In a landmark moment for the Me Too movement, Oprah Winfrey used her Cecil B. DeMille Award acceptance speech to declare that “for too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up”. To rapturous applause, Winfrey captured the essence of the Me Too movement: those who abuse their power would now be held accountable for their actions.
It is impossible to ignore the different ways in which girls and boys are socialised leading to this imbalance of power.
It is significant that Winfrey said “to the power of those men” because it is men who hold power in our society. That is why it takes a movement of voices for women to come forward with their own stories of sexual assault; their singular voices are drowned out by questions of “what were you wearing?”, “how much had you had to drink?”, “who are they going to believe?” Whilst it is true that it’s ‘not all men’ and this analysis of power may overlook important factors of class and race, it is impossible to ignore the different ways in which girls and boys are socialised, in general terms, leading to this imbalance of power.
“Boys will be boys” they tell us, and with just four words they teach us that girls, or boys who don’t conform to the hegemonic form of masculinity, must be tolerant and accepting of boys’ bad behaviour. But perhaps the Me Too movement is posing a threat to the immortality of these words, proposing a world where instead we’ll be teaching our children that “boys will be held accountable for their actions”.
Gaslighting is when a person attempts to manipulate the reality of another person in order to gain power.
One example of this cultural shift is the response to 2018 Love Island contestant Adam’s behaviour towards female contestants in the villa, particularly Rosie. Rosie and Adam were coupled up in the Love Island villa for two weeks before Adam became interested in new contestant Zara. Adam confided in the other male contestants that he wanted to pursue Zara but failed to communicate this to Rosie, instead deciding to distance himself from her without explanation. When Rosie confronted him about his behaviour, he disregarded and invalidated her emotions, insisting she’d made it up and that it was her insecurities that were pushing him away. In response to the episode, Women’s Aid released a statement expressing that his behaviour had warning signs of emotional abuse and they specifically accused him of ‘gaslighting’. Gaslighting is when a person attempts to manipulate the reality of another person in order to gain power. In the days that followed, what felt like a national debate was constructed around the issue which saw the likes of BBC Breakfast, Good Morning Britain and the Guardian to name but a few, add their contributions to the discussion. It could be argued that the Me Too movement provided the cultural environment in which a discussion about a man’s arguably abusive actions on reality TV could be created.
The fear of being a ‘psycho’ is inextricably linked to the act of gaslighting because it implies that you are questioning your sanity or proposing an untrue version of reality
If the Me Too movement is about empowering victims and dethroning powerful, male perpetrators then we have to look at the power politics at play that places men in those positions of power. Countless women have spoken about being portrayed as the ‘psycho’ overbearing girlfriend by men whose behaviour they’ve questioned. The fear of being a ‘psycho’ is inextricably linked to the act of gaslighting because, by its definition, it implies that you are questioning your sanity or proposing an untrue version of reality. The rape culture that makes it easier for perpetrators to convince victims that they would not be believed or that their abuse did not happen as they thought it did is also based on this premise of gaslighting. Therefore, in deconstructing the everyday power dynamics of our relationships, this discussion around gaslighting is contributing to a wider cultural movement towards an intolerance of abuse.
Another example of this growing intolerance of abuse, especially that which is committed against women, is the data showing the correlation between domestic violence and football detailed in a graphic poster that went viral around the time of the World Cup. The poster explained that domestic violence raises by 26% when England play and 38% when they lose. Amongst the World Cup frenzy this was a sobering thought. After one of England’s wins, I was on a train with some football fans. In amongst their chants of ‘It’s coming home’, they also loudly shared jokes about rape and made lewd comments about female passengers. It was an uncomfortable situation to be in and it brought some kind of greater understanding to those statistics. Whilst the football can bring a sense of togetherness and a common goal, in some (and not all) men it can give rise to a form of toxic masculinity. Nobody, myself included, questioned the men on the behaviour they exhibited on that train. Whilst I’d like to think that if any of the people I associated with more closely were expressing such views I’d hold them to account, I didn’t feel able to in that environment because I didn’t feel safe doing so.
The Me Too movement is providing a cultural moment
Perhaps this indicates that the Me Too movement, although having made amazing strides in terms of waking people up to the reality of day to day gendered violence, still has a way to go before it’s had its maximum impact. The Me Too movement is providing a cultural moment in which we are deconstructing our everyday behaviours, raising awareness of gendered abuse and feeling empowered to speak our truths. Whether the Me Too movement persists as it is or adopts a new guise, as long as we continue to promote a culture in which people feel safe to ‘speak the truth to the power of those men’, we’re on the right track.
Our ‘boys will be boys’ culture is deep-rooted but it is malleable and every day that we chip away at it, we’re working towards a safer and more compassionate ‘post MeToo’ society.