Every social-justice movement encounters at least one, if not several, waves of backlash. The #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault is no different. Originated by survivor Tarana Burke in 2007 (long before hashtags) and globalized in 2017 when news of Harvey Weinstein and other famous men’s abusive actions became front-page news, #MeToo has raised awareness about the pervasive impact of sexual violence in our world.
It’s not unexpected, but still regrettable, that Katherine Kersten used most of “Sex and the Single Mind: The Origins of #MeToo” (June 24) to cast blame on the victims/survivors and women in general. She falls back on the tired generalizations that due process is dead and men are too confused about how to act in this new era, as if somehow the concepts of justice and decency have disappeared completely.
While we agree that there are harmful sexual norms within our society, we don’t blame hip-hop music or “hook-up” culture or “Fifty Shades of Grey” or sex outside of marriage for the dominant power structures in our society that enable sexual harassment and assault in all of our institutions. If Kersten addressed the intersections of privilege, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and economic inequity with sexual violence, we would find common cause.
Notably, Kersten uses the sexual revolution of the 1960s and ’70s as a historic touchstone, but this reference resonates more these days with baby boomers than with younger generations. Finger-wagging disapproval of individual sexual choices does little to promote prevention of sexual violence. In fact, it can have the opposite effect.
Many young people receive little in the way of meaningful and realistic sexual health education from their schools and families. According to the Sexuality Education and Information Council of the United States, “Information is everything. And that’s a fact of life.” More often than not, young people are blocked from getting the information they need to better understand consent and self-respect. So they seek out what they can from the internet and peers. It’s no wonder pornography is today’s default sex education.
One of the most alarming aspects of Kersten’s column is her longing for the good old days when “sex was expensive,” meaning women could demand marriage, love and fidelity (as if those were guaranteed) before, effectively, putting out. At one time, husbands could treat women as property. Marital rape exceptions were still the law in many states until recent years. (Minnesota still has a troubling loophole in its statutes.) Domestic violence — which includes intimate partner sexual abuse — remains a significant danger in many relationships.
Kersten is right that there is a lot of work to do. The Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault and its member advocacy programs across the state are engaged every day in trying to improve our communities so that people can live, love — and have sex — in as safe a manner as possible. We know that prevention is possible, but we also believe stopping harm is more effective when it comes from a place of inclusive engagement and positivity rather than moral shaming.
We are grateful for all of the dialogue promoted by the #MeToo movement. We even appreciate the backlash, because that means our culture is evolving in response. But we will always stand on the side of victims/survivors and fight to shift the institutions that perpetuate the oppression fueling sexual violence. Kersten’s perspective, unfortunately, does not advance this fight.
Teri Walker McLaughlin is executive director and Hannah Laniado is associate director of strategic priorities for the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault.