Has the #MeToo Movement gone too far?

Harris Sultan

I don’t usually write about this but it is kind of getting out of hand.

Some days a man is a creep, the other days he is a champion. We flirt and there is nothing wrong in flirting. Sometimes it can end up coming off as a bit weird, the other times, “great, you are a champ!”.

For every successful romantic relationship, there is a man (or a woman) who decided to flirt with his/her prospective romantic interest. Some people are socially awkward, in fact, everyone is at some stage in his or her romantic careers. It’s a work in progress, you learn how to say "hello" to a girl in light of your previous awkward interactions. There are no born great “flirters” out there. In fact, if a guy is a bit clumsy in his effort to flirt, then it probably shows he hasn’t spent much time practising it. In every walk of life, we hear from people “There are no bad experiences, there are only lessons to learn”, yet in a person’s quest to seek a romantic partner, you get branded either as a creep (if you fail) or a champion (if you succeed). The middle ground is diminishing quickly in this area of human behaviour.

In light of the recent accusation against Dr Neil De Grasse Tyson, my favourite astrophysicist, the first accusation of whatever that is, is absolutely horrible. Tyson is being painted as some sort of a predator for simply touching a person while inspecting her tattoo, not in any private part or at an intimate place. He clumsily, touched her arm possibly genuinely wanting to inspect the tattoo of a solar system. I think if I had approached Tyson and had he seen my tattoo of a solar system somewhere on my body, he might have acted in the same manner but no one (including myself) would have accused him of being “weird” or predatory. If you are too reserved and afraid of being labelled as a creep, you are likely to miss out on the opportunities to find a romantic partner but will be safe from any accusations. On the other hand, if you are too forward, you are going to get a lot of romantic partners but at the same time open yourself up for accusations like a creep, playboy, womaniser etc. Ask yourself honestly, all the men you know, the ones who are more successful in finding girls are somewhat risk takers, bold and forward and all the men you know who complain about not getting any girls, play it safe, stand away quietly in a corner and never talk to a girl.

In my teenage years, I was also, probably still am, very shy, playing it safe and being terrified of speaking to a girl in a flirty manner. I would never give any hint to a girl that I am interested in her in any shape or form but I was also a boy, a teenage boy. I remember how I once awkwardly asked a girl whom I worked with “The new Harry Potter movie is out, would you like to watch it with me?”. She said, “Ahhh, no, I think I will be all right.” This was a response I was dreading and probably knew I would get. I said, “Ok, yeah, are you sure?”. “Yes, very sure” she replied. You might say nothing wrong with that, you asked, she said, no, end of story. But I am sure if I met her today, she would explain that interaction as very creepy and uncomfortable because I did ask her out of nowhere. Up until that point, we had little casual work-related talks but nothing serious. She must have been taken aback by my request. Perhaps, my game was weak, if I had become a good friend with her and then asked her, I might have had a better luck but you never know because I might have “friend zoned” myself. It’s a slippery slope and hard work that often gets downplayed.

I had a couple of other really awkward experiences after that as well. Perhaps, one day I’ll write about them in detail. Now, imagine if I was really famous and this girl, let’s name her “C”, came out and explained this interaction. It would have absolutely destroyed my reputation and my image in the eyes of those who follow my work. Not only that, imagine this information in the hands of those who criticise me for my atheist writing. “Look, this is where atheism takes you, totally immoral lifestyles!” “Harris Sultan is a creep, why would you take anything he says about religion, seriously?” I can think of tens of other similar statements but I don’t want to give them ideas.

I met my partner when I was 24, that interaction is very weird on its own as well. I was still shy, afraid of talking to girls and asking them out. My partner, Annette, was (still is) the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. I met her on a film set where we were both working as extras. Her being as beautiful as she was, I only talked about her with my best friend, Michael but didn’t even think of approaching her. I thought she was way out of my league so better not embarrass myself. My friend Michael was (still is) very handsome and I told him to go talk to her for himself. He tried and failed miserably (his interaction might have looked very creepy as well but on any other woman on another day it might have worked). Totally unknown to me at that point, Annette was constantly trying to flirt with me. I was either refusing to believe it or simply not seeing it. She even sat next to me so close that her arm was rubbing against my arm. I noticed and moved away thinking maybe I am getting too close. Later that night, all of us actors went to a restaurant for dinner. Annette sat very next to me, again in my mind I thought it must be a coincidence and discouraged myself for thinking anything else. At some point, I got up and went to a unisex bathroom to wash my hands. Annette also followed me into the bathroom under the guise of washing her hands. “When you saw me, you ran away like a kid” were her words later on. As soon as I saw her, I did run away and didn’t want to be caught in an awkward position.

A few weeks later, we went to a wrap-up party of the film we were working in. Annette was flirting with me all night, I was now thinking the unthinkable, “maybe she does like me”. My friend Michael was being hit on by a couple of gay guys and I didn’t get a chance to share my observations with him. There was one more very nice looking young guy, hitting on Annette as well. He was handsome, very pretty in the face and hence I thought, “walk away Harry, you’ve got no chance!” To remove myself from the situation, I told Annette “I’m out of cigarettes, I’m gonna go look for a service station” and just when I was about to walk away, I mustered up all the courage and thought "just add one more line Harry" and said “you can come with me if you like!” All of my past experiences flashed before my eyes in that microsecond, thinking in my head here we go again, I’m gonna embarrass myself yet again and she would say “No, I’m ok, you go” but to my surprise she said “Sure, I’m out of cigarettes too, I’ll come with you”. The look on the other guy’s face was of total disbelief. The look on my face was even more of a disbelief but I took it. We went out, exchanged a few words. Now in my head, I am still thinking maybe she is being friendly, maybe she wanted to get out to get some air but I was getting some messages from her hinting that she really liked me. Nobody says, “kiss me” or at least not as often as we would like it to be. At some point in my mind, I said "screw it, go for it" and I grabbed her and kissed her. She responded positively and the rest is history, in fact, an 11-year-old history on the 8th of December.

I often wonder what would have happened had I not added that extra line “you can come with me if you like”. I might have never seen her again and probably still been a single man or maybe I would have learnt from that experience and been more confident in my future interactions with women. It could have also gone the other way, she could have slapped me and said: “I thought you were a nice guy, I was just being friendly with you”. The truth is, I would have never known until I tried. We observe, we try, we fail, we learn and we excel. If I was too afraid of being called a creep, I would have never tried and if I had not grabbed her and taken my chance, I would have missed out on the beautiful life we have been living together. Of course, later on, we spoke about our whole “hook up” incident in great detail and she told me she had been purposefully flirting with me the whole time but I wasn't seeing it. Oh, let’s not forget Michael, he was being hit on by those two gay men, they even grabbed his private part but he ran away with his dignity a little dented but mostly intact.

I have come a long way since my awkward teenage and early twenties days. Anyone who knows me personally would tell you Harris likes to wear nice shirts, jackets and shoes. Perhaps because I am not looking for any romantic partners, I confidently speak with women. I often get compliments like "You look very handsome", "that's a very nice shirt", "what perfume is this, you smell divine". Regardless of the intent, I always take these compliments as just compliments, not some attempt of seducing me (even though that might be a distant possibility). I am confident in my approach and know what I want, other people can't influence me. I must add, I have however become a little careful as my profile rises. I am conscious of keeping my distance from strangers. I was in Sydney for a debate three months ago and a young university student approached me and tried to hug me. In my olden days, I would have hugged her like I normally would but I felt a little paranoid and made sure I don't touch her. How do you hug and not touch? Well, I made sure my lower part of the body is as far as possible. My hands didn't touch her back either, to be honest, it was a weird hug. The poor girl must have thought what a weird man.

The second accusation against Neil De Grasse Tyson is of a creep because he apparently attempted to seduce her. The only wrong thing Tyson is guilty of here, is attempting to seduce a girl when he is married. That’s no crime but it is something he needs to explain to his wife. That’s it!

There is absolutely nothing criminal in asking a woman to come in, play some romantic music, putting on a singlet showing his physique and sitting across the table from her and making some flirty comments. Again, the only thing Tyson should be criticised of here, is being disloyal to his wife, not of being a creep.

There are real, legitimate victims of sexual harassment from their bosses. The name, Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, are the first names that come to mind. They purposefully used their power positions to coerce women into sexual relationships with them but let’s not look at Tyson’s interaction in the same manner. He probably did want to seduce her and here he is now trying to say he wasn’t when he should come clean and say “So what, I was trying to have sex with her” but that is not gonna go too well with his wife. This is the only dilemma in his situation. He can't say that openly because it shows his infidelity. The question of him being a creep shouldn’t even arise. Had he been successful in seducing her, we might have never heard of it.

The third incident is another dubious one. That would need a proper criminal investigation and we should refrain from calling someone a rapist until there is beyond reasonable doubt that he indeed, raped that woman.

I didn’t write this whole article to somehow defend creeps or rapists but I wrote it to talk about these issues seriously. We have created a world where any fair criticism on religion can get you on the wrong side of the left. You can easily be called a bigot for criticising a religion. This has given rise to hardcore right-wingers who are genuinely Muslimophobes. Now, we are creating a world where mild, innocent attempts to finding a romantic partner can get you on the wrong side of the #MeToo movement. You can easily be called a creep, misogynist and even a rapist. This is giving rise to unnecessary movements like Men’s rights activism. This will undermine the plight of real victims of sexual harassment and assault. Let’s not fuck it up again! Let’s be fair and be reasonable. Everything we have seen so far in the case of Neil De Grasse Tyson is totally unfair on him. In my honest assessment (in light of what information we have available) he was unfairly called a creep for inspecting a tattoo, fairly called a seducer but unfairly called a creep for attempting to hit on his assistant and very unfairly judged as a rapist in the case of his college days interaction with a certain woman.