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The chink in the #MeToo armour

The chink in the #MeToo armour
The chink in the #MeToo armour

It has long been a wry joke in progressive circles that satirical website the Onion is losing its raison d’etre, as the line between reality and parody gets increasingly blurred. And so it is with the Onion’s spinoff ClickHole, which presents satire in clickbait form.

About one month ago, ClickHole published one of its most astute pieces ever, As A Male Feminist, I Think I’d Absolutely Crush It If I Ever Had To Publicly Apologise For Sexual Misconduct.

It is especially biting satire, targeting both men who treat feminism as a career move and online culture that praises men for the most rudimentary of feminist sentiments: “I would immediately admit to the charges levelled against me ... whether it was lewd comments, groping, public indecency, coercing female employees into sex for promotions, or something even worse, I would own up to it because, as a progressive, I do not want to contribute to a culture that discredits women for speaking up. I read enough feminist think-pieces to know that it’s important to believe women, and in my apology ... I would own that...”

As long as three years ago, I was already (half)joking about the Onion’s ability to “predict” the future of feminism. And here we are again - one month after ClickHole’s satirical take on Me Too, documentary director Morgan Spurlock has pre-emptively admitted to and apologised for years of sexual misconduct and revealed that he has been accused of rape.

“I’m part of the problem,” Spurlock “bravely” confesses. “I hurt them. And I hate it. But it didn’t make me stop. The worst part is, I’m someone who consistently hurts those closest to me. From my wife, to my friends, to my family, to my partners & co-workers. I have helped create a world of disrespect through my own actions.”

As feminists, we must be honest: In recent years our preference for the online world over the real one has helped foster an environment where men assume that merely admitting to abusing us is praiseworthy and requires no further action.

Weeks before ClickHole’s parody and Matt Damon’s praise of Louis CK’s admission, I was stunned by the amount of male confessions on social media receiving gratitude and praise from women.

Perhaps we were primed for this by rapist Tom Stranger who turned confession into a literal performance, apologising to his victim on stages all over the world, while she repeatedly forgave him, and the inevitable media storm that implied the rest of us should follow suit.

“I’d check off all the boxes that feminist Twitter looks for in an airtight apology,” ClickHole’s unflinching observation continues. “The internet would find my epic honesty so refreshing that my redemptive arc would be put on a fast track ... bloggers would be publishing headlines like, ‘Now THIS Is How You Do An Apology’.

This is how low the bar is in progressive advocacy. Public performances of “wokeness” (are we still appropriating this word?) are accepted in lieu of meaningful actions. In the social media age, words replace deeds and double standards are applied according to who the culprit is.

“If I had to guess, I’d say all the employers that had fired me would quietly invite me to return within a month or two,” ClickHole goes on. But when it came to Democrat senator Al Franken, it didn’t take that long, nor did it happen quietly. Prominent feminists such as Kate Harding came to his sort of-defence immediately, claiming it was “better for women” that he not resign, since there are likely to be countless other Democrats with similar skeletons waiting to be exposed.

And with that, Harding inadvertently reveals the chink in the Me Too armour: By focusing on a succession of individuals — both perpetrator and victim — and applying the strictest standards only to those within its ideological and political ranks, the Me Too “movement” prevents itself from laying foundations for long-term systemic change.

Harding has a point about the men waiting in the wings to take Franken’s place, but is her defence materially any different to Kate Winslet’s defence of Woody Allen? It was Franken himself who wryly observed that Me Too’s winds of change blow only in one direction, and indeed they have bypassed not only Woody Allen but the likes of Donald Trump and Roy Moore. Yes, Roy Moore lost at the ballot box, but not before white voters proved in droves their willingness to overlook accusations of sexual assault of underage girls, as well as racism and sexism, providing their idols promise to maintain white domination .

Some women will benefit from these winds; privileged white women mostly, many of whom will insist they represent us all. They don’t. It was black women, followed closely by black men, who defeated Roy “America has not been great since slavery” Moore in Alabama. It was not Me Too, and it certainly was not white women who nonetheless claimed the victory as a “turning point”.

Naturally, ClickHole saves the best for last. “If I really wanted to hit it out of the park, I would insist that I didn’t deserve a second chance ... I would just go away forever, with my badass apology as the unforgettable send-off people would be talking about for years. As a feminist, it’d be the least I could do.”

There is, apparently, no limit to how little men must do to claim the title “feminist”. Meanwhile, online culture gets ever-less forgiving of women who stray even slightly from prevailing progressive sentiment. Years of work to the cause is rendered immaterial, entire reputations are smeared and careers derailed, as women find themselves “cancelled” on the basis of a single statement.

We must raise the bar or be crushed under it.

— Guardian News & Media Ltd

Ruby Hamad is a freelance writer and a columnist for SBS Life.