Annabel Steele believes that the media coverage of #MeToo has been unfairly distorted. Do you agree?
I am a feminist, I support the #MeToo movement and I have absolutely no tolerance for men or women who commit sexual crimes. I am not defending Brett Kavanaugh or anyone accused of sexual assault, nor am I issuing any sort of criticism towards the strong, brave men and women who have come forward in the intimidating face of the media to speak their truth. However, incidents of sexual assault by people in positions of power are being given an unreasonable amount of media coverage as a way of encouraging the ferocity and force of the #MeToo movement, with little consideration of the consequences. It is glamourisation by the media: in their portrayal of victims as celebrities; in their encouragement to attack those in question before a verdict has even been reached, and in their crazed attitudes when new accusations come out of the woodwork. Justice is already a seemingly unreachable entity, and the public perception of an objective justice system is being thwarted by this bizarre ‘celebration’ of the prevalence of sexual assault.
The ongoing Brett Kavanaugh case is currently holding the top spot in a series of cases highly publicised in the media over the past few years which concern a male with some form of influence – political or otherwise – accused of sexual assault by at least one former acquaintance, usually female. The fact that today’s society is one in which women who have remained silent for so long now feel that they can share their stories to a genuinely compassionate world is being, and should be, celebrated – but as more and more allegations are flying around, attitudes are leaning dangerously towards celebration of the prevalence of these cases. Sexual assault cases are not appropriate material for the press to manipulate according to their political agenda and use as fuel for their fire: as well as undermining the severity of cases in which the perpetrator is female and/or the victim is male, it is beginning to harvest an attitude of doubt towards women who are speaking out about their experiences. Dr Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, the women who claim to have been assaulted by US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, have received an overwhelming amount of support, but they have also been widely and publicly criticised. Notably of Ford, Rebecca Hagelin, conservative columnist for the Washington Times, has boldly stated that “taking down an innocent man” would “further discredit the entire #MeToo movement”. As a pro-Trump conservative, it is unsurprising that she is taking the side of the POTUS’ Supreme Court nominee. However, she she still raises an alarming question: if we are using cases such as Kavanaugh’s to increase the veracity of the #MeToo movement, what is going to happen if Brett Kavanaugh is found ‘not guilty’?
Support for Kavanaugh’s nomination has already been irreparably damaged – even now, before a verdict has been reached, both NBC News and the Wall Street Journal published polls confirming that more people oppose Kavanaugh than support him. It is almost pointless to speculate about who deserves the role of Supreme Court Justice at this point: regardless of whether Kavanaugh’s nomination goes through, and whether he is successful, every move he makes for the rest of his career will be scrutinised through the lens of those who believe the accusations of Ford and Ramirez. If he is found ‘not guilty’, the inevitable refusal of some people to accept this ruling would be detrimental to the US justice system whose reputation is already on dangerous ground, unaided by the aggressive publicity surrounding recent cases of fraud and deception. Yes, it is wonderful and liberating to live in a world where victims of these awful crimes can come forward, but we must avoid letting the media create a world where people doubt any existence of justice in the justice system.
The #MeToo movement is an inherently compassionate movement which I would never oppose, but latching onto this wave of sexual misconduct allegations as a means of uniting women is a toxic strategy which could be interpreted in an extremely damaging way: such a divisive and politically dense case as Kavanaugh’s is far too complicated to be used as a symbol of the #MeToo fight. When Fox News held their “Who do you believe?” poll, in which 36% of voters chose Ford and 30% Kavanaugh, the rest unsure (Ramirez had not yet come forward), it felt like a game – or, worse, an election. This feeling continued into the exclusive interview Fox held with Kavanaugh on Monday night during which, in a moment not dissimilar to Theresa May’s “fields of wheat” incident, Kavanaugh confessed his virginity during high school and for “many years after. I’ll leave it at that.” A situation which is extremely personal to both the accuser and the accused should not be up for public vote, and Fox certainly shouldn’t be encouraging people to take sides or ridicule the accused before all the evidence has been considered. This case is not a manifestation of the strength of #MeToo: it is about Kavanaugh, Ford and Ramirez, and getting to the truth.