#MeToo, one year on: where next for feminism?

Saturday 17 November, 12:3013:45, Kulturhuset Stadsteatern, StockholmBattle of Ideas Europe

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This debate is part of Battle of Ideas Stockholm

When revelations about sexual harassment and assault were made against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, few could have predicted the scale of the reaction around the world as women shared their own experiences of misconduct. No country adopted #MeToo as enthusiastically as Sweden and it spawned other campaigns, like the #tystnadtagning manifesto backed by actresses Alicia Vikander, Sofia Helin and Noomi Rapace. The newsrooms joined in, and #MeToo related stories and debates dominated Swedish news during late 2017 and early 2018. TV presenter Martin Timell’s shows were cancelled and columnist Fredrik Virtanen left the tabloid Aftonbladet after allegations were shared under the #MeToo hashtag. Later, an unprecedented number of Swedish news outlets would receive reprimands from independent media watchdogs for their coverage of these stories.

For supporters of #MeToo, the campaign has at last brought much-needed and long overdue attention to issues of sexual harassment and gender inequality, helping to free millions of women who had previously been forced to suffer in silence. For critics, the furore has quickly become a ’witch-hunt’ in which innocent men have been disgraced in the court of public opinion with little chance to test the veracity of the claims against them.

Some older female celebrities, from Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood to French actress Catherine Deneuve, have argued that #MeToo has gone too far – and have been widely criticised for speaking out. This, in turn, has been interpreted by some as representative of a growing divide within the broader feminist movement – of tensions between radical, social-media based activism and more traditional calls for reform. Indeed, many older feminists are bewildered by their younger counterparts’ interpretation of feminism. Having lived through a time when women were institutionally and socially discriminated against, they argue that life is better today because of their ability to battle for a place at the table with men.

On the other hand, younger women claim that older feminists are unaware of the challenges their daughters and granddaughters face. With advertising, body-image concerns and a new dating environment, they maintain that the older generation don’t understand what it’s like to be a young woman in the twenty-first century. Many argue that the persistence of gender roles and stereotypes remains a major problem, leading to heated debate between the Greens and the Christian Democrats in this year’s general election campaign about how very young children should be taught in preschools.

One year on, how should we assess the impact of #MeToo? Has the campaign brought a welcome change of attitude towards sexual harassment or do underlying problems remain? Has it gone too far, wrecking the careers of innocent men or given valuable profile to offences that would in the past have been dismissed as trivial? Clearly, the #MeToo hashtag became widely used around the world and gave new momentum to contemporary feminism. But with the focus now on harassment and rape, are the arguments of modern feminists really what women want – or need? Indeed, to what extent is modern feminism a continuation of radicals in the past or are we seeing the emergence of something different altogether? What is the future for feminism?