Since October, when Harvey Weinstein’s dark, serial predations were exposed in a New York Times article, #MeToo has become a necessary and overdue rallying cry, a point of connection, an outlet for survivors of harassment and abuse. Of course, all movements have detractors, and #MeToo has its predictable opponents like Donald Trump.
But more surprising are those like Matt Damon, Liam Neeson, and New York Times opinion writer Bari Weiss who generally skew left and who’ve spoken critically about #MeToo, often chastising the movement for not making crystal-clear distinctions between rape and harassment while failing to realize the movement already allows for gradations in behavior.
Here are eight of the most surprising critiques of #MeToo.
The Austrian director of acclaimed films like Funny Games, Amour, and The White Ribbon came out hard against #MeToo, calling it a “witch hunt” that “should be left in the Middle Ages.” While the filmmaker allowed in an interview with Kurier that any form of “rape or coercion is punishable,” he slammed the notion that accused serial predators like Kevin Spacey have lost their jobs based on the word of accusers.
“This hysterical pre-judgment which is spreading now, I find absolutely disgusting,” Haneke said, according to Deadline. “And I don’t want to know how many of these accusations related to incidents 20 or 30 years ago are primarily statements that have little to do with sexual assault.”
Haneke, the filmmaker behind two versions of the uber-violent home invasion film Funny Games, expressed concern that #MeToo could ruin art, citing Nagisa Ôshima’s 1976 study of sexuality, In The Realm of the Senses, as a film that would not get funding in the era of outright believing survivors of harassment and abuse.
The two-time Palme d'Or winner at Cannes blamed social and online media for making people hate men.
“Any shitstorm that even comes out on the forums of serious online news outlets after such ‘revelations’ poisons the social climate. And this makes every argument on this very important subject even more difficult,” Haneke said. “The malignancy that hits you on the internet often stifles you. This new puritanism imbued with a hatred of men that comes in the wake of the #MeToo movement worries me.”
Earlier this month, Real Time host Bill Maher lashed out at “fucking fragile” millennials for the existence of #MeToo, as if survivors of other generations aren’t also fed up with sexual harassment and abuse. But it’s not that Maher doesn’t believe accusers, he just doesn’t act as though it’s a big deal, rightfully calling for equanimity when it comes to believing Donald Trump’s multiple accusers and then quipping that married men harass women in the workplace because “they have shitty sex lives.”
In a segment with New York Times opinion writer Bari Weiss, a millennial he appears to agree with, Maher also spoke out about how men who have not experienced harassment are being asked to listen at the current juncture rather than share their thoughts on something of which they have no experience. He defended Matt Damon, who was skewered for speaking out and saying that distinctions need to be made between harassment and rape (as if survivors aren’t capable of walking and chewing gum). While standing up for Damon, Maher, like a 1950s-era comic, took another stab at marriage.
“When you’re wrong even when you say the right thing, then I feel like a husband,” Maher said about his fear, not of speaking out, but for being called out for his antiquated opinions.
Maher then likened the hard line supporters have taken #MeToo to a police state. "A police state is the safest place to live but we don’t want to do that with love,” Maher said, failing to recognize that harassment and abuse have nothing to do with love.
100 French Women
Actress Catherine Deneuve was among 100 French women artists, academics, and business professionals who signed a letter in January that denounced #MeToo for going too far.
While the letter, published in the French publication Le Monde, allowed that rape is, in fact, a crime, it accused #MeToo of being a threat. The signatories alleged that men’s "freedom to pester" is "indispensable to sexual freedom.”
The letter continued to defend the right of men to harass women as if women’s freedom to live a life unbothered by men isn’t also a type of freedom.
"Rape is a crime, but insistent or clumsy flirting is not an offense, nor is gallantry macho aggression,” the letter read.
The French women also slammed #MeToo for its predilection for believing survivors without allowing the accused the chance to defend themselves. They wrote that “swift justice” had claimed its own victims in forcing men to resign "when all they did wrong was touch a knee."
The letter also insisted on separating the artist from the work even in the case of filmmaker Roman Polanski, who drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl. The letter wagged a finger at #MeToo for a movement to ban a Polanski retrospective in Paris.
Actor Matt Damon has a habit of putting in his two cents when he’d be better served to listen, so much so that the term “Damonsplaining” has sprung up in response to his predilection for weighing in on issues about which he’s no expert. On Popcorn With Peter Travers in December, Damon called #MeToo a “watershed” moment for women who feel empowered to speak out against abuse while also noting that the country is in a “culture of outrage.” Then he couldn't help but “Damonsplain” that harassment and abuse should be viewed on a spectrum.
“There’s a difference between patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation,” Damon said. “Both of those behaviors need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated.”
Following much criticism from people including #MeToo activists Alyssa Milano, Rose McGowan, Debra Messing, and ex-girlfriend Minnie Driver, Damon apologized, admitting, “I really wished I’d listened a lot more.”
Of all those who’ve questioned the #MeToo movement the most surprising has been author Margaret Atwood. The writer's most famous novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, is about a dystopian future under a fascist patriarchy under which women are reduced to the viability of their reproductive organs; the book has reemerged as one of the most important texts during the Trump years.
In January, Atwood published an article in her native country Canada’s Globe and Mail in which she asserted that #MeToo arose out of an ineffectual legal system in which survivors of assault were not given their day in court. Atwood wrote:
“The #MeToo moment is a symptom of a broken legal system. All too frequently, women and other sexual-abuse complainants couldn't get a fair hearing through institutions – including corporate structures – so they used a new tool: the internet. Stars fell from the skies. This has been very effective and has been seen as a massive wake-up call. But what next? The legal system can be fixed, or our society could dispose of it. Institutions, corporations, and workplaces can houseclean, or they can expect more stars to fall, and also a lot of asteroids.”
Atwood warned of the urge to rush to judgment about the accused without due process.
“But understandable and temporary vigilante justice can morph into a culturally solidified lynch-mob habit in which the available mode of justice is thrown out the window, and extralegal power structures are put into place and maintained,” Atwood wrote. “In times of extremes, extremists win. Their ideology becomes a religion, anyone who doesn’t puppet their views is seen as an apostate, a heretic or a traitor, and moderates in the middle are annihilated.”
Australian feminist Germaine Greer, who has a history of making anti-trans statements, has criticized not only the #MeToo movement but also women who’ve come out as having been sexually abused.
The author of the seminal rallying cry The Female Eunuch, Greer recently slammed survivors of abuse like Woody Allen’s accuser Dylan Farrow, reported The Sydney Morning Herald.
"It was 20 years ago, so you want him to stop making movies now? It might be a good idea because he's probably no good anymore," the 78-year-old glibly said about Farrow’s trauma.
Greer’s wider response to #MeToo essentially posited that boys will be boys and that it’s incumbent upon their victims to fight back immediately.
"I want, I've always wanted, to see women react immediately," Greer said, as if that’s always an option. "I want women to react here and now. I want the woman on a train who feels a man's hand where it shouldn't be … to be able to say quite clearly, 'Stop.'"
Greer attempted to qualify her remarks when discussing wealthy predators who wield a threatening power.
“What makes it different is when the man has economic power, as Harvey Weinstein has,” Greer said. “But if you spread your legs because he said ‘Be nice to me and I’ll give you a job in a movie,’ then I’m afraid that’s tantamount to consent, and it’s too late now to start whingeing about that.”
New York Times opinion writer Bari Weiss appeared with Bill Maher on Real Time, with Maher deeming her a “sensible” millennial to speak on #MeToo because she showed up and agreed with him across the board. Weiss made a name for herself as a contrarian in the movement when she penned an article in January defending Aziz Ansari — who, from one woman’s account, struggles with boundaries of consent — as guilty of “not being a mind reader.”
Weiss made a few fair points on Maher, suggesting that the hard left has gone too far in skipping due process and “innocent until proven guilty,” but she failed to acknowledge the dark history of sexually harassed and abused people not being believed. She also slammed what she perceives as a failure to make distinctions between harassment and rape, as if accusers are incapable of doing so.
“It means that Aziz Ansari is on a list next to Harvey Weinstein, and I don’t think anyone with common sense thinks that that’s reasonable,” Weiss said.
Then Weiss laid out her criticism of her millennial peers. “Twenty-five percent think that asking someone for a drink is sexual harassment, an unsolicited kiss is rape. It’s over. Then words don’t mean anything,” she said.
But Weiss didn’t just go after her generation. She went after those who came before her who fought for the Equal Rights Amendment.
“I went to a college where I was taught gender is a social construct. Nature doesn’t matter at all. There’s really no difference between men and women,” Weiss said. “Those are myths. That’s a lie that the sexual revolution sold to women.”
Actor Liam Neeson called #MeToo “a bit of a witch hunt” on Ireland’s The Late, Late Show in January, in reference to accused men like Dustin Hoffman, who Neeson said committed only minor offenses, despite the revelation that Hoffman allegedly exposed himself to his daughter’s teenage friend years ago.
Like most others who’ve spoken out about #MeToo, Neeson condescended to survivors of harassment to emphasize the distinction that rape and harassment are not the same thing.
“There is a movement happening,” Neeson said, “It’s healthy and it’s across every industry; the focus is on Hollywood at the moment but it is across every industry. I’m a UNICEF ambassador and very proud to be one, and I get sent facts and figures and if you read what I have read about how female laborers are being treated on farms and ranches, it’s chilling.”
Still, Neeson expressed concern for Hoffman and A Prairie Home Companion’s Garrison Keillor, both of whom were accused of serial predation.
“There are some famous people being suddenly accused of touching some girl’s knee or something, and then suddenly they’ve been dropped from their program,” Neeson said.