The #MeToo movement in 2021: what does it mean to believe all women?

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

From Brett Kavanaugh to Donald Trump to Joe Biden to Andrew Cuomo, it is evident that the media has treated sexual harassment allegations as a political ploy in the face of ongoing election cycles. The media’s immoral and disheartening pattern of using allegations as pawns against influential men in power while brushing over their own candidates’ allegations is hypocritical to say the least. Sexual harassment should not be treated as a political issue. We must hold liberals’ claims with as much weight as we hold conservatives’ claims; we must hold Democratic politicians as accountable as we hold Republican politicians.

The double standard when it comes to the media’s treatment of sexual misconduct is outrageous and concerning. While it is easy to say that Fox News likely covered less of Brett Kavanaugh’s allegations than did CNN or MSNBC (and vice versa for Andrew Cuomo’s allegations), it is not enough to solely educate yourself based on what your news station chooses to talk about. A Vox article finds that The Washington Post’s distinction between perpetrator and victim is often racially motivated, as white rapist Brock Turner was described as an “All-American Stanford swimmer” going through “a stunning fall from grace,” while Black rapists committing the same crime were described as “no angel.” We must hold abusers to a more uniform and equitable standard because when there’s inconsistency, there’s de-legitimacy.

The “Believe All Women” slogan arose out of the #MeToo movement as a statement about supporting female victims as they disclose their sexual harassment experiences either in public or in front of a courtroom. This slogan is countered most prominently by those who instead adopt the idea of “innocent until proven guilty.” While the distinction between these two philosophies was once considered political, with #MeToo supporters being mostly Democrats and “innocent until proven guilty” supporters being mostly Republicans, the political lines between the two have become far more blurred in recent years. As Democratic candidates have become perpetrators of sexual harassment in similar ways to their Republican counterparts, the political standard of “innocent until proven guilty” and “Believe All Women” has become far more ambiguous to both the media and voters.

Sady Doyle, a writer for Medium, urges readers to “recognize that false allegations are less common than real ones.” Doyle’s claim is substantially correct, as The Cut’s “Almost No One Is Falsely Accused of Rape” writes that only about 5 percent of all reported rapes are false accusations, and this number is skewed by the fact that almost 95 percent of victims do not report their rapes to the police. In the same article, Doyle writes that false rape allegations are at least five times as common as false accusations of other types of crimes. So why the distinction? Why falsely accuse someone? If we can get to the root of why false accusations exist at all, then we can stop people from relying on “innocent until proven guilty” and start believing all women.

Most false accusers have some motive behind their actions: racial stereotyping and political destruction can play a role, but more often than not, a real rape case is dismissed by the court system and thus deemed a “false accusation.” The media’s dismissal of sexual abuse charges shows its bias in relaying information to the American public. During the Biden campaign for the presidency, for example, the Democratic party began to split in its support for Tara Reade in her statement that Joe Biden had touched her inappropriately without her consent. While some news stations chose to cover the allegation in thorough detail to adequately alert the public about these allegations, others brushed over Reade’s statements to continue grooming Biden as a frontrunner during the Democratic primary. The questions then become: if you believe all women, how do you choose political support for candidates who have some allegation of sexual misconduct against them? Can you still believe all women while voting for someone who doesn’t believe all women?

As an active voter and New Yorker, I’ve been plagued by this question during each election cycle, and most recently, by Cuomo’s allegations. Why is it so hard to find a candidate who hasn’t used their power to abuse victims? Is there even a “lesser of two evils candidate” in a world where such injustices are tolerated by our election system?

The answer to these questions depends on how you view your role as a voter. If you believe that your political affiliation must align with your view of the world and that politics are equitable to morals, then supporting someone with sexual assault charges against them should be a difficult task. But if you are looking to find the “lesser of two evils candidate,” ask yourself how you measure “evil.” Is it the number of sexual assault abuses? A certain amount of damage to the environment? The economy? Until the world and the media can find a way to prevent sexual abusers from entering the political stage, society will inevitably be stuck choosing between two old white men who have committed some level of “evil” to the surrounding world.

As a voter, here is what you can do to break the cycle: educate yourself on sexual assault allegations from both sides of the aisle, read news articles that you may not normally read to see coverage of allegations, and speak out when you think an injustice has not been rightfully covered. Biden won the primary election ahead of younger Democratic candidates who have no allegations against them such as Andrew Yang and Pete Buttigieg, so putting support behind those candidates in future elections would provide a glimmer of hope for the future of “Believe all Women.” By believing all women in the face of political polarization and media hyperpartisanship, we can end the perpetual cycle of “lesser of two evils candidates.”