Alright, Ladies. Before you call for her expulsion from all internet, permit your loving sister to be clear as a Perspex bell: this critique of the #MeToo moment is not also one of the entire feminist movement. This critique of the #MeToo moment, which continues its focus on that abuse committed or suffered by the media elite, is not also a case against victims speaking out. This critique of the #MeToo moment is no denial of true and widespread pain. This critique does not delegitimise real trauma, nor does it let abusers “off the hook”.
The answer to workplace abuse is not to enrich solicitors while subjecting a handful of victims to months of recounting abuse.
This critique is of a moment that has now lasted five months and is yet to produce a solution more meaningful or practical than “let’s buy some lawyers for all those who are ever abused”. Perhaps not even the combined personal fortunes of Bezos and Gates could last for so many billable hours. If your immediate rejoinder here is, “what’s your solution, smarty pants?” I’ll describe it again. The answer to workplace abuse is not to enrich solicitors while subjecting a handful of victims to months of recounting abuse. The answer to workplace abuse is to enrich and revive the labour movement.
Once, we demanded of our unions that they fight for our right to guaranteed employment and for the case for our safety at work. Yes, the power in a union has been diminished over time. No, this doesn’t mean we can’t seize these organisations—which often function in the Australian present to ensure little more than safety of ALP preselection—and make them work again for us. Join your union. Call your union. Annoy your union. Demand that your union does something more than “raise awareness” of a widespread problem like sexist or sexual abuse and say, “Make it illegal for those bastards to sack me, and, no, I don’t want another Me Too t-shirt for her.” 40% of Australian workers can be sacked without providing notice or rationale, and in these cases, legal advice provided to victims of abuse is of little value. What would be of real value is secure work for all. If you can’t be instantly dismissed, you can’t be so instantly bullied or hurt. Annoy your union. I do, on many matters. The union rarely answers my correspondence and is yet to accept my generous offer of advice. Which is largely, “lobby for job security and quit making Me Too t-shirts for her”. One day, they are bound to reply.
Why make a t-shirt when you have a world to win?
Those who are secure in their work are less subject to abuse. This is a fact and it is not a fact that “awareness” of allegations against celebrity gardeners or stars of musical theatre produces any tangible result at all. Yes, I acknowledge that there are everyday people who have been grateful to read these accounts and think, “it’s not just me”. But, really. Is this the scope of our current feminist ambition? Why settle for making some workers feel slightly better when you could aim for, and achieve, improvement for all? Why make a t-shirt when you have a world to win?
I propose that we immediately cease (a) raising money for expensive lawyers and (b) applauding major news organisations for their celebrity-focused anti-sexist outrage. Surely, if the everyday people forced to endure indignity at work were those our prominent journalists wish to assist, then everyday stories would be in everyday supply.
And maybe, an everyday means of secure submission would be available to everyday victims. Something like SecureDrop, whose young developer, Aaron Swartz, was himself abused by the powerful throughout his short, productive life. Look into using the system this brave kid worked on. It will provide secure, anonymised connection between journalists and Me Too whistleblowers. Why the eff are Australian journalists using email and Facebook for some of the most private information they’ll ever handle? Journalists, protect your sources. This is not just a nice idea. It is your moral obligation.
Me Too is a movement that has served media interest.
Me Too is a movement that has served media interest. It must become a movement that serves the everyday. We must stop waiting for the next tale of celebrity courage reported by a celebrity journalist. It is time to Occupy feminism, which, in its popular media iteration, has become feminism for the one per cent.
No, this is not just another injunction by some self-important turd—although, that I am. It is not contrarian. It is not to insist “you’re doing it wrong” just for the easy pleasure this declaration offers. It is to say that mass disclosure available only to a few is not in itself an end. It is to say that shaming individual abusers is not a “systemic” solution, but just an act bound to create more wealthy lawyers.
And, an act that has begun in some cases to seem inauthentic, unnecessary or, at best, just as though the kid assigned to the Me Too beat needed to meet a deadline. I don’t know how else we should account for today’s story on comedian Tim Ferguson, who is explicitly described in news as a Me Too-type perpetrator. Ferguson, who reportedly wrote a series of vulgar letters to a journalist in the 1990s, is appended to a hashtag devised for truly monstrous acts. While News Corp shows much more interest in this “story” than Fairfax, a Fairfax editor today publicly denounced Ferguson as “horrible” and linked to the rival house to make his case.
Before Tim Ferguson’s Doug Anthony Allstars (pictured) were sanitised for telly, they were wont to take a dump on their audience. It wasn’t always fun.
Before you get all, “don’t excuse male violence”, I’m not. I attended many performances by Ferguson when I was a kid growing up in Canberra, and I gotta say, I think he was probably reading too much Artaud at the time. Before Ferguson’s Doug Anthony Allstars were sanitised for telly, they were wont to take a dump on their audience. It wasn’t always fun.
I’d will the Dougs never to look my way. When Tim did once at an artsy place called Gorman House, I screamed, “Get fucked, mate.” I think he went on to improvise a song called Get Fucked, Mate. Either way, I attended no experimental comic performance in Canberra for at least a week.
This is no rationale for violence. This is no rationale for cruelty. This is no rationale to go easy on a person likely affected by MS at the time he committed this “horrible” offence—however, lability and disinhibition are among the condition’s common symptoms. Hey, it’s not even a rationale for the fourth-wall smashing performance art Ferguson was (clearly) practicing when he sent childish letters containing crude illustrations to a journalist. But, jeez. This is not “male” or Me Too violence because it was perpetrated by a man. It’s performance art violence, which is a genderless affront. Don’t tell me that Abramović has not been identically offensive in her conflation of life with art.
Don’t tell me that performers who openly sought to transgress some decades ago are among those whose shame will produce feminist results.
Don’t tell me that this is an expression of anything but the urgent need dying media institutions have for eyeballs. Don’t tell me this is feminism. Don’t tell me that performers who openly sought to transgress some decades ago are among those whose shame will produce feminist results. Don’t tell me that we have energy remaining for the true struggle after tooling around all day on social media getting angry about some guy who sent pencil cartoons of dicks to a “female” journalist more than twenty years ago.
Writers cop it. It’s part of the gig. It’s a part I’d rather have not encountered so often in the twelve years I wrote comedy reviews for The Age, and I truly wish that a favourite comic—to whom I had awarded five stars and unforgivably pretentious praise—had not urged a full Melbourne theatre to put me in a bucket and piss on me. But, war correspondents sign up for blood just as surely as the critic signs up for her derision.
If you don’t want people to send you indelicate messages, choose a more delicate trade. Public life is not for you. Feminism is not a rationale for every female problem.
Please. If you, like me, are committed to feminism, turn your back on this latest mutation. One that protects the acceptable, agreeable and reputable woman. One that produces nothing but loud noise and fleeting entertainment. One that does not consider real solutions that could be applied to real people. These solutions will not be truly advanced by awareness t-shirts, celebrity journalism and “calling out” long ago acts provoked by a Theatre of Cruelty seminar. They must include a commitment to the security for all workers. Not just those holding cultural or economic wealth.
Occupy Big Feminism. We are the 99%.