#MeToo had rules. At least we thought so. Culturally, societally, politically, we all tried to learn them, to internalize them, to understand just what types of incidents could get a person ejected from their life, tossed out of their social group, ostracized from friends, unemployable, unpersoned. The rules seemed almost clear—until suddenly those who seem to be in charge of them don’t even follow their own logic anymore.
Katie Hill had an affair with a junior staffer, another woman, who feels that she was victimized. By the rules of #MeToo, that would dictate that Hill loses it all, right? Only somehow, it’s being spun the other way, by the same publications that brought us diatribes against Al Franken. Hill, it turns out, can also claim victim status at the hands of her ex, who was the one who released the information about the affair. In her resignation speech, Hill echoed Franken’s sentiments, that it seems absurd that she should be resigning when a guy like Trump is in the White House.
To recap: the wronged party is not the spouse, not the junior staffer, but the powerful person at the center of it. While it is true that Hill was the victim of revenge porn, and that is not acceptable, the same principle did not apply to Anthony Weiner or Joe Barton. It does not immunize her from her own wrongdoing.
“The squad” of freshmen congresswomen supported her during her recent tribulation. Nancy Pelosi, and other senior members of Congress, apparently wished that “Hill had been more careful in transmitting her private photos.”
Hill was given far more leeway in terms of the vocal and press lashing that other members of Congress who have found themselves exposed for sexual misconduct have faced. It turns out that she is being supported, not harassed and harangued. A staffer for Rep Sylvia Garcia (D-TX 29th), said, “A lot of the show of support was done intimately and privately with Hill, out of respect for her. … People didn’t want to be adding to the noise. We didn’t want to make press out of the pain and suffering she’s been through. She had private images published without her consent that have caused incredible pain.” Weiner did too, but no one had any sympathy for him at all.
The thing is, and yeah, we hate to be those people, but we can so easily imagine the reverse scenario. Here it is: a dashing young first-term congressman has an affair with a staffer years younger. He takes drugs, advertises his sexual availability on dating apps, and drags his wife into a threesome with the junior staffer. When the marriage breaks up—perhaps as a result of this kind of rampant infidelity, after all, they weren’t openly poly or ethically non-monogamous—the wife releases the dirt on the congressman to the world. She wants people to know just what kind of guy this is, how he is a liar and a cheater, a womanizer, and abuser, unfit to be in Congress. What then? Why she’s a hero, of course, and he’s a villainous letch.
Haven’t we heard this story before? Why is it so different now? Is Hill really a victim of her own sexual dalliances? Are we to believe that a woman who is strong enough to run and win a congressional campaign is so easy to bully? Perhaps we’re looking at it all wrong, readers, perhaps we don’t truly understand the nature of abuse or something, but what we do understand, what is perfectly clear, is that we’re supposed to believe all women, even when she is the abuser. We’re supposed to imagine that there is some substantive difference in how the rules are to be applied to men and women in the same deleterious circumstances.
Now, we’re the first to admit that the rules are stupid. That this game of pointing fingers and shaming people is nonsensical and barbaric is not something we doubt. But if there are going to be rules that we are all expected to play by, ought they not be, well, adhered to?
If #MeToo is meant to be the new standard that we all must bow down to, and it’s a given that men and women are equal, then we must apply the rules fairly, and everyone who has a complicated sexual relationship that leads to grievances must be punished. Or, maybe, just maybe, we could do away with this nonsense and start to see the human beings for what they are: flawed, complicated, and capable of cruelty and kindness.
#MeToo may have been an effective corrective in some situations, but it should never have risen to the level of an era. As it stands now, we are living through a “cultural context where common vengeance writes the law,” and the hypocrisy is destroying us. If the rules don’t apply the same way for everyone, perhaps the rules are the problem.