AToday Roe v Wade should be invalidated in the United States. Overnight, women in more than half of the US states are at risk of losing control of their reproductive choices. In some states, women impregnated through rape or incest will be forced to carry babies to term. Women who miscarry will have to worry about being prosecuted for murder. Meanwhile, in Texas, Republicans have just adopted a platform declaring homosexuality “abnormal” and continue to wage war on trans people.
If you think all of this makes it hard to be a woman or a marginalized person in America, then you’re wrong. No, it turns out it’s a terrible time to be a young man. You see, it’s not the regression of women’s rights that should worry us, it’s the fact that women’s rights have gone too far.
That’s the rough premise of an 8,000-word cover story published Monday by New York Magazine titled “Cancelled at 17.” The story is about a teenager named Diego (a pseudonym) who shares nude photos of his girlfriend, “Fiona”, without her consent. The people at their school turn against Diego, he loses most of his friends and is “cancelled”. A girl, Jenni, still charitably gets into Diego’s car, but puts a jacket over her head when she does. Things are tough for Diego: he hangs out with his pet rat (“Toe”), writes bad poetry, doesn’t eat much, and sleeps a lot. The story ends on a tragic note: Diego, we are told, is skipping his own diploma. However, he attends four proms and goes off to college in a new town where he can start afresh.
8,000 words. Let me repeat that: 8,000 words. This high school drama got 8,000 words in a national magazine. Why? Well, because it’s part of a larger phenomenon, according to the writer. “It wasn’t just Diego’s school,” the article states. “It was all over the country.” Some examples are given: “A boy touched a girl’s waist without her consent at a Spirit Week gathering – rejected by his community and called a sex offender. A pupil accused a boy of touching her at a school dance – major investigation, lawyers on all sides. Across the United States, young men, we are told, are seeing their lives ruined because young women, keen on #MeToo and internet activism, overreact to small, silly things like sharing their nude pics.
But that’s not really true, is it? What happened to Diego is truly an anomaly. Let’s be honest here: in most cases where a guy shares a girl’s nudes without her consent, it’s the girl who gets ostracized. She is blamed by the victim; she is ridiculed; she is ashamed. The article even inadvertently admits that Diego’s ostracism is not standard. Diego, we’re told, starts hanging out with kids who aren’t from his school and explains to them why he was canceled. “Hardly anyone greeted his revelation with much sympathy,” the article said. “[The other kids] were all like, ‘Don’t worry bro. You will be fine. Or: “‘Your school is crazy.’ »
There is a saying that “When you are used to privilege, equality looks like oppression”. This quote illuminates the heart of every article on “cancel culture”, including this one. Some people are used to their actions having consequences; some people are not. Male misbehavior has traditionally been brushed off with excuses like “boys will be boys” or “locker room talk.” It has certainly never been a barrier to career advancement. Nearly a quarter of the members of the Supreme Court have been accused of sexual misconduct. When a man faces the consequences of his behavior, he is met with shock and awe – a disruption of the natural order of things.
I’m not saying, by the way, that I believe Diego deserves the rest of his life ruined. I’m not saying he deserves to be avoided wherever he goes; that people should shout “shame, shame, shame!” when they see him on the street. What I’m saying is that the mob justice (if that’s how you want to describe teenagers being mean to each other) meted out to him isn’t emblematic of some sort of new normal. This is just one example of the fact that teenagers can be cruel; in this case, they chose Diego as their target. More importantly, it reflects the fact that the school Diego and Fiona attended did not have the right processes in place to handle the sharing of Fiona’s nude photos. The institutions and adults who should have protected Fiona have abandoned her; the children took justice into their own hands. The moral here isn’t that #MeToo has gone too far, it’s that it hasn’t gone far enough.
This article, it is important to note, was not published in a vacuum. When mainstream media publish stories that imply #MeToo is out of control, it helps to accelerate an existing backlash against feminism. It helps push a false narrative that young men are victims of the mores of modern America. This helps create an environment in which women are reluctant to speak out about violence because they fear they will not be believed. It’s easier for Fox News to lie about feminism and it’s easier for Republicans to pass regressive laws. The New York Magazine story isn’t just an article: it’s ammunition.