- 20 Dec 18
You couldn't have scripted a more eloquent expression of arrogance, sexual presumption and misogyny than the British Business Presidentıs Dinner last January. Men only, women waiters told to wear short skirts and accept being groped and propositioned. Horrible and shameful for sure, but perhaps also useful in being so grotesque, so indefensible. And yet the outrage with which it was met was itself shelled by raging misogynist trolls. Unbelievable. If ever you wanted an illustration of how #MeToo came to be, then this was it.
Everyone knew about the casting couch in Hollywood and the first iteration of #MeToo was set in that domain and targeted the mogul Harvey Weinstein in particular. But as is the way now, those early flares caught fire, spreading first to theatre and then to the media. Think Kevin Spacey who went from hero to zero in jig time. Think Sir Philip Green, owner of Topshop and friend of many models. He's fallen off all the guestlists too.
That this is thanks to social media may mitigate some of the wider criticism levelled at such media though - as emerged later, the major social media companies can't escape their culpability for paying women less and for a less-than-healthy culture of male pre-eminence.
In Ireland, Waking the Feminists was an angry response to the Abbey Theatreıs 1916/2016 commemoration programme. There were no female directors or writers featured. So, #MeToo landed on fertile ground. In due course Michael Colgan, the former director of the Gate Theatre, was 'called out', although, of course, he disputes the accusations.
Many changes accrued. For example, theatres now have codes of behaviour which they hadn't before. But the repercussions extend far beyond theatre and the media. Everyone's woke now.
The trial in March of Ulster rugby players on charges of rape and perverting the course of justice became another cause celebre. In Northern Ireland those accused of rape are named. This is not the case in Ireland, where they are only named if found guilty. Very graphic evidence was given in what turned in many ways into a circus. Many people were shocked and deeply upset. In the end the accused were found not guilty and a firestorm followed. The players' contracts were terminated. The echoes are still reverberating. There was much unease at the verdict, but also an acceptance that in her directions to the jury, the judge called it as she saw it.
It all showed how complexities lie in the long grass. The fact that someone is charged doesn't mean they are guilty before the law, even Harvey Weinstein, who appeared in court in May charged with rape. And tempting as it might be, we simply cannot accept trial by social media - or any other form of media either. Lynch mobs and summary justice are no more acceptable in Ireland than they are in Mississippi. Instead we need to reform procedures so that victims do not themselves become the accused.
Another layer of complexity entered with the news that Asia Argento, one of the key figures in the original #MeToo campaign, had paid money to actor Jimmy Bennett. Bennett alleged that the actress slept with him when he was just 17. This whole thing is hotly contested and one doubts that even someone as forensic as Judge Peter Charleton could unravel all the threads, but it illustrates how blurry the boundaries can be when it comes to victims and perpetrators and how, sometimes, things are really messy and indeterminate.
B the tail end of 2018, #MeToo has graduated from campaign to movement. It's global now and has irreversibly changed the public consciousness with regard to sexual assault and misogyny. In addition, it's conjoined with a righteous and increasingly emphatic campaign for equal pay, appropriate childcare support and respectful health services.
Now it's up to everyone to work together for further positive change.