Most of us welcomed the MeToo movement as a long overdue reckoning that brought sexual misconduct to light. The mantra of the movement was that all women were to be believed.
But a new poll by the respected U.K. magazine The Economist indicates that the American public is becoming more skeptical about accusations of sexual misconduct. The Economist reports:
Yet surveys suggest that this year-long storm of allegations, confessions and firings has actually made Americans more sceptical about sexual harassment. In the first week of November 2017, YouGov polled 1,500 Americans about their attitudes on the matter, on behalf of The Economist. In the final week of September 2018, it conducted a similar poll again.
When it came to questions about the consequences of sexual assault and misconduct, there was a small but clear shift against victims.
The share of American adults responding that men who sexually harassed women at work 20 years ago should keep their jobs has risen from 28% to 36%. The proportion who think that women who complain about sexual harassment cause more problems than they solve has grown from 29% to 31%.
And 18% of Americans now think that false accusations of sexual assault are a bigger problem than attacks that go unreported or unpunished, compared with 13% in November last year. (According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Centre, an American non-profit organisation, 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police, whereas between 2% and 10% of assault cases are falsely reported.)
I am going to stop here and challenge the august Economist.
Do you feel less sympathetic towards victims than you did at the onset of the MeToo Movement?
I don't feel less sympathetic to victims either.
I worry, however, about accusations that are anonymous or can't be corroborated in anyway.
It seems that it is possible that what the Economist poll actually measures is not a hardening of attitudes towards victims–but a concern about facts, evidence, and fairness.
The MeToo Movement might not be suffering this backlash, albeit a small one, if it had called for us to honestly redress injustices based on evidence rather than make this an anti-male crusade.
Interestingly, the Economist takes note of the partisan divide in opinions about MeToo:
Surprisingly, these changes in opinion against victims have been slightly stronger among women than men. Rather than breaking along gendered lines, the #MeToo divide increasingly appears to be a partisan one. On each of these three questions, the gap between Trump and Clinton voters is at least six times greater than the one between genders.
The poll was conducted in the last week of September and so doesn't measure the effects of the Kavanaugh hearings.
The politicization of the MeToo Movement was painfully obvious in the hearings, when we saw a vicious attempt to ruin a man and his family based on accusations that lacked corroboration.
If there is a growing skepticism about the MeToo Movement, I suspect that the Kavanaugh hearings, when it was blatantly misused to promote the politics of personal destruction, will add to that trend.
Which is a shame for genuine victims.