The #MeToo movement may be having its intended – and perfectly laudable – effect of discouraging some bad male behaviour. But it may also be having a less-than-laudatory autonomous effect, that of cutting women off from perfectly innocent and otherwise invaluable one-on-one interactions. For example, a gubernatorial candidate in Mississippi has recently announced – and he won’t be the last – that he will not be interviewed by an unaccompanied female journalist. And for his trouble he’s being accused of sexism! They’ve got us coming and going, he might rightly complain. What’s a guy to do?
Answer: Behave properly, and you’ve got nothing to worry about.
Yes we do. Since more and more courts are taking judicial notice of both a) the accuser’s epistemic privilege, and that b) it’s harassment if she felt harassed, the smart money goes on avoiding any one-on-one interactions entirely. In fact if a man is willing to take his chances it can only be because he does have unsavory motives.
So no, Virginia, you can’t have it both ways. And your only problem now is that, after all the fuss the #MeToo movement has made, it’s too late to say, even if you wanted to, “Oh, never mind!”
But in this regard there’s nothing unique about the #MeToo movement’s resurrection of Victorian fragilism. Political correctness has cast its pall over what are supposed to be our most critical critical disciplines, the very disciplines which, ironically enough, gave rise to these politically correct ‘correctives’ in the first place. It was historians who told us that the ‘Indians’ weren’t savages after all. Now they’re being told it’s hate speech to tell us that neither were they saints.
But to be fair, hasn’t it always been thus? That one man’s freedom of expression is another’s hate speech? So if you’re being accused of hate speech today, it may be small consolation, but consolation nonetheless, to be reminded that there are no irreversible trajectories in social governance. This is probably because every movement bears the seeds of its own reversal. If what was unspeakable in the ‘50s – a woman’s right to choose – is the creed that must be recited today, rest assured it will some day be unspeakable again. If it was the creed in the ‘50s – this is a Christian country, dammit! – is unspeakable today, be assured it will yet again be an article of national faith. However alienated you might feel today, you just need to be patient. Your moment will come around. As Bob Dylan put it,
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are [always] a-changin’.