Why Some Conservatives Struggle With #MeToo, and the Way Forward
Amy Swearer /
Several weeks ago, I authored an essay detailing my experience of being drugged by a stranger and expressing my thoughts about the #MeToo trend.
While I suspected that the essay would resonate with a good percentage of those who read it, I never imagined just how many people would end up reading it. I greatly appreciate all those who shared and retweeted the essay, helping spread a message I am stunned to see had such a profound effect on so many.
More than anything, I am deeply touched and humbled by the messages I received from those who felt my words had given a voice to emotions and experiences they had struggled for so long to express. I continue to be inspired by the bravery of those who shared their own stories as a result of the essay.
Since then, I’ve received many great questions and comments that deserve thoughtful replies. I believe it would be wise to dig a bit deeper into some of them, and flesh out a few key points that were perhaps initially overlooked.
Why do conservatives seem hesitant to actively support campaigns like #MeToo?
I can’t speak for all conservatives, but I do see two main problems we generally raise with these types of campaigns.
The first problem is political.
No—rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment are not inherently political. They are problems that transcend all social divisions and that certainly deserve a solution approached from a nonpartisan standpoint. But we often speak about these things in inherently political language, and we do so in the midst of a politically divisive and complex time in our nation’s history.
There is little escaping the shadow cast by this great wall of political division—even when discussing otherwise apolitical problems.
It’s not hard for me to understand why some conservatives’ first instinct was to immediately dismiss the #MeToo campaign and its social value.
The campaign was started with celebrity support and continued to grow because of celebrity support. It was primarily a response to allegations made against elite Hollywood stars, and it received the unquestioned embrace of organizations predominantly associated with progressive politics.
Many conservatives feel particularly alienated from the world of Hollywood, given the tendency of its prominent figures to support progressive politics and attack the character of those who do not. As an industry, Hollywood is often responsible for undermining the social norms and values we hold dear.
Further, the thought of even appearing to snuggle up with left-leaning feminist groups is nightmarish for those who witnessed the Women’s March movement cast out pro-life supporters, compare Trump voters to Hitler, and insist on parading around in vagina costumes.
Conservatives do not support rape, sexual assault, or sexual harassment. But we have become a bit tired of being characterized as sexist, patriarchal women-haters, and are wary of discussions centered on related issues with people sometimes prone to mocking or mischaracterizing us.
We often choose to simply avoid the inevitable frictions that arise when we enter that arena.
The second problem is not political, but practical.
Many have rightly pointed out the drawbacks to both social media campaigns and emotional calls for policy changes on the heels of social backlash.
Without rehashing the entire debate, there is a tendency for social media campaigns to result in “slacktivism”—when people feel as though they have helped solve a problem simply because they used a catchy hashtag on Twitter, but nothing of value is actually accomplished. The problem persists, even though we feel better about ourselves.
Some are also concerned that social media campaigns oversimplify very complex issues, resulting in watered-down and unproductive conversations that do not provide necessary nuance.
Particularly for the #MeToo campaign, conservatives tend to bristle at the idea that everyone making a claim about assault or harassment should be unquestioningly believed, and not simply listened to and supported, with their stories honestly considered and not immediately dismissed.
Absolute belief ignores the very real fact that sometimes, alleged victims exaggerate or lie, that those accused of sexual assault deserve due process rights, and that failures to ignore these realities can have devastating consequences.
None of this is to say conservatives aren’t in favor of collaborating to stop and punish the heinous crimes of sexual violence and harassment. But liberals must understand the context in which this apolitical discussion is taking place, and how even apolitical problems are more complex than we’d like them to be.
And both sides need to work harder on overcoming these communication barriers.
How would you respond to various comments and articles calling for the alienation of conservative women who are just now “jumping on the bandwagon?”
I honestly don’t understand the reasoning behind these types of comments.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that this is entirely true, and that conservative women are horrible in every other political capacity. What kind of tactical approach rebuffs new support for solving a serious issue? The premise helps no one, least of all the victims.
How do we get more men, particularly conservative men, actively involved in these conversations?
We must stop placing men in lose-lose situations.
Far too often, men who voice opinions not entirely consistent with a common liberal narrative are told to “shut up” with their “mansplaining.” Then, when they remain silent, they are accused of being part of the problem.
In short, many times men, especially conservative men, have no idea what movements like #MeToo want from them.
This is not a cop out, but a genuine reality that must be addressed. Men are allowed to have opinions that differ from mine as a woman. They should not be painted with a broad brush that assumes they are all would-be rapists.
Their status as victims—both of false accusations, and of sexual assault itself—needs to be acknowledged.
Some of the most caring men I know are conservatives, and would have torn out the trachea of anyone caught trying to slip drugs into a woman’s drink. They want to help address this problem. They want to protect women from the disgraceful excuses for manhood that carry out these types of crimes.
We should accept that these men have unique perspectives to add to the discussion, and those perspectives should be embraced, not scorned.
Similarly, some of the most heartbreaking stories of victimization I have heard came from men I have known for years, who I never suspected suffered so profoundly and for so long.
Men can be victims—not just of false accusations, but of very real and very painful sexual assaults and episodes of harassment. Their stories are no less important than mine as a woman, and they need to be met with the same consideration and the same compassion.
What are some ways we can create a more productive cross-aisle conversation?
We must do a better job of understanding how we misunderstand each other. Conservatives and liberals speak in two very different languages, and we often don’t make sense to each other.
For example, aspects of my essay utilized politically-charged language like “the war on manhood,” “militant feminism,” and “gun-owning, beer-drinking, God-fearing conservative.” This was intentional—I am a conservative woman writing to a specific subset of conservatives who speak and understand language in a particular way.
Had this essay been originally directed at a broader, nonpartisan audience, I likely would have used a very different tone. That doesn’t mean I would have conveyed a different message, or would have pretended to be anything other than what I am—a conservative woman. It simply means I would have integrated language more palatable to non-conservatives.
Perhaps the best thing liberals can do to further a bipartisan conversation is to refrain from making this an issue of supporting “feminism.” The hard truth is that feminism, as an ideology, has a serious PR problem. This is true not just among conservatives, but among the population at large.
Understandably, many on the left might find this proposition terrifying—to them, feminism is simply the idea that men and women should be treated equally. But to those on the outside, it means acting unhinged, holding to victimhood hierarchies, and probably desecrating religious objects.
Further, “feminism” as a movement is strongly associated with support for liberal policies. To be a feminist, one must agree not only with the equal treatment of men and women, but be pro-abortion, pro-government-subsidized health care, and, frankly, anti-conservative.
If the language of feminism dominates the conversation on sexual assault, conservatives will continue to hesitate before engaging in that conversation.
A Final Appeal to Our Better Natures
A few days after publishing the essay, I was invited to participate on a New York Times panel discussion about sexual assault. There is one particular story from the panel experience I believe fully exemplifies the way we must move forward, not just on sexual assault, but on every issue facing society.
During one of my answers, two women in the front row interrupted me to emotionally voice just how much they disagreed with the particular assessment I gave. They were angry. I was flustered. It could have derailed the entire panel and solidified in all of us a conviction that “the other side” was completely unreasonable.
But an incredible thing happened: I invited them to stay after the panel so that we could spend time trying to understand each other better. And they did.
When the panel ended, they both came up and hugged me, and I expressed my genuine appreciation for how much they clearly cared about solving an important problem.
Then we listened. We listened and shared and laughed, and while we still may never agree on all aspects of the problem or its solution, we left as friends with dinner plans. We left three steps closer to understanding each other. We left with the hope for change a little brighter and the world a little less dark.
It’s often overwhelming to see society as a whole unable to have rational, composed, and meaningful conversations about anything.
But deep cuts do not heal quickly. They heal slowly, over time, as individual cells of healthy tissue form and build up and pull the edges inward. They heal because of imperceptible change on a microscopic level that gradually turns into noticeable transformation.
We, as individuals, need to start as singular cells healing a societal wound. We must understand that there are plenty of good people across the entire political spectrum, and we must go out of our way to create relationships with them.
Sure, there will be people you find insufferable, but I promise you there will also be those with whom you can be friends. By learning to communicate with those who speak other political languages, we become better at understanding how our ideas can be better conveyed.
It may not seem like much, but as someone whose life has been irrevocably changed for the better by the actions of otherwise unremarkable people who history will never remember if it even noticed them at all, what we do in the handful of lives around us matters. The change has to start somewhere.
Let it start with you, with me, and let it grow until #MeToo becomes #AllOfUs, together.