Nearly all hands were raised.
The mood had been set for what would be a robust discussion on the #MeToo movement, and the impact of its momentum.
Catharine Lumby, a professor of media at Macquarie University, The Australian columnist Janet Albrechtsen, The Preatures lead singer Isabella Manfredi and employment lawyer, Josh Bornstein waded through most of the debate with surprisingly little tension. All believed the movement had brought about a new, fundamentally positive social resolve: that sexual misconduct can no longer be swept under the rug.
Unsurprisingly, the conversation soon turned to whether men were being adversely affected by #MeToo. How can they be expected to read such complex and nuanced non-verbal signals? How do we not “tar them all with that Weinstein brush?” Trioli posed.
Bornstein wasn’t buying it. “One of the things that #MeToo has already achieved is that men have to think a bit more, they have to reflect a bit more and they have to be a bit more cautious,” he explained. “But if it’s going to have a lasting impact then I think we need to look at addressing gender equality from cradle to grave.”
“It’s not just a workplace problem: it starts in homes, it starts in schools it’s on the streets,” he said.
Albrechtsen weighed in, suggesting that the absence of Charles Waterstreet (A prominent barrister who was asked to sit on the panel but was advised by the NSW Bar not to) was evidence of male alienation from the conversation.
“We can’t just hear from the women,” she said. “It needs to be a conversation had with everyone who’s involved in this because it is so murky.” “When we start excluding voices, like what’s happened here with Charles Waterstreet, I think that’s really sad.”
She also cited the “the hardening of orthodoxy” as her primary qualm, suggesting that “Hollywood had stayed silent for years.” Now, anyone questioning allegations was being publicly “hounded down” as a traitor to the movement. “Someone like Matt Damon put his poor head up last year and spoke about a spectrum of behaviour” she said. “Well, he’s recently apologised and literally said ‘I’m going to now shut my mouth’. No, we actually want people to be engaged in this and I think that’s where I get concerned about where it’s going.”
Bornstein’s take on it differed. “I think #MeToo properly looked at is a protest movement, a protest movement led by women who are whistle-blowers” and “you’re not going to be able to bring everyone with you,” he said. “We have to accept that there’s going to be abuse thrown back at people who want change that’s always been the lesson of history.”
Both points are fair, but there’s another to be made, and that’s this: most men (I’d suggest) are both engaged with the issue and supportive of change.
Bornstein himself is proof of this. Last night he was by far the most active and emphatic participant on the panel. His advocacy of the movement and his sentiment toward its victims was raw, moving and honest.
And he’s not alone. In recent months, hundreds (if not thousands) of men have come forward on social media to express their dismay and their sympathies to women sharing #MeToo stories. Many have identified their own need to look more closely in the mirror, and to address this issue in detail with their children.
As Lumby eloquently explained “at the heart of sexual harassment is power, and the abuse of power.” This behaviour, this (decidedly un-murky) conduct towards women, has up until now, been accepted as the norm. Many men, have overstepped boundaries but would not be unwilling to change their actions. The #MeToo movement is a watershed moment, precisely because it’s flipping the typical gendered power dynamic on its head.
And most men, accept that, support that and ride along with us.
Let’s be clear: The #MeToo movement isn’t about alienating men. It’s about women (and men incidentally) speaking out for the first time in history, calling for change and giving others a platform to do so as well.