The #MeToo movement’s search for demons to slay has expanded well beyond just those accused of sexual misbehavior. Now, if you’ve done anything to disseminate the accused’s side of the story, they’re coming for #YouToo.
Last week, Ian Buruma not so quietly left his position as editor of The New York Review of Books. The mob had descended on him days earlier for publishing an essay by Jian Ghomeshi. Ghomeshi was a Canadian broadcaster who’d been accused of sexual assault early on in the #MeToo movement. Ghomeshi stood trial in Canada for sexual assault of six women and was acquitted of all charges in 2015.
Ghomeshi’s piece attempted an apology and an explanation of how he became a person he despised. “I wore the right ribbons, used the right hashtags, hosted the right guests. I did interviews with everyone from Toni Morrison to Gloria Steinem, Drake and Maya Angelou. I attended demonstrations and spoke at progressive fund-raisers,” he wrote. “And at some point, when it came to women, I began to use my liberal gender studies education as a cover for my own behavior. I was ostensibly so schooled in how sexism works that I would arrogantly give myself a free pass.”
He describes the helplessness, shame and fear he felt after the accusations hit. He admits he behaved atrociously toward women, he’s regretful and he is looking for a path back. The public can deny him one, of course — but apparently the public must deny him one.
In a new front for the mob, it’s not enough to target the perpetrator of the misdeed. They are now targeting those who offer them a platform like Buruma did, or say anything warm about them at all.
Norm Macdonald learned this recently when he urged forgiveness for his friends Louis CK and Roseanne Barr. “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” canceled Macdonald’s upcoming appearance. Fallon told Macdonald that producers were “crying” over allowing Macdonald to appear.
Macdonald had an appearance on “The View” a few days later where he pointed out that he had not actually been accused of any action and his offense was words on behalf of those who were. “I don’t want to be tossed in with people who did, not crimes, but sins,” he said. “I barely have consensual sex.”
Too late: The mob has grown impatient with making distinctions between acts and thoughts.
The mob was particularly enraged by Buruma because of an interview he gave to Slate magazine explaining his decision to publish the Ghomeshi piece.
“I have absolutely no doubt that the #MeToo movement is a necessary corrective on male behavior that stands in the way of being able to work on equal terms with women. In that sense, I think it’s an entirely good thing,” he said. So far so good.
But he added that, “like all well-intentioned and good things, there can be undesirable consequences. I think, in a general climate of denunciation, sometimes things happen and people express views that can be disturbing.”
It’s not enough to support the existence of the #MeToo movement; the mob demands that support take a very specific shape.
Margaret Sullivan in the Washington Post, among others, criticized a “cavalier” comment Buruma made during the interview: “The exact nature of his behavior — how much consent was involved — I have no idea, nor is it really my concern.” It sounded like Buruma was dismissing the importance of consent, but he was actually making a larger point about someone being legally acquitted while still considered guilty by the public. The preceding comment was “All I know is that in a court of law he was acquitted, and there is no proof he committed a crime.”
We find a way back into society for the worst criminals, for murderers. A poignant story went viral recently about a police officer who had forgiven, and befriended, the man who shot him. We love those stories of redemption and forgiveness, but the idea of absolution for an accused, and in this case acquitted, #MeToo man is too much for us to consider.
People are right to be concerned that #MeToo has gone too far. There are few who don’t think the movement has done good work in exposing predatory men and encouraging victims to come forward.
But when an editor is forced out of his job because he published something controversial, or a friend of the accused suffers professionally for his kind words, we’ve gone to the crazy place and need to come back from it.