I don’t know exactly what Norm Macdonald meant when he suggested Me Too has “slowed down.” But there’s some truth to his basic observation, and Joe Biden surfaced this week to remind us all why much of the public is less inclined to share the media’s boundless enthusiasm for the movement.
Let’s first note that the great champions of women gathered at the Emmys on Monday dared not utter a direct word about Les Moonves (as flagged by Howard Stern). Had the allegations against him made their way into the New Yorker earlier in Me Too’s forceful first year, that may have been different. Whether the silence was rooted in cowardice or prudence, I won’t speculate. But it was deafening.
Here’s Biden this week, reflecting on the allegations against Justice Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh: “For a woman to come forward in the glaring lights of focus, nationally, you’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she’s talking about is real, whether or not she forgets facts, whether or not it’s been made worse or better over time.”
In other words, “start off” by presuming accused men are guilty. To the contrary, the Me Too learning curve we all lived through— arching dramatically through the varying cases of people like Harvey Weinstein to Aziz Ansari to Asia Argento — demonstrated pretty clearly why such presumptions are wrong.
Of course, Me Too may well end up normalizing Biden’s presumption. But the better presumption, the one Me Too will hopefully ingrain in the public consciousness, is that women who step forward with public allegations should be taken very seriously, and are speaking to a problem that is more pervasive in our culture than was previously understood.
But nuance is unfashionable, and #BelieveAllWomen makes a better hashtag than #TakeAllWomenSeriouslyButVetTheirAllegationsCalmlyAndFairly.
HuffPost/YouGov polled adults on Me Too questions last October, shortly after the movement’s genesis, then again this August. “Most of the survey suggests that there’s been little change in public opinion since last October when the accusations against former film executive Harvey Weinstein dominated headlines,” a HuffPost write-up noted. “But one number does indicate a potential change is that 26 percent of Americans now agree that ‘women who complain about harassment often cause more problems than they solve,’ up from 19 percent who said the same last fall.”
A Vox/Morning Consult survey taken in early March found broad support for Me Too among adult women, with 69 percent generally supporting the movement. But digging a little deeper into the results reveals some reservations. Only 39 percent “strongly” supported Me Too; 30 percent were “somewhat opposed,” three were “strongly” opposed, and a full 19 percent either didn’t know or had no opinion.
Among elite women in the media, strong support for the movement is probably much higher. That may be in part a consequence of the media’s unique problem with abuse, but the gulf almost certainly exists nonetheless. Fifty-nine percent of liberal women “strongly” supported Me Too in the survey, compared with 35 and 21 percent of moderates and conservatives, respectively.
That brings us back to the “slow down” Macdonald observed. I agree there’s less of an appetite for mob justice now than there was late last year. But is that a matter of the media responding to the public? Are media actors exploiting the public’s appetite for nuance (to avoid, for instance, commenting on Moonves at the Emmys) or do they share it?
It’s odd to imagine senior producers of the “Tonight Show” crying over Macdonald’s Me Too comments, while an audience peppered with people who may have enabled Moonves comfortably ignored the issue and sipped champagne at the Emmys days later. (Speaking of nuance, it’s worth wondering whether the accusation against Kavanaugh, which is far from clear-cut and allegedly involves two high school students rather than a workplace power imbalance, would have been handled differently closer to the movement’s beginning than it’s one-year mark.)
I generally avoid prioritizing critiques of Me Too over critiques of the predators it has exposed. In many cases, Me Too’s critics have suffered from as misplaced focus. But the former vice president has a powerful voice. And if we are to develop a process of adjudication in the court of public opinion that does not cheapen real accusations by incentivizing false ones, his voice warrants a rebuttal.
All this is to say that Biden’s sentiments are perfectly representative of the trajectory Me Too must resist— a conclusion we can draw by studying the movement’s own evolution.