Everything you missed from TCS X Trinity Feminism Society: #MeToo Panel-Debate

Sophie Huskisson 11 March 2019
Image Credit: Flickr

In Lent Term 2018, a student-led Time’s Up campaign was organised. A storm of criticism followed, notably a Varsity opinion article called out the notion to wear all black which characterised the Time’s Up campaign as “the laziest form of activism”. 2018 saw the hashtags #Time’s Up and #MeToo explode in the media. 2019 simply hasn’t. These movements need questioning, were they successful, or were they “lazy”? On Wednesday, students of all ages got together to discuss the #MeToo movement, focusing on the three questions: How has #MeToo changed things? Did #MeToo do more harm than good? Without #MeToo, where would we be now? The panel was chaired by the TCS Sex and Relationship’s Editor Hannah Daniells Conroy and was entirely made up of students.

Izzy Lewis, a second-year HSPS student at Magdalene, drew attention to the positives of the campaign. She remarked that it has certainly shown that “anonymity is powerful”, emphasising that the “Me” in “Me Too” is genderless. She commends the positive role of the internet to give platforms for people to speak out. Grace Peters, a first-year history student at Murray-Edwards, agreed that #MeToo has helped to create a culture of speaking out: “it has removed the feelings of shame or guilt of speaking out, and has helped people to take that first step”.

Lewis also acknowledged the negatives of the campaign in predominantly existing on the internet, stating that “a lot of women feel alienated from [#MeToo], because it is not a lived reality”. She reminds that the people who are considered brave for speaking out are already people in a position of power, suggesting that the movement fails to provide other victims with examples of people speaking out who are representative of the majority. Ben Frazer, a third-year student at Wolfson and representative of the Good Lad Initiative, agreed that the movement feels far away from the lived experience, as it is grounded in the American and cultural world of Hollywood.

Lewis described the movement as “representative of a certain demographic – white and heteronormative”. Nathania Williams, ACS’ Welfare Officer, spoke up from the audience, agreeing with the widespread criticism that the #MeToo movement had been a white feminist movement. The phrase ‘“Me Too” was coined by African-American civil rights activist Tarana Burke in 2006 on Myspace as part of a campaign against the sexual harassment of women of colour. Williams described the movement as having been “hijacked” by white privileged women, determining that it fails to legitimise stories of women of colour in any way. Catherine Longe, a second-year BME student at Downing, however acknowledged that “it has to start somewhere”. She highlighted that although the #MeToo movement may be seen as white feminist movement, it is expanding – as we can see with the recent prosecution of R. Kelly, whose victims were all women of colour.

Frazer was the only male on the panel, and he admitted that when he was asked to participate, his friend queried, “aren’t you scared of saying the wrong thing?”. Frazer admits that he is scared of being attacked: “How can we have these conversations when there is no opportunity for men to have a voice?”. It appears that fear is not only perpetuated in men, but also women, in speaking out on #MeToo and sexual harassment in Cambridge. The audience was majority female, and yet I could still feel the nervousness in the room. The organiser of the student-led Time’s Up campaign which took place last year was invited to join the panel. She politely declined, stating that she received a huge backlash to the campaign and did not have the confidence to have a significant role in feminist activism in Cambridge again.

Shannon Rawlins, who also sat on the panel, stated in an article for TCS (‘Why I agree with Kate Andrews that #MeToo has done more harm than good’) that “#MeToo’s legacy is that young men are afraid to flirt, to be gentlemanly or affectionate towards women – for fear of being branded as sexual predators”. She too received a vast amount of backlash when she gave her opinion. Frazer reminded that we must be aware of criticisms of the movement, on either side,  to “produce a lot of smoke” and divert “away from the problem that women are being assaulted on a mass scale,” asserting that these diversions criticise the movement before it has even begun.  He emphasised that “we can’t define the laws of where someone feels comfortable” and that society should be asking “What should men be doing and how can men be self-examining their own behaviour that is contributing to this situation,” maintaining that it is not useful to say “men and women can’t flirt anymore”, but more so to focus on how to encourage positive behaviour in men.

But how do we help bring about change in our own lives and in our university? Frazer suggested that we need a campaign which focuses on male behaviour, proposing “#IAm.” He admitted that his upbringing has caused him to act in a way which he regrets and he now thinks he should be able to take ownership of this and say “#IAm trying to change.” Rawlins highlights that the #MeToo hashtag is predominantly talked about amongst women on the internet, and suggests that it could be useful for it to be taught about in schools and in education. An audience member draws attention to the fact our university gives us the chance to speak out, but that the institutions which we speak against fail to follow through with the necessary action. Frazer is involved with the Good Lad Initiative. Good Lad is a scheme which conducts interactive and informal workshops with sports teams to provide a space to discuss and reflect on issues such as mental health, homophobia and sexual harassment. Frazer highlights that, despite the establishment of the national initiative in Cambridge being a huge positive, the Good Lad scheme struggles to get funding. Ultimately, the consensus appears that our University could be doing a lot more.

The movement may not have incited drastic change in our University but it has driven a conversation. Lewis reminded the room that we all have a responsibility to pick people up on their actions and shatter their ignorance, asserting that “the best way to change things is to challenge”. Daniells Conroy drew the panel together at the end, reminding that although #MeToo has its flaws, “you can’t deny that we’re sitting here today using [it] as a vehicle to talk about issues around gender”.