ESTRICH: Has ‘Me Too’ gone too far?

Has “Me Too” gone too far?


We have miles to go before we sleep.

I know: There is a difference between a violent rape and a boss who thinks he gets to sleep with all “the girls.” Trust me; I’ve dealt with both.

But the fact that hundreds or even thousands of women, many of them young and vulnerable actresses, may have experienced something short of rape or even short of the legal definition of “sexual harassment” does not mean they should just put up with it. (And note that some of them are in fact alleging rape.)

Is there a real possibility that men have — and will — be accused unfairly? Absolutely. And that means we all, particularly employers, have to take a deep breath and treat both sides fairly. Companies need procedures in place to deal fairly when complaints come in or concerns are raised — and I don’t mean just having employees complete those silly online courses that a monkey could do. (Sorry, monkeys: I do like you.) It’s worth noting that the press could learn a lesson about all this, too, since they have problems of their own.

Is there a real possibility of backlash? There is. There will be men who will make a point of not traveling with women or being out alone with them; but those guys were mostly the ones with nothing to worry about anyway. Finding mentors could be harder. All those guys wearing “Time’s Up” buttons, all the men who claim to be shocked by all of this, they have to step up and help, too. Men have too much power for us to overlook the importance of getting them on our side.

When I was 20, I was raped. When I was 28, teaching at Harvard Law School, I told my students. I did it out of strength. I wanted them to know that nice girls get raped, and then they survive. I got death threats. Three years later, I wrote a book that was part of the effort, mostly successful, to reform rape law and eliminate the “special” requirements, such as corroboration, applied only in the criminal law to women claiming rape. I got more death threats. I wrote articles. I was on the founding board of the Victim Rights Law Center in Boston. I championed including rape in the curriculum of every criminal law class. I began to feel that in my own way, I beat that bastard.

And I got attacked in Time magazine, by name, by a famous critic, for fostering an environment in which women who were raped, and presumably by extension all women, would think of themselves as victims.

Sound familiar?

I was encouraging other women to stand up and fight back and encouraging lawmakers to ensure that when we did, we had a fair chance. This is a victim’s mentality?

“Victim” became such a dirty word that many of us took to calling ourselves “survivors,” to try to signify that rape wasn’t the end of life, which it isn’t. But it isn’t a trip to the dentist. Sure, there is a spectrum, and the spectrum matters, and what the man knows and intends matters. These are familiar concepts that should be applied in a fair process.

But please understand. I was a victim. It was not my fault. The pain gets dull, but it doesn’t go away. It can mess up your life. Over the last 30 years, since I made it a practice to tell students the truth, I have counseled “victims” of everything from rape to dehumanizing bad sex. The latter is not a federal case. It’s shabby behavior, and there’s nothing wrong with calling someone on that. But this movement — and it is a movement — is not about bad sex. It is about victimization, because that’s what happens when men abuse their power sexually.

And the movement won’t end until the changes start coming. And keep coming. I know: My male friends are nervous. They worry that crazy girls from their past will come after them. I understand. I will help these friends if that happens. But the larger problem has to be addressed.

I talked to one of the smartest people I know, a leader in the entertainment industry. I asked him what he thought about “Me Too.” Frankly, I expected the line about how it’s gone too far, how innocent guys are afraid, etc. Nope. Like I said, he is scary smart. He said that he had talked to more than 50 of the most successful actresses he knows, from teenagers to women in their 70s. And not one, not two, not a handful but every single one of them told him that they had been sexually coerced by men with power over them and their careers. Every single one. And these are stars.

It has to stop.