#MeToo a vehicle for ‘professional feminists’, author claims

Dublin conference debates merits of social media-based anti-sexism movement

The #MeToo movement is not representative of the majority of women’s experiences, a conference in Dublin heard on Saturday.

Ella Whelan, author of What Women Want and columnist described the social media movement as being led by mostly "middle class feminist circles" and said rejected the idea that it is "representative of women's feelings today".

Ms Whelan was speaking at the Festival of Politics at Tailors’ Hall alongside Ailbhe Smyth, activist and co-director for the Together for Yes campaign.

“Generally the people who are talking about it [the #MeToo movement] and capitalising off it, as in creating columns and making documentaries... mounting campaigns to a certain extent, I have seen it to be run by the people who I call professional feminists,” Ms Whelan said.


Ms Smyth said the movement "does land differently in different parts of the world".

"I don't think it lands the same here in Europe and Ireland in the way that it does in the US and therefore the expressionisms isn't the same either," she said.

Ms Whelan was critical of the #MeToo movement, which she said had created a “victim narrative”, which “positions women rather than active agents in control of their sexual lives, their own individual lives but to see themselves perpetually as victims and most importantly to be afraid”.

She said the movement had created a culture of “fear” around sex and that some of the #MeToo expressions on Twitter were “annoying low level expressions of interaction between the sexes” rather a serious conversation about sexual harassment and rape.

She said the movement had not captured what needed to happen in relation to women’s freedom but instead “might be hampering it”.

Ms Smyth said it was time for a national study on sexual violence, noting the last Sexual Abuse Violence in Ireland (Savi) report was in 2002.

“The Government has consistently refused the €1million it will take to re-run a Savi exploration, to do that examination again,” she said.

“Our figures in this country go back to 2002; that is an absolute disgrace with levels of domestic violence, with levels of rape and what is happening now in rape trials...all of that is going on. I do think ‘MeToo’ focuses the minds on that and particularly the minds of young people.”

Speaking on Saturday morning at the Fine Gael ard fheis, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said he intended to bring proposals to Government at the end of November for a major national study.

Mr Flanagan said he was “very keen to ensure that the investigation of sexual violence is done in a way that is appropriate to modern society”.

If Cabinet accepted the proposal the study would commence next year but there was at least two years’s work in it, the Minister said.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times