This piece is a sequel to this one critiquing the men’s right activism (MRAs) from the perspective of collective initiatory experiences and trauma. In that piece I laid out the conceptual grid of trauma and initiatory movements and how they shed incredible light on the MRA movement—an understanding realized by neither its supporters nor typical feminist critics.
I’m not going to rehash that whole argument (please read the whole thing). But to summarize, initiatory experience traditionally take place in three stages:
Stage 1: Disorientation
Stage 2: Ordeal
Stage 3: Re-Integration
Karla McLaren has argued persuasively that contemporary Western (and increasingly globalized) society expresses a shadow, unconscious form of initiation through trauma. She describes how trauma inverts and distorts the initiatory experience in numerous ways. Most important for our purposes here is that in unconscious initiation there is no stage 3, no re-integration and completion of the initiation. Without an alternative healing context wounded people who are unconsciously initiated typically oscillate between stages 1 and 2.
I then applied that lens to the MRA movement and all it sub-components (e.g,.incels and MGTOWs). The unconscious initiatory framework powerfully and clearly elucidates all the aspects of the movement and most tragically why it has failed and will continent to fail. The framework also allows for a different form of empathy for MRA men, absent in liberal feminist critique of the movement, while not shirking the proper critique, a critique much deeper than traditional socially liberal/feminist ones offer.
Now the title of this piece is the failing initiation of the #metoo movement. Failing seems the appropriate term in that the #metoo movement is much younger and has time to correct it’s course (whereas I named the MRAs failed). The #metoo movement, from an emotional initiatory lens, unfortunately appears headed down many of the same roads as the MRA. In other words, I see the #metoo movement stuck in unconscious stage 2 and starting to express some of the darker unhealed and wounded aspects of unconscious stage 2. That is when looking at the movement as a whole. There are always individual exceptions in either case (MRA or #metoo) but those individuals tend to be seen as traitors to the cause as they grow beyond the centre of gravity of the main energy of the group.
In other words, just as with MRAs, I see no stage 3 being offered in the #metoo movement and that is a major warning bell. One final point from the previous piece is that in unconscious initiation there are only three options; addiction/dissociation, keeping the trauma inside, or projecting the trauma onto others. In none of those cases does a person (much less a group or movement) learn to transmute their trauma and turn it into healed power. Those tendencies are on full display in #metoo.
Let’s turn then to #metoo in light of that unconscious initiatory framework. As with the MRAs, it’s a framework that properly balances empathy and clear compassionate critique. It’s a framework that also is not caught in traditional left-right, SJW vs. Red Pillers gender war division.
The actual origins of the #metoo movement are often forgotten or sadly never known. Tarana Burke, a woman of color, coined the phrase back in 2006. This piece gives excellent background on her life. Burke, who was herself a victim of sexual abuse as a child, started first with a healing journey (through reading literature). She later moved to healing and advocacy work, especially for girls and young women of color. Even here she struggled at times with supporting the revelations of sexual abuse from these young people. (Very interesting to consider in light of the trauma frame).
Here’s a quotation from Burke directly addressing #metoo in the piece:
"And so this iteration in social media has placed a larger focus on perpetrators being called out and held accountable for their actions. But the actual me too Movement is about supporting sexual assault survivors. So that's where it's different."
In other words, Burke is more focused on creating healthy containers for healing and transformation and stage 3 re-integration than what became of the more publicly known #metoo movement. That one started in 2017 when actress Alyssa Milano used the phrase in a tweet and it went viral. It’s worth noting the way in which a movement (and phrase) begun by a black woman with an emphasis on healing and transformation got taken over largely by middle class white liberals and had its original impetus co-opted and turned into something else (as Burke herself admits in that quotation.)
Then in 2017 #metoo as a hashtag exploded in response to the public revelations of the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal. #metoo became a way for women to begin to share their experiences of sexual abuse, harassment, and violation. As a feminist movement it received the conventional responses—backlash from much of the cultural right and promotion from socially liberal mainstream media, as well as of course stronger support from the cultural left.
Like with the MRAs (their erstwhile enemies) it was a political awakening related to a traumatic core. #metoo gave support and permission for women to break out of their silence and acknowledge their pain, particularly their rage. That is, in the initiatory model, it was a major transformational opening from stage 1 to stage 2 on a large scale. That gave #metoo the power from its earliest days. It was a profound emotional group opening in real time.
As we’ve been exploring however stage 2 is both a step up (which is good) but can also become a new kind of trap, where people get stuck and do not move through to stage 3. Stage 2 is meant to be a transitional zone. When it becomes instead the final destination--rather than a point along the journey--it can very quickly become pathological. An initiation is a crucible. A crucible is meant to transmute, it’s meant to alchemically burn until it leaves a distilled powerful initiated essence. Staying stuck in stage 2 is staying stuck in the pain of the crucible without ever reaching completion or release.
The Asia Argento and Rose McGowan affair is instructive here. Argento and McGowan were both violated by Harvey Weinstein. They bonded over their shared trauma and activism (stage 2 solidarity). Argento however was then accused of sexual violation herself, sleeping with an underage (pre-consent) teen. If true (and Argento denies the accusation), it would be another example of how the traumatized often become the traumatizer. McGowan publicly broke with Argento. Argento threatened to sue her in response (fight trauma response).
Isolating individual perpetrators and taking them down complete with public shaming rituals doesn’t actually change the culture of violation within companies, institutions, families, or communities. Conservatives used to be the ones advocating for prep walks and their flawed broken windows approach of “being tough on crime." Now self-styled progressives are falling into the same trap. That “perp walk” practice has much more to do with exacting emotional and energetic revenge and feeling glee in seeing others suffer who caused one to suffer (stage 2 scapegoating).
As Connor Habib has pointed out sexual harassment in the workforce is a serious matter, a very destructive and awful one. And the way to properly respond to that serious and negative phenomena is precisely NOT by trying to legislate away sexuality in the workplace. Because, as Habib correctly notes, sexuality is an intrinsic part of being human and it is going to show up in the workplace. The question is whether it is done skillfully and consciously and with proper mutuality or whether it’s driven underground and leaks out in isolating, silencing, threatening, blackmailing, and abuses of power. Creating an inquisitorial climate of fear, public shaming, and ostracism is precisely what will not move the process forward. (As I’ve written about elsewhere it also creates a massive right wing, quasi-fascist backlash in for example the alt-right.)
Which brings us to the question of witch hunts and their explicit advocacy as the proper telos of the #metoo according to Lindy Hunt. Hunt's article is a quintessential expression of the kinds of problems that can arise in an unhealed, stage 2 dynamic. Particularly in this case by seeking to enact revenge and to project one's own traumaization onto another.
In order to really get a handle on what is going on here, there’s a further conceptual piece I want to weave into this discussion and that is the work of Anngwyn St. Just and Bert Hellinger on victims and perpetrators. Here is a lengthy but powerful interview between Jeffrey Mishlove and St. Just where she delves deeply into this topic which grew out of her collaboration with Bert Hellinger, the founder of family and systems constellation work.
Hellinger, a former Catholic priest among the Zulu peoples, began to learn from that tribe indigenous ways of healing and justice.* According to the Zulu the key is to look to ancestors and to heal and resolve any unfinished business between victims and perpetrators in previous generations (or in a place). If not, then the victims and perpetrators will stay locked into a psychic traumatic bond with each other which will play out over a multitude of generations. Later generations will re-enact the same cycles of trauma until the ancestors’ bones can rest from traumatic rattling.
A feminist advocating for a witch hunt is a perfectly horrifying version of this dynamic. This strange inversion with the victims becoming perpetrators is precisely what an unfinished initiation looks like. A partial liberation has occurred but the deeper truth is still obscured.
It is very clear that when you have a political moment based on unhealed trauma things are going to end badly. Heal the trauma and fight for social change (yes). Use the cover and moral justification of fighting for social change out of unhealed trauma and get ready for the burnings at the stake, guillotines and a reign of terror.
The deeper truth, according to St. Just and Hellinger, is that on a soul level there is strangely a deep love at the core of the traumatizing bond between victim and perpetrator. Not on the human level but on the subtle plane. And that subtle bond and it’s resolution is absolutely integral to manifest on the gross material plane a new way forward. In the initiatory model this insight concerning the traumatic bond is core to moving from stage 2 to stage 3 (right completion).
St. Just’s and Hellinger’s argument is an extremely controversial one (though nevertheless brilliant in my view). It critiques alt-right/conservatives insofar as there is the need to recognize collective responsibility for prior crimes and ancestral guilt. Think descendants of slave owners in the United States having work to do to heal their ancestral line of it’s collective sin rather than claiming “I don’t own slaves”, “that was more than a hundred years ago get over it”, etc.
On the liberal, progressive, & SJW side however there is equal controversy in that in this model victims have responsibility not for their victimization but for their collective healing and transformation. Victims are responsible for how they respond to their victimization and are held to the same standard of right behavior even acknowledging the deleterious consequences of their victimization. If victims become irresponsible then they will tend to become victimizers themselves in many cases. Again think of a self-identified feminist in all seriousness advocating for a witch hunt, which as a reminder murdered and terrorized the ancestral grandmothers of today’s feminists. Radical feminists of our out time are most likely the descendants of the witches cruelly tortured and burned at the stake. They of all people ought to to know deeply within what a witch hunt actually does to people and should be the last people advocating for it.
For St. Just and Hellinger when the multi-generational collective trauma is not resolved it will replicate in the present day (see Israel-Palestine and the strange marriage between fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist Israeli Jews and it's violence against the Palestinians that I’ve written about here as evidence of that claim).
Unless resolved, individual and collective trauma will keep coming forward in an unconscious attempt to heal itself but in an unconscious shadow form and consequently it will only cause further harm. It’s for this reason that St. Just defines trauma as a fractal replicating through time and space. Therefore healing trauma means “closing the loop”, finally facing and resolving the original replicating itself over generations whether on a family level, a community level, ethnic level, a national level, or even the collective human levels.
In the interview with Jeffrey Mishlove, St. Just talks about Hellinger’s distinction between victimization and victim consciousness which is directly relevant here. Victimization is the bare fact of people being unjustly and cruelly hurt. Some of those victims are themselves perpetrators in other contexts, others are not. But the brute fact of victimization is very real.
Victim consciousness, on the other hand, is identification through victimhood rather than transformation of the energy of victimization into power. The lack of transformation from victimization into healing leads to the perpetrator-victim subtle entanglement. It also can create a sense of self-righteousness in the victim. This consciousness becomes an identity that becomes unquestioned and unable to be criticized.
Victim consciousness is a perfect description of stuck stage 2 dynamics—of a partial though incomplete and ultimately failed initiation. Recall that a person in stage 1 largely stays lost in the haze of addiction, PTSD, dissociation, and numbness. It’s largely in stage 2—which again is a step in the right direction as compared to stage 1 addiction/dissociation—that an individual or a group can get stuck in victim consciousness because it's in stage 2 that they really start to grapple with the nature of what has occurred. As St. Just explicitly states, those that stay stuck in victim consciousness are much more likely to seek out revenge and become themselves perpetrators in other contexts. The Asia Argento example cited earlier would be an illustration of that dynamic. The Aziz Ansari case would be another.
In the previous piece I covered how the Men’s Rights Activist group stayed stuck in stage 2. The Men’s Rights Activist movement therefore has revealed all the negative tendencies St. Just mentions of victim consciousness: self-righteous victim identity justifying unjustifiable behavior, revenge seeking, victims become perpetrators, and so on.
The more publicly known #metoo movement, in the larger scheme, shows many of these problems associated with victim consciousness and remaining stuck in the stage 2 and therefore failing to complete the initiation. As a consequence, the victim-perpetrator dynamic will continue.
As detailed elsewhere on the site, particularly through the excellent research of Andrea Nagle, the alt-right is the weird stepchild of the social justice warrior movement. It’s a very odd and disturbing though predictable process in reverse here: namely that the Men’s Rights Activist gave birth to the #metoo movement—with Men’s Rights Activists themselves being the strange offspring of earlier forms of radical feminism.
The Men’s Rights Activists showed that an online, stage 2, incomplete initiatory movement around sex, gender, and victimization could become really powerful in society. It further showed that by claiming victim consciousness it could make itself immune from healthy critique and foster a poisonous climate that would seek to expel it’s trauma by projecting it onto the other (in that case women). The #metoo movement has expressed many of the same tendencies sadly. It’s not as deeply dug in at this point as arguably the MRA position is but all the warnings signs are there. The social purity tests, call out practice, shut down culture, misuse of triggering, dominating the cultural left at the moment—including #metoo but also within the wider SJW world—are all signs of a failed initiatory, stage 2 dynamic. They are all symptoms of the underlying disease among #metoo and the SJWs (as well as the alt-right & MRAs) of victim consciousness.
Neither the MRAs nor the #metoo advocates would want to acknowledge that they created each other and are inextricably woven into each other and that neither side can move forward until they do so together but that is the implication of Hellinger and St. Just’s understanding of subtle entanglements. As St. Just says there is a strange soul-level love often at play between victim and perpetrator (remembering that, depending on context, one can be both simultaneously). The MRAs and the #metoo are both victims and perpetrators in various contexts and they have a strange deep mutual allurement on a subtle level that is obvious when one looks at the constant warfare and attachment to each other that both sides exhibit. Neither side can move forward without the other. Until then they will continue to war with each other and replicate this cycle of trauma over and over again.
* Hellinger was also strongly influenced by a number of Western psychoanalytic traditions, e.g. Transactional Analysis.