Imogen Grace is an actor and screenwriter based in Toronto, and the co-founder of a women-in-film initiative, The Bechdel Bill.
There is a resounding chorus praising the downfall of sexual predators, while at the same time whispers of worry that this whole thing will just go too far. With every new uncovering of misconduct, our fears get dug further in: If we continue to believe women unchecked and fire men over every accusation, don't we risk regressing into a frigid, sexless culture that demonizes sex in any form?
We imagine chaos, delivering this current unfolding of events to its worst possible conclusion, spiralling into a symphony of what-ifs:
Men will be spineless "cucks," shame-ridden and sexually vilified, hoisted upon a stake for every squalid sexual whim. They will fear repercussions for an innocent touch on the shoulder, or the cracking of a joke. Good men will fall. In fact the better the man, the more severe the consequences to rain down upon him.
Women will remain in a constant state of victimhood, concocting false sexual crimes to get vengeance for personal vendettas. They will be at once meek victims and witchy revenge-seekers. "Huntresses" on the prowl for their next mammoth beast of prey, and yet also infantilized victims with no facility to make their own choices.
Perhaps childbearing itself will be at risk? With the deterioration of consenting sexual relationships, all pregnancies will be government-mandated and conceived solely through a series of tubes and syringes.
Repression. Totalitarianism. Censorship. It will be like an Atwoodian dystopia of sanitized, prescribed sexual obligations; all fully clothed. Sexual consent will be required to be notarized and in writing, and all forms of humour – sexual or otherwise – will be prohibited.
This vision is extreme, to be sure, but not one to which we are immune. And that's because it so easily derails us from the task of reckoning our own messy reality. It is much easier to buy into these theatrical threats of doom and social chaos than it is to confront how we've profited from it, or closed our eyes to it. It's certainly easier than figuring out how to make it better.
When we profess that this current moment in history is delivering us to the grim future painted above, it gives us permission to sink back in futility, assuming the world as we know it is a better option – assuming we have something worth protecting. But this line of thinking leaves out the uncomfortable truth that for many, the world as we know it already feels like a worst-case scenario.
Then it bears asking why we are so quick to defend a culture that is so willing to place ratings over morals. That places men's right to unbridled "courtship" above women's right to not be propositioned – or worse – at every turn. We fear regressing into an anti-freedom, anti-sex society while ignoring that we currently exist in a society that is apathetic to its own toxicity and abuse. For many women the sex they want is ruined by the sex they never asked for. For many men they believe their only known path to sex is through power, or vice versa. And dare we ask how we've arrived at a place where we so easily conflate flirting and abuse, consent and rape, in the first place?
I reject, as evidently many women do, continuing to live like this. I also reject that it is a moral panic, because I don't think that reasoning is going to do us any good. However it should also be made clear that even I – staunch feminist and believer of women – don't want to live in that imagined future of scared men and frigid women, either. It doesn't sound like any fun at all.
So it's time to imagine what my mother calls "Anne's famous third option" when she is presented with two choices she doesn't like. That is to say: a better possible world. One of mutual respect, boundaries, open dialogue and yes – when it's called for – justice. Let's not distract ourselves from creating it.
I promise – sex, flirting, and everything else will be a whole lot better in that world.