Is #MeToo in danger of becoming the new McCarthyism?

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The stunt Serena Williams pulled off was nothing short of professional bullying, reminiscent of her previous threat to kill a female Asian line referee for calling a foot fault. But in a one-sided stampede, it is simply easier to claim #MeToo.

By Sheila Copps

First published in The Hill Times on September 24, 2018.

OTTAWA—Is #MeToo in danger of becoming the new McCarthyism?

The editor of The New York Review of Books exited last week after publishing an essay by Jian Ghomeshi entitled, “Reflections from a Hashtag.”

It is unclear whether he quit or was fired, but editor Ian Buruma was widely attacked for his editorial decision to offer a platform to the disgraced Canadian media star.

In an interview, Buruma defended his decision. “I’m no judge of the rights and wrongs of every allegation. … All I know is that in a court of law he was acquitted and there is no proof he committed a crime.”

In the same week, Maclean’s journalist Paul Wells levelled a question to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about an alleged groping incident 18 years ago that was widely covered in the dog days of summer.

The bottom line is that the complainant does not wish to pursue the matter and has no interest in giving media interviews on the subject.

But some media won’t take no for an answer. Rebel Media has a YouTube video featuring the Kokanee Groper, a.k.a. the prime minister. The Wells interview prompted more mainstream media coverage on a #MeToo story without a complainant.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the fate of a Supreme Court nomination hangs in the balance of another #MeToo allegation.

By all accounts, the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh would definitely tilt the court composition further to the right. In a recent dissenting voice, the judge opposed a majority decision to allow an undocumented immigrant to get an abortion.

Criticism of his political leanings are fair game in American politics. In their system, most judges are elected, not appointed. There are many reasons to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination, including his socially conservative views and refusal to support electoral financing reform.

But the main event dominating the Washington confirmation drama was an alleged 37-year-old sexual attack.

Democratic spokespeople were vociferously attacking the “old, white men” in Congress for ramming through the nomination.

With mid-term elections only weeks away, Republicans understandably want to move forward while seat numbers are still in their favour. There is a chance that, after the election, the magic simple majority required for confirmation will be lost.

But when the accuser waffled on a congressional invitation to testify, the tide seemed to be turning in favour of the nominee.

In a different field, that of sport, tennis dynamo Serena Williams recently launched her own version of #MeToo when she characterized unsportsmanlike bullying of a referee at the U.S Open as a fight for sexual equality.

Many observers piled in behind Williams’ claim, decrying the state of sexism in sport as the rational for her racquet-breaking on-court temper tantrum.

Elizabeth Renzetti, a Globe and Mail columnist and staunch feminist penned, “Ms. Williams was right; she was being unfairly penalized by a sport that is ridiculously old-fashioned, sexist and overwhelmingly white.”

American tennis icon Billie Jean King tweeted: “When a woman is emotional, she’s ‘hysterical’ and she’s penalized for it. When a man does the same, he’s outspoken & and there are no repercussions. Thank you, @serenawilliams, for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same.”

While King’s statements are all true, they have nothing whatsoever to do with Williams’ outrageous behaviour during the final.

The stunt she pulled off was nothing short of professional bullying, reminiscent of her previous threat to kill a female Asian line referee for calling a foot fault.

Williams’ off-court aggression was no match for the on-court power of baseline hitter 20-year-old Naomi Osaka, who won the first set 6-2.

In set two, Williams broke Osaka, but the Japanese player promptly returned the favour. Then Williams erupted, breaking her racquet and receiving an automatic point penalty. That was the beginning of the end.

Williams kept looking furtively at her box. Her coach was televised sending illegal signals.

When warned, Williams went berserk, screaming and pointing her finger at the umpire, as the supportive audience booed. Two USTA officials came on court, but her volume merely increased.

Williams caused such a ruckus that winner Osaka, a biracial woman who was making history, was booed during the awards ceremony.

The post-game sexism storyline was absurd. But it got plenty of traction, as an example of women finally speaking up. Very few weighed in to decry Williams’s unsportsmanlike behaviour.

As the world’s greatest female athlete, the tennis icon ought to know better.

But in a one-sided stampede, it is simply easier to claim #MeToo.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.