The Current

'Unfair to men': Margaret Wente criticizes #MeToo campaign for ramping up outrage

"If we are too careless with our language, we trivialize the real assault problems and the victims of real assault."
'We're using these terms really carelessly and that we tend to inflate things into sexual assault so that everything is sexual assault,' says Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente. (Margaret Wente/Globe and Mail)
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After a wave of sexual assault allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein became public, the #MeToo movement took off on Twitter.

While some praise the campaign against sexual harassment as a positive, constructive reaction to what many say is a pervasive cultural problem, there are critics.

Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente is among them. Her recent article, "Please turn down the volume on the outrage machine" argues the campaign is predictable and "another wave of claims that sexual abuse is pervasive, that rape culture is the norm, and that most men are complicit in it."

 'We tend to inflate things into sexual assault'- Margaret Wente

"It's true that men commit almost all the sex crimes. That seems unfair. But men commit almost all the other crimes as well. And although women are the overwhelming victims of sex crimes, the overwhelming victims of general crimes are other men," Wente writes.

Wente tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti her concern also lies with the language used.

"We're using these terms really carelessly and that we tend to inflate things into sexual assault so that everything is sexual assault," she says, adding there are degrees that need to be paid attention to between physical attacks and threats versus a boss massaging an employee in the office.

"If we are too careless with our language, we trivialize the real assault problems and the victims of real assault."

Wente admits to experiencing what she says a lot of other women go through — "it's what I call common garden-variety crap."

She says this includes being followed in the street, catcalls, flashing in public — sometimes masturbating — "ground on" in the streetcar, and overly friendly co-workers.  In private life, "it's dates who get too insistent and don't want to hear 'no.'"

"Probably the most serious incident for me was when I was under-age and ... the dad of a friend of mine made a pass at me. That never went any further. That was the end of it. It was really terrible.  I will never forget it, " she explains.

"But can I really say me too?  I can't. I can't because, in spite of all that stuff, I'm not traumatized by it. I don't feel particularly like my life has been ruined by it."

Everybody has different experiences with sexual violence and sexual violence is ubiquitous.-Farrah Khan
Farrah Khan, the co-chair of the Ontario Provincial Roundtable on Violence Against Women, doesn't want to turn down the outrage machine. 
"Our limited narrow view of masculinity harms men,' says Farrah Khan. (Asif Rehman/farrahkhan.ca)

She sees the #MeToo campaign as an opportunity to speak out, to have the conversation and to "support, validate and affirm people when they say they've been harmed." 

"With sexual violence, it is a continuum and no one's saying it isn't. And we have to really understand that there is a range of it," Khan says.

"Also I think it's sometimes from a very privileged position to say that, you know, 'well it didn't affect me', so it's not so bad for others. Everybody has different experiences with sexual violence and sexual violence is ubiquitous, it's something that happens."

Wente has issues with men being folded into the conversation without a sense of "proportion and realism."

"The vast majority of men are not violent sexual abusers or violent abusers of any kind. And to sort of tar the whole male gender with this terrible problem is very unfair to men, I think," she argues.

"Just because most women have had some experience with harassment and assault — probably 99.9 per cent of women — doesn't mean that all men are assaulters and harassers. Those are two very different things."

Never in this #MeToo conversation is it about saying all men are abusers. What we are saying is that sexual violence happens.- Farrah Khan

Khan agrees not all men commit sexual violence, but they are complicit, she says, when a person shares their story and needs a way to talk about it.

"Never in this #MeToo conversation is it about saying all men are abusers. What we are saying is that sexual violence happens," Khan tells Tremonti.

"We know that the numbers are over 600,000 now in Canada ... It's not one man sexually assaulting all those people, it's a culture of allowing that to happen."

Wente denies a culture that condones sexual violence exists.

"Everybody knows that sexual assault is wrong. When we say teach me not to rape, I understand the sentiment, but men know not to rape," she says.

"Violence is built into the human nature, unfortunately. We can do a lot to help minimize it. We can do a lot to teach people, but we cannot ever eliminate violence, especially among men who are the more violent sex, and if you think we can, I don't know what planet you're coming from? You're coming from a world that will never exist."

Khan's response to Wente's argument, "Well, I come from Earth. And my hope is that we don't set such a low bar for men."

"Our limited narrow view of masculinity harms men, and there's not one way of being a man."

Listen to the full conversation above.

This segment was produced by The Current's Ines Colabrese and Willow Smith.