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It's OK to criticize the #MeToo movement (opinion)

Updated 1:08 PM ET, Sun April 15, 2018

Editor's Note: Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN) - Self-help celebrity Tony Robbins got himself into hot water last week when he suggested that many women speaking out as part of the #MeToo movement are taking advantage of the instant attention and, in doing so, turning victimhood into personal gain.

"If you use the #MeToo movement to try to get significance and certainty by attacking and destroying someone else, you haven't grown an ounce," Robbins told a crowd gathered at a self-help seminar in San Jose. "All you've done is basically use a drug called significance to make yourself feel good."

Not at all surprisingly, women around the world -- including the founder of the movement, Tarana Burke -- accused Robbins of misinterpretation, misogyny and being part of the reason such a movement is justified in the first place.

He's certainly not the first to criticize the movement, nor will he be the last: This week, designer Karl Lagerfeld said he, too, is "fed up" with #MeToo, noting that, "If you don't want your pants pulled about then don't become a model!"

But as others who have come before them have proven, including Liam Neeson and Matt Damon -- two celebrities who found themselves under attack after expressing misgivings about the movement -- challengers to #MeToo do so at their own risk.

And yet, is Robbins wrong?

Let's take a look.

Plenty of brands have swiftly moved to capitalize on #MeToo's momentum and message, including makeup brand Hard Candy, which applied to trademark #MeToo, as well as a Virginia law firm. To say that people aren't taking advantage of the #MeToo movement would be false. So would saying that people, even women, aren't uneasy about it.

In fact, one of Robbins' alleged offenses was in pointing out the flaws in the movement by suggesting that #MeToo has caused attractive women to be shunned by employers. Except there's evidence to back that up, too.

In January, the Miami Herald reported that female staffers and lobbyists have found that male legislators will no longer meet with them in person. In March, the Harvard Business Review reported that many men in finance have begun avoiding hiring, or managing, women.

What's more, one could argue that Robbins was simply speaking his truth, and what else can we expect from a man who's made a living (and a very good one -- Forbes has estimated his net worth as close to $500 million) as a self-help guru? His career has been built on telling people to take control of their power and individuality.

Of course, Robbins' instinct would be to discourage people from joining a movement that is inherently made up of victims, or at least to ask people to be sure their intentions are pure. And the fact is that #MeToo, even at its best, is about finding significance.

What the pushback surrounding Robbins' discussion of the growing backlash of the movement makes clear, however, is that #MeToo's work is far from done -- unless, of course, its point is to get people to stop talking about the issues surrounding male and female behavior entirely. Robbins ultimately came out with an apology, because what else was he supposed to do? But silencing discussion is not what leads to change. In fact, it only leads to more, and bigger, problems.

The vast majority of people who believe in or take part in #MeToo are doing it for the right reasons. And we shouldn't let Robbins' comments take away from the meaning and intent of the movement.

But it's OK to be skeptical of a movement. A good movement will stand up to those criticisms and be stronger for it. Which is why we should perhaps be thanking Robbins, and anyone else who comes along expressing reservations about either #MeToo or how people are interpreting it. Discussion will be vital to really enacting change. And so will listening -- even, perhaps especially, to opinions with which we disagree.


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