The social media meme #MeToo and its woke bro follow-ups #IWill and #HowIWillChange disrespect victims and epitomize self-obsessed social media culture. The trend began in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal in which Hollywood’s long-reputed casting couch culture emerged for the public to behold. Alyssa Milano began the trend on Sunday afternoon, tweeting, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Within 24 hours the post received 38,000 comments, 13,000 retweets, and 27,000 likes. Individual posts spread the hashtag throughout both Facebook and Twitter.
While none doubt the degrading sexual culture that Milano and every other Hollywood actress has experienced, her conflation of sexual assault — a vicious crime and felony that can result in life imprisonment — and sexual harassment — a far less serious offense that encompasses a boss’s winking at his secretary — does grave injustice to victims of the former. Further, the blurring of these categorically different offenses under a self-referential hashtag epitomizes a social media culture in which no reader will tolerate a story about a particular crime committed by certain individuals against others that does not also solicit the addition of the beloved first-person pronoun.
Not to be outdone, a chorus of feminist males sought to one-up Milano with their own memes, #IWill and #HowIWillChange, to convey just how seriously they took the first, female hashtag. These woke bros promised to “promote women’s voices, believe survivors, and work to end rape culture.” They pledged to “have more courageous conversations” that might lead them toward “unlearning toxicity.” The posts conjured images of man-bunned “nice guys” who preach feminism while they slip the girl a Mickey. Coincidentally, they sounded a lot like the depraved leftist hypocrites of Hollywood.
The woke bros are right that men can be dogs and ought to behave themselves. But the performed penitence and feigned earnestness of the #HowIWillChange tweeters highlight the emptiness of slacktivist virtue signals. The ubiquitous #Kony2012 meme did nothing to hasten the arrest of Ugandan cult leader Joseph Kony. That bizarre photo of Michelle Obama frowning over a white piece of paper on which was scribbled "#BringBackOurGirls" unsurprisingly failed to secure the safe return of Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists. Michelle Obama’s husband led the free world. If she had really wanted to bring back those girls, she might have prodded her spouse rather than posed for an internet meme. But then the focus of these campaigns is never the tweeted but the tweeter, and participants indulge the delusion of slacktivism to receive the social benefit of virtue performance without the tedious burden of productive reform.
Hashtag activists can tweet that the United States constitutes a “rape culture” from their phones as they settle in for a comfortable night’s sleep because nobody seriously believes the claim. If the dominant culture in the United States encouraged and celebrated rape, citizens imbued with fundamental American ideals like natural rights, individual liberty, and equality before the law would lay waste to every political and cultural institution in the country; Washington and Hollywood be reduced to smoldering rubble. Pakistan, where women’s studies professor Shahla Haeri explains rape is "often institutionalized and has the tacit and at times the explicit approval of the state," comprises a rape culture; the United States does not. Indeed, the instant ubiquitous spread of hashtags carrying worries about American “rape culture” undercuts entirely the claim that it exists.
Regardless of how hysterical such sociological claims may be, rape inheres in society because man is fallen. The frequency of this crime may be higher in a country like Pakistan, but even the freest, fairest, most equitable nation in the history of the world will never eradicate rape. “The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth.” When that crime is committed, the offender ought to be prosecuted in the criminal justice system. Unfortunately the conflation of sexual assault with lesser offenses such as untoward language or unprofessional conduct muddies the enormity of the former, and slacktivist gestures mimic action and justice without in any way addressing the crime.
The criminal justice system, albeit human and therefore imperfect, is the most effective and legitimate tool available to deal with rape. In recent years, universities have sidestepped that system in an attempt to avoid bad press by assembling campus sexual assault tribunals led by professors and administrators. These closed-door cabals are less adept even than hashtags at dispensing justice, and such academic juntas ravage the due process rights of the accused — a particularly grave injustice when at least five campus rape hoaxes have made national headlines in just the past eight years.
Rape and sexual assault rank among the most heinous crimes. They are not to be conflated with lesser offenses, and their prosecution calls for seriousness, swiftness, and sobriety. Sadly, a frivolous culture that playacts virtue selfishly deprives victims of justice.