There are myriad good reasons to be skeptical about the efficacy of social media campaigns.
Twitter outrage over young women kidnapped by Boko Haram more than three years ago didn’t #BringBackOurGirls.
But the #MeToo campaign appears to be having a different result — a big and potentially mixed one at that.
Since the revelation that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein has spent the better part of his career engaging in all sorts of serious sexual misconduct, women in all walks of life have been empowered to identify incidents of harassment and assault, and in many cases name the individuals involved.
In some cases, the claims suggest a pattern of behavior that shouldn’t only end careers, but lead to serious legal action.
Still, the point of the campaign ostensibly was not to take down men in positions of power and prestige, although that’s certainly been one major result.
Instead, it was intended to illustrate the scope of the problem and create a sorority of sorts through which women can draw strength from their shared experience.
All of that seems great.
Between the credible allegations #MeToo has brought to light, and the swelling sense of female empowerment — real or imagined — many observers have been quick to laud the campaign as a success.
Few have talked about its potential downsides.
A few were addressed in a recent column by Jean Card in U.S. News & World Report.
Card is a former colleague of mine and having navigated a male-dominated office culture together, her concerns resonated with me.
Sexual discrimination, wrote Card, “is something that #MeToo could exacerbate,” in part because the campaign grossly conflates sexual harassment, assault and discrimination “into one big battering ram.”
That’s hardly splitting hairs.
Taking nothing from any of the accusers’ experiences or feelings, these things are not the same, and it’s hard to seriously suggest the two are equivalent, legally or otherwise.
But when such distinctions are blurred, women are consolidated into one large, amorphous group of victims.
There are, of course, legitimate sociological concerns associated with a culture increasingly focused on victimhood, where oppression is advertised as a way to demand respect and recognition. But that’s another column.
As a social phenomenon, the decision to use or not use the #MeToo hashtag wasn’t always unifying and even created a kind of uneasy divide between many women I know, some of whom felt it was overused and others who found it unnecessarily exclusive.
But there are more practical problems, too, especially for women in the workplace.
In her column, Card worried that the campaign could make women “a distinctly protected, victimized and litigious professional class,” making career advancement even more challenging.
Her concerns aren’t unfounded.
A recent New York Times piece described how men in senior positions are increasingly unwilling to meet with female employees or potential employees one on one because of fears that a misunderstood comment could result in a career-ending accusation. The reduced interaction means less networking, an element of professional life that often leads to promotions.
Further, men in positions of power will start to see women as liabilities and not mentor them, limiting women’s ability to rise in the workplace.
While the #MeToo campaign will be a catalyst for change in male-female interaction inside and outside the office, it also will have consequences that are not all positive for women.
There are some who believe women have only good to gain from this social media movement.