Frustrating Poll Finds #MeToo Is a Partisan Issue More Than a Gender Issue
It is truly difficult to say how the #MeToo movement will be judged by history. So many movements started by women of color, for the advancement of women that deal with an intersection of issues, are often unpopular in their time. From the suffrage movement to the civil rights movement, our history is filled with moments in history that we now view as the beginning of progress, but seemed like daunting and unending tasks.
Right now, watching #MeToo unfold in the media the way it has, it certainly feels daunting, especially when realizing how polarizing the movement is across American political party lines.
In a new piece by NPR, a poll of more than 1,000 Americans surveyed found that 4 in 10 people say that the #MeToo movement has gone too far, and along party demographics, three-quarters of Republicans feel that way, compared to less than one-quarter of Democrats.
The poll also found that, on the question of “whether alleged victims of sexual assault should get the benefit of the doubt,” it was 85% of Democrats who agreed, in comparison to 67% of Republicans. This is very notable considering that, when breaking down the question by gender, rather than politics, 83% of women said that the victim should be believed, as did 72% of men.
This divide between Democrats and Republicans has no doubt been expanded due to Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation process. We saw many Republican women coming out in defense of Kavanaugh and downplaying what Dr. Ford went through. One of the people interviewed in the piece was a 53-year-old woman from Texas, who said that there are women making or exaggerating allegations for attention.
“I feel like in the last year, that girls are like, ‘Oh yeah, me too!'” she says. “I feel like some of the girls want the sympathy and the attention. And I feel like that really, really takes away from the girls that it really happened to.”
This mentality is one I find really jarring, because if you say that you feel like there are women doing it for sympathy and attention, doesn’t the fact that you and many others don’t have sympathy for them at all contradict the idea of that being a plan that makes any sense?
One of the issues that’s brought up often is the fear of false rape allegations. The poll says that “77 percent of Republicans believe false accusations are common, compared to 37 percent of Democrats.” Incidents like the Duke Lacrosse Scandal, the Rolling Stone “A Rape on Campus” piece, the Central Park Five, and the Tawana Brawley rape allegations get brought up all the time in the media as examples of how false rape allegations can ruin people’s lives.
The problem is that, if you look across all these cases, there is either (a) bad reporting, (b) overzealous lawyers and politicians looking to prove themselves with these cases, and (c) witness issues. What you will also find is that, with the exception of the Central Park Five, which had black defendants, the accused still did not spend any time in jail.
False rape allegations are rare by all reliable standards, and there are more instances of women recanting their stories due to not being believed than there are of credibly false rape allegations. As Sandra Newman’s fantastic piece on Quartz illustrates, since 1989, there have only been 52 cases in the U.S. where men convicted of sexual assault were exonerated because it turned out they were falsely accused, in comparison to the 790 cases in which people were exonerated for murder. Newman also breaks down that people (not just women) who do make false rape accusations are usually motivated by either “personal gain, mental illness, revenge, and the need for an alibi.”
Clara Wilkins, a social psychologist at Washington University in St Louis, said that when it comes to the conflict between party and gender, it is ultimately political party that wins. That’s why the surveys show approximately twice as many Republican women (47 percent compared to 26 percent of Democrats) worry that a man they care about will be unfairly accused of sexual assault.
For some #MeToo has gone too far because “how long before we let things go?” and for others, it only highlights how little understanding we as the public have around the standards for sexual assault accusations.
Texas Democrat Juan Rodriguez says that the standards people have for “proof” of sexual assault are higher than what is usually available in those cases. Since most of the time assault happens privately between two people, there isn’t always evidence or witnesses as we’ve come to expect from watching Law and Order: SVU.
“The way things are now, I think [allegations are] just going to get brushed off. It’s sad to say, but it’s like they’re raising the bar too high, like you’ve got to really prove your case. But honestly, that just gives the perpetrator the right to get away with stuff.”
Debra Katz, the attorney who Dr.Christine Blasey Ford, says the discussion around false accusations is just “red meat to Trump’s base.”
“These talking points are being used to discredit women and to weaponize this issue of sexual harassment and sexual assault just simply for partisan gain,” says Katz. “The president [is] deliberately muddying the facts to confuse people about what sexual harassment and sexual assault are by blaming victims, and in that way giving people a pass for engaging in the behavior,” she says. “And it’s dangerous.”
It is dangerous, because if we are going to treat this as a partisan issue, then no progress will be made. We need to work towards having a much better understanding of how rape, false rape allegations, and other issues of sexual assault exist in this country.
(via NPR, image: CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images)
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