Lifestyle

#MeToo: This International Womens Day, stop using the term "witch hunt"

Forever. Seriously.

By Mahalia Chang

International Womens Day brings with it a slew of anti-women terms and hysteria. But none of these terms are more infuriating than the use of 'witch-hunt' to describe the to describe the #MeToo movement and sexual harrasment.

This week, director Michael Haneke came out against the #MeToo movement. In an interview with an Austrian newspaper, Kurier, Haneke called the initiative "disgusting" and "hysterical."

"I regard this hysteria of rash judgments that is spreading at the moment as absolutely disgusting. People are just being finished off in the media, their lives and careers are being ruined," said Haneke.

"It destroys the lives of people, whose crime has not been proven in many cases. This new man-hating puritanism that comes in the wake of the #MeToo movement worries me."

But in addition to crying about discussing this so-called volatile territory for men, Haneke also decided to use the absolute fucking worst phrase to be spoken by a man about women:

Witch hunt.

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"This has nothing to do with the fact that every sexual and every violent assault — both against women and men — should be condemned and punished," said Hanneke. (That's what we're doing, bird brain). "But a witch hunt should be left in the Middle Ages," said Haneke.

And Haneke isn't the only person to use that particular term to describe the #MeToo movement. Actresses Catherine Deneuve and Zoe Wanamaker have both uttered those very words in a conversation about sexual assault and harassment in the workplace.

"Men have been punished summarily, forced out of their jobs when all they did was touch someone's knee or try to steal a kiss," cried Deneuve, whilst Wanamaker said, "I'm upset because it's a witch hunt… you can gain something out of it by just, after 50 years, coming out and saying, 'Oh, I was raped'."

The term 'witch hunt', in this context, is oxymoronic. Between 1450 to 1750, thousands and thousands of people were hunted, tortured and executed under the suspicion they were 'witches.' Witchcraft, in the height of Middle Ages' hysteria, could be anything from possessing certain herbs, refusing to have sex with your husband, gathering in large groups or even the truly heinous crime of studying books.

At the height of the witch trials, many midwives, nurses and medicine-folk were executed because things like easing a labouring women's pain, or administering ointments were seen as practicing witchcraft.

During the long life of actual witch hunts, a conservative estimate puts the deaths around 100,000. There are historians who argue the number could actually be in the millions — ranging from 2 million to 9 million. Methods of execution included beheading, burning, stoning, drowning and whipping.

And who, with an overwhelming majority, were the victims of these horrendous killings? Women, not creepy Hollywood producers. Some studies suggest around 90% of 'witches' killed were women and if you were a man unlucky enough to be accused of witchcraft, it was mostly because of your relation to a 'witch', meaning you were more likely to be pardoned of your 'crime'.

So, you see… a literal witch hunt that resulted in the unjust death of thousands (possibly millions) of women ≠ some men being accused of sexual assault, on the off-chance they didn't do it.

(And, if we're going to go there — in the UK, only 4% of sexual assault accusations were proven or suspected as false; in the US and Europe, it's between 2% and 6%. A study in 2006, found rates of false accusations to be around 2.1% in Australia.)

It has been proven, time and time again, that there is a culture of sexual assault within workplaces. Movements like #MeToo are evidence women from country to country, age group to age group, in every race and industry, are experiencing sexual assault and misconduct at terrifying and endemic rates. That's a fact.

And since the numbers of false accusations are so very, very low, it's much, much more likely that the women accusing men of sexual misconduct are, you know, telling the truth.

Just because you aren't as cushy in your deniability as you were a year ago, doesn't mean you get to label this movement a 'witch hunt', when the subjects of your little euphemism were women who were executed in droves for no reason.

If you're scared women are finally speaking up about sexual assault, that says a lot more about you than it does about us.

So, here's a handy tip, Mr Haneke. If you're thinking about using the term 'witch hunt' to describe a movement by women for women — just fucking don't.