People are predisposed to react a certain way to any news depending on the combined sum of their individual and collective experience. In the recent example of the Weinstein case, I have witnessed- both in my personal circle and the wider social media world- a tendency to drift towards the black and white corners of the potential victim vs alleged perpetrator spectrum that perhaps has a higher chance of aligning peacefully with each individual or group’s experience.
Women (and men) jumping to the defense of victims in situations with little to no evidence, and men (and women) continuing to defend the guilty despite the mounting sea of evidence point to our disturbing need to make reality fit our narrative. Alderman explores this idea in a balanced and thought provoking opinion piece:
There will be two tides working against each other: Some people reflexively defending anyone who is accused of sexual harassment or assault — and some taking to social media to condemn anyone about whom there is the faintest whisper of a rumor. The language of the “witch hunt” is both inappropriate and inflammatory; witches hadn’t actually done anything, abusive men really have. But the temptation to rush toward certainty is very human — we’d rather be able to say that there were a few bad apples, we’ve got rid of them and now we’re done, than stand a while in our discomfort and undertake the long process of re-examining a whole culture.
I said ‘potential’ victim earlier because there is the chance that a percentage (a statistically insignificant percentage according to various sources*) of the population may be exaggerating or creating false allegations. And I said alleged perpetrator for the same reason, and because innocent until enough evidence surfaces seems like a good rule of thumb in these situations. I was hesitant to write this post before I read this article precisely because of the ‘two tides’ mentioned by Alderman.
The movement that started with a simple hashtag has developed into a beast of its own, almost tangible in its relentless energy to create lasting and positive change. However, it would be prudent to remember the goal of the movement was to unite victims, help them find agency and power and to encourage systemic change that would lead to abusers being held accountable for their actions despite their level of power or influence. The systemic change is underway, but the wider social and cultural change can only occur if we encourage healthy, open discussion that allows for people to listen and engage with each other rather than just shouting at each other from opposite sides of the room.
NB: I’m writing specifically about the response to the rising number of sexual assault cases and allegations currently. I will explore the changing landscape of corporate Hollywood in response to these events, and the toxic masculinity and patriarchal structures that contribute to an unsafe working environment later if I feel I have a confident enough grasp on those areas.