#MeToo: More than just a moment
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Though #MeToo truly began in 2006 when Tarana Burke invented the phrase, it found a wider cultural audience in November of 2017, when allegations against high profile men like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and others by high profile women and men became national news. While some described #MeToo as merely a cultural moment, the continued relevance and conversations around the issue of sexual assault, harassment, and coercion, as well as the high-stakes consequences for the men accused, have made it clear that #MeToo is something bigger.
However, there has been some controversy within the movement, most recently ignited by a piece by Katie Way, published on babe.net and titled “I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life.” The babe piece, which detailed an anonymous woman’s uncomfortable and sexually coercive evening with Ansari (an actor, writer, and comedian) started discussion about how far the #MeToo movement extends, with The Atlantic, The Guardian, and other high-profile publications publishing responses to it, which in turn provoked controversy and discussion of their own.
The Atlantic’s James Hamblin called the babe piece “a Rorschach test” for how one perceived the #MeToo movement--as either showing “that the ongoing cultural audit is exactly on track—getting more granular in challenging unhealthy sex-related power dynamics—or that it has gone off the rails, and innocent men are now suffering, and we are collectively on the brink of a sex panic.”
Some, like The Atlantic’s Caitlin Flanagan, saw the babe piece as little more than public humiliation, going so far as to call it “3,000 words of revenge porn.” Others, like comedian and political commentator Samantha Bee, see the Ansari story as drawing out important, heretofore unaddressed aspects of sexual power dynamics. “We know the difference between a rapist, a workplace harasser, and an Aziz Ansari,” Bee stated in her January 17 Full Frontal segment, “That doesn’t mean we have to be happy about any of them.”
The conversations circling around the babe piece indicate that there is still much that is ambiguous and unexamined in our culture regarding the language and practices of consent; it also illustrates the importance of the way we talk and report about sexual assault, harassment, and coercion. Vox’s Caroline Framke wrote that “What the report about Ansari reveals is something much more common — and way more difficult to address — than most of the sexual harassment and abuse stories that have come out,” indicating the complexity of power dynamics of sexual relationships between men and women in a patriarchal society.
While many of the conversations following the babe piece have been centered primarily around whether or not Ansari is a sexual assailant, there has also been a significant expansion of the intellectual ground that #MeToo can and will cover, moving the discussion towards more and more subtle abuses and misuses of patriarchal power in sexual scenarios. Perhaps what the Ansari controversy shows most of all is that #MeToo is more than just a moment; it’s a cultural reckoning that will continue to reverberate into discussions of sex, power, and feminism in the future.