Anna van den Bergh on #MeToo in the Netherlands
I n an October 2017 opinion piece published by Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant, historian Daniela Hooghiemstra spills her tea on #MeToo and its manifestations in our national context, and, really, it is anything but sweet. From its title— calling the movement “humorless and one-dimensionally puritanical”—to its conclusions—‘women who take issue with men’s aggressive advances should instead be celebrating the fact that they have led our lives to be so much more exciting than those of our elders’—Hooghiemstra’s editorial exhibits the unsubtle art of not knowing what on earth you’re talking about. Take her comments on the by now notorious ‘grey zone’ of sexual harassment (courtesy of Aziz Ansari). Hooghiemstra, like a number of French divas, seems to believe that the ‘desert of the unknown’ spanning “demonstrable violence and innocent flirting”—rather than inciting men, above all, to radically rethink what are often toxic approaches to sex and sexuality—calls on women and women alone to practice “vigilance, wisdom, and robustness” in the face of so much clumsiness! Silly, I sometimes seem to forget that it’s women’s duty not to spoil the fun.
While reports of sexual assault have surged drastically since the hashtag reached our nation, actions to counter this ‘lawless witch-hunt’ are mushrooming at an equally steady pace.
The Dutch have never been known for their finesse or flexibility, and it is typically in the face of looming changes to the status quo that our lion rears its ugly head in a scramble to ‘preserve our most cherished traditions.’ The shameful display of blackface during the annual holiday of Sinterklaas is but one infamous example, and those who keep up with Dutch news will know the extent to which even the slightest modification of Zwarte Piet’s appearance has been the cause of nationwide outcry. The #MeToo movement has, in a similar fashion, opened a crack in a door many would rather see closed, and while reports of sexual assault have surged drastically since the hashtag reached our nation, actions to counter this ‘lawless witch-hunt’ are mushrooming at an equally steady pace. At the core of these urges to seal and contain, I think, is an ill-conceived but no less deepseated notion that The Netherlands is doing enough already for the battered and the beaten, enough for those who elsewhere have it worse. Weren’t we the first to legalize same-sex marriage? To decriminalize marijuana? To institutionalize universal health care? To regulate prostitution? Shut up and dance.
Cognitive dissonance is a powerful psychological weapon against the sea change that is on the horizon. And while the Dutch have fought many a war on water, some battles cannot be waged with physical force alone. So beckons the wavy current of introspection, blurring the contours of our reflection while we keep dark thoughts at bay. Hooghiemstra et alia can keep pouring her bland brand of tea, but this ocean travels long and far. A sea change is on the horizon.
- Aantal meldingen seksueel geweld verdubbeld sinds #metoo (Nederlandse Omroep Stichting [NOS]), Nov. 15, 2017: https:// nos.nl/artikel/2202991-aantal-meldingen-seksueel-geweld-verdubbeld-sinds-metoo.html, accessed Feb. 01, 2017.
- Daniela Hooghiemstra, Opinie: #MeToo kenmerkt zich door een humorloos, eendimensionaal puritanisme, (De Volkskrant), Oct. 23, 2017: https://www.volkskrant.nl/opinie/opinie-metoo-kenmerkt-zich-door-een-humorlooseendimensionaal-puritanisme~a4523036/, accessed Feb. 01, 2018.