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What Really Happened To Men Whose Lives Were Allegedly Ruined By The #MeToo Movement?

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Editor's Note: This article was originally published on June 21, 2022.

The long-awaited and much-dreaded backlash to the #MeToo movement is here.

And that’s mainly thanks to the circus surrounding the Depp-Heard trial that dominated news cycles, social media, and pop culture discourse over the past couple of months.

Although some of Depp’s supporters argue that his victory represents not the end of #MeToo but its expansion, it doesn’t feel like it. Instead, it feels more like a cynical appropriation of its rhetoric, applied now to its end.

And many now claim — more loudly than ever — that the whole idea behind the movement is just toxic and counterproductive. That we never needed it, to begin with.

Because it only gave women a license to lie and ‘ruin many innocent men’s lives’ with assault or harassment allegations.

Is that so?

How many men’s lives and careers were truly ruined by the #MeToo movement? Why feminists started it in the first place?

And do we still need it today?

The Weinstein domino effect

When activist Tarana Burke started the ‘Me Too’ campaign in 2006, her goal was pretty straightforward. It was ‘to spread a message for survivors: you’re heard, you’re understood.’

But it wasn’t until 2017 that the movement became a global phenomenon, with the article published in the New York Times accusing Harvey Weinstein — one of Hollywood’s (formerly) most powerful men — of sexual harassment of dozens of women. And suddenly, in addition to Weinstein’s victims, countless women and girls started sharing their own stories of abuse on social media.

We finally broke the silence surrounding sexual and domestic violence.

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We finally started talking about how widespread it is — sexual abuse affects 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men and domestic abuse 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men in their lifetime — and how rarely it results in the perpetrator being charged. (When it comes to rape, that’s only 1.6% of all cases. )

And we finally opened an honest, open dialogue on what societal and systemic changes need to be made to ensure victims are heard and supported and that their perpetrators are brought to justice.

It felt like a huge deal.

To me as well.

I’ve been sexually harassed and assaulted too many times to count. By random men on the street. Or at parties. By men I worked with. By men I considered my friends. By men I dated.

So to finally see that cultural shift happening and the victim-blaming narrative being called out for what it really is — disgusting and unhelpful — meant the world to me. Because it helped me stop blaming myself, my actions, words, or the clothes I wore for what those men decided to do. And although not immediately, it also helped me find my voice and stop being silent about it.

‘I’m not the only one’, I thought back then while reading all those stories, and that sentence has stuck with me ever since.

And naturally, in the wake of all these disclosures, many powerful men in entertainment, sports, and politics have been exposed for sexually harassing or assaulting others. In the three weeks since the first allegations were levelled against Weinstein, at least 20 prominent men have been forced to defend or apologize for past actions.

It was like watching dominoes fall.

And the list kept expanding and expanding, and a few years later, there were more than 250 of them.

Where are all these men now?

One of the #MeToo movement’s signature achievements is getting Harvey Weinstein convicted for at least some of his many alleged rapes. And he’s currently serving a 23-year sentence in prison.

But, sadly, his case is more of an exception than the rule.

So what about all the other high-profile men accused of sexual assault and abuse in the wake of #MeToo?

Let’s take a look.

  • Brett Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault and attempted rape by Christine Blasey Ford. Although, at the time, some said that this testimony would ‘change America’, he was never criminally charged. He is a Supreme Court Justice today.
  • Chris Brown was accused of rape, sexual harassment, violent outbursts, and theft by several women — including his ex-girlfriend, Rihanna — both before and after #MeToo’s peak. Over the past ten years, he has been averaging more than one abusive incident with women per year. He was only convicted once in 2009 but served no prison time. And he has since released eight albums, a documentary, and a clothing line, and has gone on multiple tours.
  • Dustin Hoffman was accused of sexual harassment and assault by at least seven women, including one underage girl, spanning decades. He initially apologized but then denied most of it and was never charged. He has starred in 2 movies since then.
  • Ed Westwick was accused of rape by three women and sexual assault by a fourth. He never faced prosecution, starred in a couple of movies following the accusation, and he’s working on a few new ones today.
  • James Franco was accused of sexual misconduct by five women — his former acting students. Last year, he agreed to pay £1.6m ( $2.2m) to settle the sexual misconduct lawsuit. And even though some people in Hollywood have distanced themselves from him, he continues to direct and produce movies today.
  • Louis C.K. was accused of sexual misconduct by five female comedians who worked with him. He even acknowledged they weren’t lying when the accusations came to light. He has since performed live, released a new special, been on tour, and won a Grammy award this year.
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson was accused of sexual misconduct by three women and rape by a fourth. He continued to be a director at a department in the American Museum of Natural History in New York and has hosted several shows since then.
  • Morgan Freeman was accused of sexual harassment on movie sets and in interviews by at least eight women. He starred in five movies and a few TV series since then.

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Right.

But keep in mind that this list is such a small, small sampling of so many similar cases.

And that really says it all, doesn’t it?

We still need to fight for justice

What’s saddening about the #MeToo backlash today is that it never really felt like a true victory in the first place. Although it drove home just how omnipresent abusers are and gave voice to survivors worldwide, it mostly failed to deliver justice.

Only a handful of men accused were criminally charged and convicted — like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby — and had their careers crumble. (Kevin Spacey might also join that bunch soon after his criminal charges were finally authorized, and he will now face trial in London.)

But the rest of the 250+ men had their cases dropped by prosecutors or dismissed in court. And their lives and careers were largely back to normal after a few months of public outrage.

#MeToo has changed the world, but it failed to do so in courts. Where it mattered the most.

Because the accused men ‘deserved another chance.’ Because they ‘meant no harm.’ Because they are our favorite movie stars or comedian or singer. And because they’re powerful, famous, wealthy men, who can apparently get away with treating women and girls however they please.

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Of course.

And today, hundreds of domestic abuse survivors are already retracting their victim’s statements and pulling out of court cases as a direct response to the Depp-Heard trial. Because they feel less safe getting help, speaking up, and seeking justice. And they’re afraid that defamation lawsuits will be weaponized against them as well.

Meanwhile, Depp’s fans are already rallying behind one of his friends, Marilyn Manson, who was accused of abuse by Evan Rachel Wood and at least 15 other women.

If you couple all that with the fall of Roe v. Wade in the US, the tightening of abortion laws across Europe, and a global rise of violence against women and girls, that paints a pretty bleak picture of the future of women’s rights.

After a decades-long fight for gender equality, we’re still treated like walking incubators who have to smile through our pain, shame, and trauma. And if we dare to speak up about the violence done to our bodies and try to seek justice, we’ll be bullied into silence and submission.

We’re really living through an almost unprecedented mobilization of misogyny.

And it’s about time we acknowledged that.

Look, I know that each wave of feminism is ultimately met by a backlash. It was bound to happen. But it’s heartbreaking that this one would come so definitively and soon.

And it’s heartbreaking to see some of my fellow feminists giving up, too. Declaring that the future isn’t female anymore. That we should just let it all go, be pretty and dumb and buy makeup and cute outfits and worry about our pores and belly fat instead of, you know, our rights.

Sigh.

We still need feminism today.

And we still need what #MeToo stood for.

Because we can’t keep hoping that without any legislative reforms, the criminal justice system will magically change its way of doing things and start taking sexual and domestic abuse cases seriously. We can’t keep letting abusers silence their victims.

And we can’t keep pretending that women and girls aren’t raped, harassed, drugged, trafficked, beaten at disproportionately higher rates than men, and then routinely disbelieved or blamed for the actions of others.

They are.

And as long as that’s the case, we must tell our stories and demand justice.

Otherwise, nothing will ever change.

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Katie Jgln is a writer and activist currently based in London, UK. Her work covers women’s rights issues, pop culture, and news. You can find her on various social media platforms here.

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.