In the aftermath of the Kavanaugh hearings, Pieter Hanson’s mother took to Twitter. In a viral tweet, she claimed that he wouldn’t go on solo dates with women because of “the current climate of false sexual accusations by radical feminists with an axe to grind.”
She then ended the tweet with #HimToo, a hashtag that gained popularity over the weekend among those who believe that men such as Brett Kavanaugh are victims of false accusations.
There was just one issue: Her son didn’t agree with the #HimToo movement.
The Internet exploded with support for Hanson after he rebuked his mother’s tweet in a post of his own. In the countertweet, he wrote, “I respect and #BelieveWomen” and added that his mother had been misguided.
The hashtag #HimToo also exploded, on both the left and the right sides of the political Twittersphere. Now, both sides are battling to control the narrative surrounding sexual abuse allegations using the same hashtag.
#HimToo is just the latest trend in the social media political battle, but it illustrates how the meaning of a single hashtag can be twisted to control the narrative.
The history of #HimToo
Long before Pieter Hanson charmed the Internet, #HimToo had a rich history of use along both party lines. It was first used before the 2016 presidential election in conjunction with the #I’mWithHer rallying cry of Clinton supporters to also express support for Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine.
Then, #HimToo was picked up by Trump supporters. Along with cries of #LockHerUp came #HimToo in reference to those surrounding Hillary Clinton, such as Barack Obama.
#MeToo and #HimToo
However, when the #MeToo movement started last year, #HimToo took on a new meaning, relating not just to politics but to sexual assault experiences as well. Some used the hashtag as a way to deliberately point out male victims of sexual assault and abuse or share their stories.
Other #MeToo activists used the hashtag as a way to point out bad behaviors of men and hold them accountable.
Author Christopher Golden cites #MeToo as the direct reason for his own 2017 #HimToo Facebook post in which he admits fault in some of his past behavior toward women.
“It seemed to me that there’s no solution to the problem without the participation of men, the acceptance that most men have behaved badly toward women at some point in their lives,” he said. “I wanted men to actually talk about their personal behavior toward women.”
How the Kavanaugh hearings popularized #HimToo
#HimToo enjoyed modest usage on the Internet, going relatively unnoticed next to more popular, recognizable hashtags, until the Kavanaugh hearings kicked off last week. In the latest revival and reuse of the hashtag, it’s the men who are victims.
Supporters of Kavanaugh started posting #HimToo to paint him as a victim of false allegations and used the hashtag to point out the larger problem of innocent men being accused of sexual crimes they didn’t commit in the age of #MeToo.
One #HimToo supporter, Joe Chadwick, from Clearwater, Minn., told NPR he promotes #HimToo not as an attempt to discredit Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault, but as a way to point out the need for fairness in sexual assault hearings. Kavanaugh is a victim, Chadwick said, because of the way in which he was treated as guilty from the get-go.
“I’m not really sure there’s a middle ground,” he said. “That’s the way our legal system works — innocent until proven guilty. I’d rather have one guilty guy go free than one innocent man be locked up. There has to be a presumption of innocence. It doesn’t mean you don’t believe the accuser or that she’s lying about it; it just means that without corroborative evidence, the benefit of the doubt goes to the accused.”
He called today’s climate for men an age of “sexual McCarthyism” in which women seem to be given the monopoly on morality and trustworthiness.
Kaya Jones, a singer from Los Angeles who has also been a victim of abuse, agrees that women should not automatically be believed. In terms of the Kavanaugh hearings, she was undecided about whether Ford was telling the truth.
“We don’t know because she didn’t use the appropriate avenues for redress,” Jones said. “I’m a firm believer in speaking out. But you cannot ruin someone’s life on an ‘if’; be certain or don’t [make] any accusations.”
In the end, Jones posted in support of Kavanaugh because she felt that Ford had turned into a political pawn for those who opposed his nomination to the Supreme Court.
#MeToo allows false claims
The #HimToo movement in support of Kavanaugh has been, in some ways, the antithesis to #MeToo and #BelieveHer. Kaitlin Bennett, a conservative activist from Ohio who posted about #HimToo, believes #MeToo has had unfortunate side effects.
“#MeToo gave way to allow women to come out and make false claims,” she said. “This stuff does ruin people’s lives. I think the #HimToo is reminding people that while women have been so propped up in media and that’s important, we also can forget about the men who are falsely accused.”
Another #HimToo supporter, Kimberly Meyer of Barrington, Ill., said that she believes #MeToo is overrated and obscures instances in which women behave badly.
“Sometimes the women are aggressors. They go into situations with powerful men and they’re the ones instigating the problem; they’ll intentionally dress sexual,” she said. “It’s men’s turn to speak up.”
Men who support the #HimToo movement will have a chance to speak up in person at an upcoming rally in Portland, Ore., on Nov. 17. The rally is being organized by Portland resident Haley Adams and will feature different conservative speakers. Adams firmly believes that #HimToo is not in opposition to #MeToo but rather seeks to support men as well as women.
“Men too can be abused; men too can be lied about. #HimToo has nothing to do with politics, it’s about supporting men too,” she said. “There’s a war on men. Men are at risk today. I would not want to be a male today because of what’s going on. They’re being falsely accused, slandered, attacked and harassed at their homes.”
She cited Kavanaugh as an example, saying that his hearing was part of her inspiration for organizing the rally.
It wasn’t long, however, before the trolls came out to play. #MeToo activists on the left saw the viral tweet of Pieter Hanson’s mother and soon began to mock #HimToo with humorous versions of her original post.
Liberal activist Molly Jong-Fast of New York City was among the first — and loudest — trollers, posting numerous iterations of #HimToo mock tweets, such as ones that used photos of Donald Trump Jr.
For Jong-Fast, these types of tweets are her way of fighting against what she calls “misinformation” and reclaiming the narrative.
“The #HimToo hashtag is a larger way for Republicans to change the narrative, take the attention, and make it about white male oppression. It’s Tucker Carlsonism as a hashtag,” she said. “We’re often sort of fighting against these larger talking points.”
She said she felt that the #HimToo hashtag came across as entitled. Her decision to use Donald Trump Jr. as the photo for her mock tweets comes from Trump Jr.’s past appropriation of #MeToo into joke posts.
Qasim Rashid, of Washington D.C., also felt that #HimToo attempted to take attention away from women and survivors. He said he had never felt at risk of being falsely accused and that the bigger issue is sexual abuse against both men and women.
“It’s not hard not to be at risk,” he said. “I was raised in an environment to treat all people with respect and not do anything without consent.”
For some of the joke posters, the humor was not only used to disarm opposing arguments but also to help process their own anger and sadness following the Kavanaugh hearings. Charlotte Clymer, of Washington D.C., said she was filled with rage after seeing the way the Kavanaugh hearings were handled. As a survivor herself, her takeaway from the hearings was that boys and men are held to a lower standard, while survivors are often silenced, targeted and shamed, she said.
“It was a s***** experience,” she said. “Laughter is the best medicine and I think all of us felt a bit better laughing about all of it.”
She also said that she enjoyed Hanson’s response to his mother’s tweet, calling it the best part of her week.
“Last night was a momentary reprieve from the pain, but it doesn’t fix anything,” she said.
“The oppressor cannot be the victim”
Not all the responses were as humorous. Nicole Torres, of Chicago, posted about how #HimToo missed the point of the #MeToo movement. “The oppressor cannot be the victim,” she wrote, and she compared #HimToo to #AllLivesMatter, saying that they were both useless hashtags.
“I abhor women who would use false allegations against a man, and it is valid, and it does happen,” she said. “But #HimToo is trying to dismiss #MeToo. They will do anything to dismiss the female voice.”
The various uses of #HimToo are not something that Golden predicted when he originally posted the hashtag last year. “Hashtags can be as harmful as they are helpful,” he said. “Sometimes they start a real, productive dialogue, but it has to go further than that.”
In this case, #HimToo has seemingly blossomed into a movement, taking on a life of its own.