“At this rate, I won’t even be able to look at the women I work with anymore,” goes the common refrain.
This particular iteration of the #MeToo "backlash" has become almost hilariously predictable. It's like the International League of Persecuted Dudes issued a boilerplate response, to be repeated ad infinitum by their members.
First, derail a nuanced conversation by invoking some imaginary Puritan dystopia. Then bemoan how the #MeToo movement has conflated a lighthearted tap on the bottom with assault, ignoring the varied conversations about consent permeating mainstream media.
The martyrs of this apparent inquisition? Politicians and celebrities.
Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leader Patrick Brown's disheveled resignation, following allegations of sexual misconduct, set off the usual firestorm of debate involving the familiar questions: Whatever happened to due process? Whatever happened to "innocent until proven guilty"? Rosie DiManno, in the Toronto Star, says it's "an affront to fairness."
It's the same line of reasoning that cropped up after Babe.net's Aziz Ansari story. Ansari, Brown and former U.S. senator Al Franken are held up as the casualties of the unthinking #MeToo stampede, careers ruined for doing things that were comparatively "not that bad."
The thing is, none of these figures are facing legal action. And there, in a court of law, is where due process is immensely important.
But the careers of public figures, by contrast, are built on public opinion. They knowingly entered into a career dictated by the fickle, unpredictable and sometimes nonsensical force of popularity.
Ansari, Brown and Franken aren’t being prosecuted, and there is no Puritan dystopia on our horizon. The guillotine of public opinion is, importantly, not a real guillotine. But what I feel — and what many others feel — is simply distaste, or disgust, with their behaviour. I’ve not met anyone claiming they’re Weinstein-like predators, but I’ve met many people who find their actions puerile, inappropriate or just creepy.
I admired Ansari for a long time. I was beyond happy to finally have some decent Asian-American representation in media and glad to see a brown actor who wasn't a punchline or a sidekick.
But after reading the Babe.net exposé — even though it was an amateurish, bungled mess — I found his sexual behaviour (which he hasn’t denied) just off-putting, particularly from a man who claims such expertise in modern dating, and I don’t want to watch his material any longer. I am, essentially, disappointed.
Should Ansari lose his career over this? Well, there’s no indication that he will. But even if he does, that’s the game he signed up for, just as Brown and Franken did; a game refereed by the whims of the public. There’s never been any justice in entertainment or politics, as other columnists have pointed out.
Another PC-party hopeful, Robert Stanford, is believed to have lost the election because he fumbled a football. Iowan presidential candidate Howard Dean torpedoed his own image with an ill-advised scream. The Dixie Chicks and Sinead O’Connor, too, made one wrong move and found themselves pariahs overnight.
Where was the outrage then? Where was the call for due process? Why is it only when we’re dealing with the #MeToo moments, even bolstered by credible evidence of sexual misconduct and poor behaviour, that this weird sanctimoniousness raises its head?
The #MeToo movement leaves us with a message. If you have a history of sexual sleaziness, or if you regularly indulge in sordid — though legal — activity, perhaps you shouldn’t run for office or write a book on how to date.
Celebrity status and political careers are essentially based on how much people like you. Stating that men like Ansari, Brown and Franken shouldn’t lose their careers is a fair enough point — but it’s basically saying “people should still like them,” which is also a fundamentally useless point.
Certainly, the legions of credibly accused men have a right to due process and a right to defend themselves; alongside these rights, I also have the right to dislike them.
Harsh? Perhaps. Welcome to showbiz.