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A Year Later, Americans Are Deeply Divided Over The #MeToo Movement


It's been one year since allegations of sexual misconduct began pouring out against Hollywood power player Harvey Weinstein, which of course led to the toppling of hundreds more prominent men around the country. Well, a new NPR-Ipsos poll out today shows a significant backlash against the #MeToo movement. Americans are deeply divided on the subject and largely along partisan lines. As NPR's Tovia Smith reports, more than 40 percent say the movement has gone too far.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: After a year of intense focus on sexual misconduct, Americans remain deeply divided even on what sexual harassment means.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Well, I would say sexual advances.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Especially repeated.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Any type of grabbing.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Being initiated by the man.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Anything that's uncomfortable.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Words, insinuations.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: That is tough.

SMITH: Overall, half those surveyed say they're unclear.

ERIC SAVIGNANO: I mean, is it looking at a girl for more than three seconds?

SMITH: Forty-nine-year-old Eric Savignano from Pennsylvania says that's how a company he works for draws the line.

SAVIGNANO: I have to sign a piece of paper that says I have to follow all these rules. One of the rules is you can't look at a member of the opposite sex for more than three seconds. What? So I don't offend someone? That makes no sense to me.

SMITH: Overall, 43 percent think the #MeToo movement has gone too far, encouraging an oversensitivity, for example, or a rush to judgment. That includes one quarter of Democrats versus three quarters of Republicans.

CAROLYN RICKETTS: Oh, yes, yes, definitely.

SMITH: Carol Ricketts, a 74-year-old Republican from California, is among those who say the benefit of the doubt in cases like this should not go to alleged victims.

RICKETTS: I would be tempted, I guess, as a woman to believe a woman. But to see that, you know, justice is done, you can't. There is two sides to every story.

SMITH: Throughout our poll, party drives opinions more than gender, which doesn't surprise Clara Wilkins, a social psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis.

CLARA WILKINS: According to our research, it's sort of the way things work. When there's sort of a conflict between gender and party, party wins.

SMITH: That's especially true, Wilkins says, for those with a strong conservative ideology.

WILKINS: They're more likely to think that gains for women are losses for men. And so conservative women are more likely to think that maybe men in their life are going to be hurt by the #MeToo movement or change in general.

SMITH: Indeed our poll shows nearly twice as many Republican women as Democratic women worry that a man they care about will be unfairly accused.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's a very scary time for young men in America.

SMITH: The fear's been stoked by President Trump since the debate over now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh...


TRUMP: You are truly guilty until proven innocent.

SMITH: ...And it's fueling a countermovement, #HimToo, for those who say they've been wrongly accused. Our poll suggests most Americans are still unfamiliar with #HimToo, but men and Republicans especially are paying attention.

NATE JUREWICZ: Just in the last two weeks, we grew to 15,000 likes.

SMITH: Republican Nate Jurewicz founded a #HimToo Facebook page that's full of slogans like, no man is safe, and memes mocking #MeToo like one cartoon showing Jill accusing Jack of pushing her down the hill. But Jurewicz insists he doesn't mean to oppose #MeToo. He just wants to give voice to another sort of victim.

JUREWICZ: We have females that come forward and make false allegations, jumping on the #MeToo bandwagon, and it's ruined a lot of guys' lives. And they're now - just as brave of them to come forward.

SMITH: On the question of false allegations, our poll shows 77 percent of Republicans believe they're common, but most Democrats disagree.

DEBRA KATZ: Those talking points are being used to discredit women and to weaponize this issue just simply for partisan gain.

SMITH: Attorney Debra Katz says she ran straight into it when she represented Kavanaugh's accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.

KATZ: We have the president deliberately muddying the facts to confuse people, in that way giving people a pass for engaging in the behavior. And it's dangerous.

SMITH: Ultimately, Katz says, the backlash will fade with time. The NPR-Ipsos poll does show much more consensus among young people. Fewer of those under 35 believe that #MeToo has gone too far. Fewer say they would ever consider voting for a political candidate accused of sexual misconduct. And more young people say they're clear on what sexual misconduct actually means. For the next generation, our poll suggest the issue of sexual misconduct more often transcends party lines. Tovia Smith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR National Correspondent based in Boston, who's spent more than three decades covering news around New England and beyond.