Transcript: Phoebe Maltz Bovy
My conversation with the Toronto writer, editor and podcaster
It’s hard to believe that it has been five years since #MeToo.
The culture has moved on many times since then. But it’s worth returning to the movement, to take stock of what it did, and did not, accomplish — and how it’s influenced the moment we now find ourselves in.
My guest on today’s episode does just that in a new piece for The Spectator, “So much for #MeToo.”
Phoebe Maltz Bovy is a Toronto writer, editor, and contributing columnist at The Globe and Mail. She’s also co-host of the Feminine Chaos podcast (which I have appeared on), and the author of The Perils of “Privilege”: Why Injustice Can’t Be Solved by Accusing Others of Advantage.
This is an edited, condensed transcript for paid subscribers. You can listen the interview for free here.
TH: Phoebe, welcome to Lean Out.
PMB: Thank you so much, Tara. Thanks for having me.
TH: Great to have you on. What a great topic we get to discuss today. It has been five years since #MeToo, but it feels like a lifetime ago. Take me back to 2017. What were your reactions to the movement at that time?
PMB: I think it was hard to say what exactly the whole point of it was going to be. Because it seemed, at the time, kind of a piece with a couple other things that were happening. So, there was the anti-Trump movement, the #Resistance, pussy hats, the Women’s March — all of that. There was also, especially in the U.S., a campus anti-sexual assault movement and the use of Title IX to address that. So it wasn’t exactly clear where it was all going to go. But it briefly seemed like every man who had ever done anything wrong was going to lose his job. I don’t think that’s how that has played out.
TH: At what point did you start feeling critical of the movement?
PMB: Whenever there’s any movement like this, I just wonder: Is it actually going to do the thing it’s claiming to do? And it started to seem like maybe it wasn’t going to do that. Really, the turning point for me would have been the Shitty Media Men list. There was one journalist mainly behind it, but it was a collaborative effort. It was just this list of men and their anonymously accused misdeeds. Some of these things were violent crimes. But others were … There was one I remember because it was a man who I had found kind of irritating on Twitter. He’s gay, this man. He had not assaulted any woman. He had been rude at work. It was like, “Okay, that didn’t seem particularly worth that.” It seemed like there was something going on where everything anybody ever did that was bad got put into the same pile. Which ended up risking the reputations and jobs potentially of these men who hadn’t done anything particularly wrong. But also it risked making light of pretty severe offences. So that was my main initial wariness.
TH: This Spectator piece is basically taking stock of what #MeToo did and did not do. So I guess the first question I have is: Did it make women safer?
PMB: So, in terms of actually making women safer, I’m not sure. Because what followed the #MeToo moment was the Defund the Police moment. So there isn’t actually any sustained interest among progressives in prosecuting really much of anything. If you’re talking about where the zeitgeist is. So I don’t know how much that has had an impact on it. But from what I looked into for that piece about statistics, it doesn’t seem like suddenly now every time … There are more accusations, but fewer convictions, it seems like, in terms of assault. And then, in terms of day-to-day life, I think women are perhaps less likely to be asked out by a stranger. Does that mean being safer, or just having less fun? I’m not sure.
TH: This is something else I wanted to talk about. In the piece you get into these coupling categories that have been removed from polite society. Essentially anything with a power differential. That could be a professor/student pairing, or pairings with large age gaps. Office romances have also been made taboo. Is this a net good for women?
PMB: So, I think it’s important that sexual harassment, when it occurs, is taken seriously. I think the problem is to redefine harassment to mean basically any pursuit at all that doesn’t happen specifically on a dating app. And I think that that’s what’s happening these days. There is this idea that to approach a stranger, or a strange woman, in public is somehow to put her in a sense of danger. I don’t think that that really makes sense.
I think not taking no for an answer is a problem. I think if somebody is your employee, or is your current student, that is something else. But then there’s this whole idea that there’s this category of people who are undateable for various reasons. I did grad school, right? I was a T.A. and a student for several years. I could, in theory, not date anybody. Because I was the student and I was the professor. So, yeah, I think people should be allowed to form romantic relationships with other consenting adults. And I think that #MeToo may have overshot the mark there a bit.
TH: I also hear, all the time, that it’s had a huge chilling effect on men. That men are very scared to ask women out. There was that piece where Ezra Klein wrote about how men feel a “cold spike of fear.” Has it scared men off from engaging in dating? Is that the reason behind this so-called sex recession that we’re in, that we hear about all the time?