The Feminist Arguments against the Metoo Activism at the Golden Globes

Last Sunday, 7th January 2018, was the Golden Globes. This got on the news around the world, not just because of the coverage of which actors and films were given awards, but because the female actors wore black in solidarity with all the women, who had suffered sexual abuse, harassment and exploitation. This culminated in one of the leading actors at the ceremony announcing that Hollywood’s ladies would stand in solidarity with every woman, who had suffered such sexual abuse and assault, and that they would be dedicating a special fund to help poor women sue their abusers.

Coming after the scandals about Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes and others at Fox News, including its long running host, Bill O’Reilly, such an announcement is clearly well meant, and for many women facing the cost of having to drag their abuser, who is probably their boss, through the courts, the prospect of being able to get some money from a charity dedicated to helping them would surely be welcome. But not all women, and not all feminists, saw it quite like that.

Roza Halibi in Counterpunch and the Sane Progressive on YouTube both put up pieces about it, criticising the move. Many women, including the French actress Catherine Deneuve, are critical of the #Metoo movement as they feel it demonises men. All men are now being viewed as sexual predators, real or potential. They also object to the way distasteful and unpleasant forms of sexual contact – like the boss with wandering hands – has been lumped in and conflated with far more serious forms of sexual abuse, like rape and women being told that if they don’t sleep with their boss, they’ll lose their jobs. Groping is unpleasant and humiliating, and it’s quite right that there should be a campaign to stop it. But it’s not at the same level as the other two.

They also found the stance of the individual actresses involved in the speech and this display of solidarity hypocritical. Weinstein’s behaviour was known for years by people within Hollywood, including Meryl Streep. And at the time they kept their mouths firmly shut. Some of this might have been because Weinstein was a powerful man, and no matter how respected and successful they were as ‘A’ list actors, he could have the power to destroy their careers, as he threatened numerous aspiring actresses if they wouldn’t sleep with him. But some of it no doubt was also the attitude of the time, to put up with it regardless.

But there’s also an attitude that the speeches against sexual harassment and exploitation were also a form of faux feminism, by rich, entitled women, who were trying to appropriate the protests by ordinary, middle and lower class women. Critics like the Sane Progressive and Halibi have argued that the successful protests always come from below. They are won by ordinary working people standing up for themselves and demanding further rights and change. They are not achieved by members of the upper classes deciding that they will charitably act as the saviours of the lower orders. The #Metoo activism at the Golden Globes represents very rich, entitled women trying to take control of a protest by their sisters lower down the social scale, and wrest it away from any meaningful challenge to a corrupt system as a whole.

The same critics have also made the point that the #Metoo activism has also acted as a diversion. Sexual abuse is only part of a whole series of problems corporate capitalism is inflicting on American society. This includes mass poverty and starvation, the further denial of rights to low paid workers, Trump’s attempts to repeal Obamacare and destroy Medicare, the destruction of the environment, and the political paralysis caused by a corrupt party system taking money and its orders from wealthy donors in big business, rather than acting in the interests of ordinary citizens. All of these issues need tackling, but the leadership of the Democrat party has become, under the Clintons and Obama, as thoroughly corporatist as the Republicans, and has no interest in tackling these issues. That would harm the interests of their donors in big business. So they make symbolic liberal gestures. Like Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency last year. Her policies were more neoliberalism, corporate greed, and aggressive militarism. For ordinary Americans she offered nothing but more poverty and exploitation. But she claimed that, because she was female, she was somehow an outsider, and that a victory for her would thus be a victory for women. Even though, as the lowest paid group, women would have suffered the most from a Clinton presidency. If you didn’t vote for Clinton, you were automatically a misogynist. And if you were a woman, and didn’t vote for her, she and her followers denied it was because you had opinions of your own. Rather, you were just doing what your husband or boyfriend told you. So much for Clinton believing in women’s independence and their agency as human beings.

But this experience of a very rich, entitled woman trying to make herself appear liberal when she was anything but, has clearly coloured some left-wing and feminist attitudes in America towards other attempts by the rich to embrace or promote left-wing causes. Clinton’s liberalism was a fraud, and so some people are suspicious that the actresses stressing their commitment to rooting out sexual abuse are less than wholehearted in their determination to ending the general poverty, exploitation and other issues plaguing American society. And just as the corporate Democrats are desperate to take power away from the real radical left, like Bernie Sanders, so these ladies are trying to take power away from ordinary women, determined to solve the problem their own way. Because this challenges their position in society and their political influence as arbiters and spokespeople of the nation’s conscience.

Now I think the #metoo speeches were well meant, regardless of the possible hypocrisy of some of the actresses involved, and hopefully some women will benefit from the money available to sue their abusers. But the Guardian’s Marina Hyde a few years ago wrote a book, Celebrity: How Entertainers Took Over the World And Why We Need an Exit Strategy, pointing out numerous instances where Hollywood celebs decided to take over a cause, only to make the situation worse. There’s a very good case to be made against such Hollywood activism. And this problem may well become more acute, as more celebs decide to promote symbolic issues, while leaving the other problems affecting ordinary people untouched.