Out in the Open

'It concerns me greatly': Have #MeToo and modern feminism gone too far?

Joanna Williams believes that modern feminists should be celebrating how far feminism has come.
Joanna Williams believes that modern feminism can go too far sometimes. (Courtesy of Joanna Williams)

Joanna Williams was raised a feminist. But these days, she hesitates to identify as one.

The author and academic thinks today's feminism "lost the plot somewhere along the line," describing it as a "white middle class feminism."

"[It] seems intent upon telling women that they are victims, that they are vulnerable, that they need special protections," she says. "For me, feminism was always about fighting for liberation."

In her recent book, Women Vs. Feminism, she questions modern feminism which she says seems to have grown increasingly distant from the lives of many young women.

She's particularly worried for her 11-year-old daughter and what she is being exposed to.

"Every time she turns on the news, every time she picks up a newspaper, the message she gets bombarded with is that life is hell for women," she explains to Out in the Open

"You know, 'There's rape culture, you're going to be sexually harassed, you're going to walk down the street and be cat-called. You're going to earn less than men. You know, and it's just terrible to be a woman.'

And I actually want the message that my daughter picks up in life to be that being a woman is absolutely fantastic."

'So much that women could potentially lose'

Williams is also concerned about how the #MeToo movement presents women as victims who are vulnerable.

She says that women should instead be celebrating how far feminism has come.

"I think we have some kind of historical amnesia as to what life was like before the sexual revolution, before sexual liberation for women," she says. 

I just think we run a real risk in actually trivializing some of the far more serious offences of rape and sexual assault if we speak about knee touching, clumsy flirtations, unwanted kisses, in the same breath as rape and sexual assault.- Joanna Williams, author and academic

"I think bringing back an age where we have curfews and chaperones and restrictions and single sex accommodation and an environment where women and men don't feel comfortable to flirt, to talk to each other, to engage in all kinds of relationships ... you know, I think there's so much that women could potentially lose here."

She's also wonders what the movement could mean for her sons, ages 17 and 19.

"What I worry about is they make the first move and it's rejected. Nowadays, not only is that a personal humiliation to them, but it's potentially a public black mark on their record for the rest of their lives, and it may be something as innocent as them trying to have a clumsy flirtation with a girl."

'False sense of victimhood'

So if not #MeToo, then what?

Williams doesn't think we should be having a "huge conversation" about modern feminism at the moment. She believes there are now more opportunities for women "than ever before."

"I think there's difficulties for particular groups in society who have fewer opportunities than some other people … you know I think perhaps that's a conversation that we should be having, but again it's a conversation that feminists shy away from," she says.

Williams thinks conversations about modern feminism are unhelpful because they 'imbue young women with this false sense of victimhood.' (CBC)

"I think the problems that are experienced by working class women ... are also experienced by working class men, and I think pitching men against women in that way actually doesn't do any favours for working class women."

Williams thinks there are still areas where life could be better for women, particularly in developing countries. But she doesn't think all the #MeToo talk is doing anything to advance that.

"I actually think conversations about feminism today online and offline are particularly unhelpful for young women because they do imbue young women with this false sense of victimhood."