. The #metoo awareness raising has caused the suffering and its recognition to become socially upwardly distributed, from the poorer to the richer and more influential women. The elitist and increasingly inflationary use of terms such as ‘rape’ and ‘assault’ in the US means that the call for help from women who are really in need could be overheard in the future even more often than up till now.

3. Is it Really Just your Peers Who Harass You?

Women are not only harassed by their bosses or peers, but at least as often by equals or socially lower standing men. The request ‘more women into powerful positions’ does not solve this problem. We insist on the fact that sexual harassment takes place in all social directions: downwards just as much as upwards (and it is committed by women more often than one may expect. Also this stereotype deserves to be criticized.) If you want to fight against that and want to invent laws and measures for it, please do so. We are with you. But then name the problem by its proper name. If you want though to get better jobs, then you also have our full support. But then please do not abuse sex as a pretext to get those jobs.

4. Foolish Legal Measures and Lynch Mobs Are Neoliberal

Another folly of the #metoo mob is the suggestion that in addition to awareness we also need new legal measures. This is hardly the case in Western Europe. For instance, Austria has had a precise and detailed law since 2015 (some of us have been in the lead in its formulation). In all cases where women really cannot protect themselves, they are well protected by the Austrian law. Any additional laws will take the form of the absurdities coming from Sweden. In practice, there is no reason not to pursue persons accused of sexual assault by judicial means. The construction of a moody parallel justice in social media is in our eyes a neoliberal attempt at weakening the legal institutions and rights of citizens.

5. Women Must Oppose the Dismantling of the Presumption of Innocence

This leads us to another folly of the #metoo supporters. Even though they bring up cases like those of the Austrian left-wing politician Peter Pilz, they do not consider it worth even a mention that people like him suffer serious damage to their public reputation and professional activity without even seeing the allegations made against them and without these accusations, even under the precise Austrian law, amounting to a criminal offense. But the #metoo excitement was enough for his public annihilation. Few appear to feel any regret about the suicide of the Welsh politician Carl Sargeant following the #metoo public shaming. #Metoo has caused serious damage. It is scandalous that people who have committed no crime have to resign or are driven to suicide only because of a heated public mood. But not only individuals are being damaged here. An entire political opposition movement was attempted to be destroyed at its inception.

Laws to protect all those at risk of sexual assault should be examined, and if necessary, improved and adapted. However, the difficulty that often arises in prosecuting sexual offenses, in enforcing laws and convicting guilty parties, must not give rise to the erosion of legal standards such as the presumption of innocence, information and hearing by accused persons, examination of evidence, and so on.

In view of the massive damage already caused to the reputation by the twitter lynch mobs, we call for a clarification of the laws regarding defamation and libel. Whoever commits crimes should be punished. But anyone who tries to publicly defame through irrelevant allegations, should also be punished. As in modern women’s football, not only fouls, but also a blatant dives in the box must be punished with a yellow card.

It hurts the legitimate concerns of women if these are abused to engage in public lynching and destruction of political opposition through highly questionable allegations.

6. If Knee Grabs Lead to Resignations and Public Defamation, Why Not Tax Evasion?

Famous actors like Kevin Spacey are professionally ruined because of unresolved allegations and statute-barred offenses. Meanwhile, the stars of tax evasion, such as the Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton, Bono, the Queen, Prince Charles, Trump’s aids, Lord Ashcroft and many others, who skillfully evade millions, as the Paradise papers revealed, continue to be publicly celebrated despite sustained allegations. Could we not, following Spacey’s example, at least erase the image of Hamilton from all future Formula One broadcasts? And maybe we celebrate Queen’s birthday again first when she pays up. If we were equally outraged by white collar crime and tax evasion, we could possibly push the political establishment towards imposing control on capital, thus reducing inequality and structural injustice. Thus creating laws that would translate into real change and a more economically just system. Such a focus on offences against ‘collectivity’ rather than against the ‘individual’ would certainly have a positive effect even on those relations addressed by #metoo.

7. Women Should Refuse to Be Infantilized

The #metoo campaign promotes an anti-feminist image of women, a wet dream of any Victorian patriarch. It systematically portrays women as helpless victims and men as evil predators, something that women like Catherine Deneuve and Catherine Millet have recently criticized. The American feminist film theorist, Laura Kipnis, has rightly called this a primitive melodramatic cliché that denies the agency of women. Feminists have fought for women being recognized as equal individuals capable of pursuing their own sexual interests. And yet, today, sex is again recast as something that happens only because men insist and thus as something evil that completely overwhelms the totally unprepared women. If women allow their empowerment and agency to be discredited in this way, they run the real risk of losing their already hard-won rights. Soon they will be treated again like children, as they were in the 19th century. Women indeed do have sexual desires, to which also the, to many surprising, high numbers of female sexual predators testify. Women can be as abusive as men, and, as adults, they should be held to the same legal standards; we should treat male victims with the same seriousness afforded to female victims. At the same time, we must resist the temptation to confuse sexual abuse with sex.

8. Funny Feelings Should Not Become Legal Criteria of Abuse

It is perfectly clear that women as well as everyone else must be protected from rape, abuse, sexual assault and similar serious crimes. If employment conditions regularly enable such serious offenses, then they must be changed. However, the indignation fuelled by #metoo tends to establish women’s ‘subjective feeling’ as the criterion for injury and abuse. Any feminist perspective must oppose this tendency. It leads to a blurring of the fundamental difference between violent acts and attacks on the one hand, and mere sensory qualities and communicative mishaps or misunderstandings on the other. But what women and many others fight against are not some subjectively felt trivial matters. With those, they can cope very well themselves.

9. Sexual Advances Are Not Sexism or Violence

Sexual advances are still more likely to come from men than women, within the existing cultural gender order. One can change that. But maybe one can also just sit back and relax, let the boys do their thing and enjoy observing their efforts. In any case, even women sometimes initiate sexual encounters, and that’s a good thing. Not every unwanted sexual advance is therefore already an attack. Anyone can say ‘No, thank you,’ and anyone can understand that. First of all, within the prevailing cultural rules, sexual advance is a compliment.

Adult women will not allow themselves to be thrown back into the 19th century with the help of the ‘sexism’ gang. The idea that sexuality is fundamentally alien and unpleasant to us women is a patriarchal idea par excellence.

10. We Must Oppose the Stretching of the Concept of Rape

The diversity of the #metoo cases and testimonies contributes to a tendency to massively extend the concept of rape. Rape can then even include consensual sexual intercourse, which is retroactively labelled as undesirable, on the basis of additional information. For example, if a person after engaging in amicable intercourse discovers the partner’s, previously unknown, ethnic identity, profession, marital status, income, belief, or sexual ethic, they may sue later for rape. Such laws, allegedly specifically designed to protect women, for example, in Sweden, the United Kingdom or Israel, have already led to bizarre convictions in this regard.[1]

This does not only have fatal consequences for interpersonal relationships. It is also a highly effective tool for the persecution of unwelcome political and other opponents – for example, Julian Assange.

From a feminist point of view, the crucial difference between sexual acts that are a result of coercion and force and those that are a result of an agreement (and agreement on the basis of incomplete or false information). Moreover, women are capable of informing themselves and sticking to their decisions. And there is no obligation on the part of the state to specifically protect women from the fact that someone they go to bed with may not actually be a pilot.

The use of allegedly feminist laws to persecute opposition politicians is systematic and scandalous. The interests of women should not be used as a lever for state arbitrariness against unwelcome critics or political opponents. Feminists have to defend themselves against this kind of abuse.

11. More Women in Positions of Power Are Not a Solution

The hastily proposed patent solution in the current debate - more women in positions of power - seems unlikely to become viable remedy. For it is obvious that the problem is in power, not in men. If the power gap remains unchanged and merely the gender composition changes, then we will see in the future more and more women abusing their position of power – even sexually. Female sexual offenders abusing power positions are no unknown phenomena to any criminologist. Women are no more inherently innocent, good-natured and truthful than men. Women are no less sexually desiring and needy than men. Only recently, the magazine biber reported on a number of cases in where older Austrian women kept young refugees from Syria and Afghanistan in dependency by providing them housing and gifts in exchange for sex.

Dr. Carina Chitta

Mag. Diana Dressler

Tereza Kuldova, PhD

Dr. Andrea Möschl

Mag. Alexandra Ötzlinger

Dr. Judith Ransmayr

[1] Siehe dazu (Zugriff: 2017-11-28)

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