Are women really served by the extraordinary shift from 1990s Girl Power to post-MeToo victim feminism, asks Joanna Williams in Spiked. The Russell Brand and Luis Rubiales scandals provide key snapshots of how this massive shift towards a female victimhood narrative is playing out – and it’s not good for women, Williams argues. Here’s an excerpt.
To gauge how much has changed in a very short space of time, we need only look to last month’s Women’s World Cup final. That two-second kiss Luis Rubiales landed on the lips of footballer Jenni Hermoso made for a global news story. After being subjected to endless international criticism, Rubiales was issued with a restraining order banning him from going within 200 metres of Hermoso. His position unsustainable, he resigned as president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation last week. Not that long ago, Brand’s boasts of promiscuity helped launch him to stardom. Now, an over-enthusiastic peck on the lips can end a career and lead to court proceedings.
We need to ask whether this cultural shift has been in the best interests of women. Back in the mid-2000s, feminism was stuck between the Girl Power era of the 1990s and the Girlboss mantras of the 2010s. The antics of the Sex and the City women appealed to both ladettes and ‘Lean In’ feminists alike. And with the rise of lads’ mags and reality TV – mainly spurred on by Big Brother (Channel 4, again) – women could find fame and fortune in being young, attractive and ‘up for it’. It might not be fashionable to say it today, but for many young women, this was a time of fun and freedom, rather than exploitation and abuse.
All of this changed in 2017. The #MeToo movement took off when high-profile allegations of sexual assault were made against film producer Harvey Weinstein. The focus quickly shifted to denouncing a much broader range of male behaviour – ranging all the way from rape to unwanted knee-touching. We see this reflected in the Russell Brand scandal, where the most shocking accusations against him – of rape and sexual assault – appear alongside allegations of non-criminal misconduct and instances of consensual but regretted sex.
Women were also expected to change after #MeToo – to play the role of the victim. The very same television channels and newspaper columns that once titillated audiences with stories of drugs, booze and sex instead began to feature distraught tales of women being destroyed by an inappropriate remark or an unwanted look. Women went from being sexual objects to sexual victims.
Some will no doubt argue that this is progress; that men are being held to account and women are being given a voice. But let’s get real. Going from Girl Power to victim feminism in the space of two decades is no great leap forward for women.
Far from recognising women’s agency, victim feminism brings with it calls for more policing of the interactions between men and women. Fear and mistrust rule the day. The current fashion for trashing the sexual revolution leaves women not empowered but infantilised, presumed to be in need of consent classes at university, chaperones on dates or intimacy coaches on film sets.
Worth reading in full.
Stop Press: Mary Harrington has written a very balanced analysis in UnHerd on the question of whether the investigation of Brand is a hit job on a dissenter, arguing that whatever the substance of the allegations, in this case as in many others, “everyone subordinates the question of sexual misbehaviour to a political assessment of the accused. And perhaps it was ever thus”. Indeed, the Sunday Times report itself indicates that “Brand’s new social media direction… was a factor in inspiring several to speak out”, she notes.