Opinion

Don’t Get Swept Away By #MeToo Regarding Sexual Assault

Facebook and Twitter are crackling with #metoo hashtags, posted by women reporting they have been “sexually harassed or assaulted.” The flood of posts at first seems alarming, but the magnitude of such posts isn’t very instructive, because sexual harassment and sexual assault are very different things.

To be clear: I condemn any kind of unwanted touching, and violent sexual attacks are despicable. Similarly, men who request sexual favors from women in exchange for professional advancement are pigs. But feminists have so devalued the currency of the term “sexual harassment” that we simply have no idea how many of the women (and men) posting the hashtag suffered the most serious of the allegations against Harvey Weinstein – and how many just squirmed at work over a dirty joke or were objectified on the street because a lewd anatomical remark.

The conflation of sexual harassment and sexual assault may seem linguistic – that people are eliding two very different things because they both have the word “sexual” in them. But this isn’t like saying “astrologer” instead of “astronomer.” Feminist ideology slaps any unwanted male behavior – from a whistle on the street to a penetrative sexual assault at knifepoint – onto the same purported continuum. Opponents of “rape culture” have been persecuting men on campus for several years, and the idea is spreading to other parts of society, too.

So the #MeToo campaign, in eschewing nuance as it ticks off unspecified instances of both sexual harassment and sexual assault, reinforces the frankly paranoid idea that for women, every encounter with a man risks rape.

Conflating assault with mere harassment disrespects women who have faced the worst imaginable violation to one’s bodily integrity. #MeToo’s promiscuous embrace of anyone claiming victimhood no matter how slight the incident means such women are saying to rape victims suffering nightmares from PTSD, “Yeah, I know how you feel.”

If everything is a sexual offense, then nothing is a sexual offense. And that isn’t good for women. Example: if Americans come to believe that nearly every woman has been victimized sexually, juries will be less likely to convict men accused of specific sexual violations.

#MeToo probably started innocently, stemming from accusations of both harassment and assault against Harvey Weinstein. But it’s begun to undermine the special horror Americans feel toward rape and other sex-related physical violence.

I know the fear and powerlessness sexual harassment instills. When I was a 21-year old intern at a gay political organization in the 1990s, my 35-year-old immediate supervisor would periodically sit on my lap. I hated it then, and looking back I still resent it.

But you won’t see me posting #MeToo, though my encounter included direct physical contact. I have too much respect for the women (and men) whose suffering far exceeded my own. And besides, a movement than can see ribaldry as a form of molestation can come to see molestation as mere ribaldry.

Count me out.

David Benkof is a columnist for The Daily Caller. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) or Facebook, or E-mail him at [email protected].


Views expressed in op-eds are not the views of The Daily Caller.