British actor and 2018 "sexiest man alive" Idris Elba recently told The Sunday Times that the #MeToo movement is "only difficult if you're a man with something to hide." Vanity Fair contrasted Elba's uncompromising stance with remarks made by Matt Damon and Henry Cavill, who both had to walk back their criticisms of #MeToo's potential excesses and their perceived sympathy for accused men.
Valerie Jarrett and Shonda Rhimes tweeted praise for Elba. Essence said his answer was "perfect."
Is #MeToo only a problem for men who have something to hide? I doubt Aziz Ansari—who was smeared in the pages of babe.net because of a bad date involving some misinterpreted cues—would agree. Or Stephen Henderson, the first black editor of The Detroit Free Press' opinion pages, who lost his job for vaguely-defined inappropriate behavior that had generated zero complaints. (My colleague Shikha Dalmia called this a clear case of #MeToo run amok.)
Then there are various male college students, often blacks or immigrants, who were accused of sexual misconduct and faced unfair adjudicative procedures at the hands of Title IX bureaucrats. To take just one example: I recently covered the case of a UC-Davis student who incurred $12,000 in legal fees—almost a full year of tuition—defending himself against an unfounded accusation. This young man had absolutely nothing to hide. That didn't make him any less vulnerable.
Elba's comment mirrors language we often hear from conservatives who defend the national security state, the TSA, the PATRIOT Act, and other incursions on civil liberties: You have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide. It's an attempt to shut down legitimate criticism of well-intended but recklessly illiberal policies by making it seem like the only reason to oppose them is fear of getting caught. In reality, there are many reasons to oppose these policies: They violate the law, they are draconian, they ensnare the innocent, they are more likely to negatively impact marginalized communities, etc.
The #MeToo movement isn't the government, and mere social stigma does not carry the force of the law. But it's myopic to write off all criticism of it as warped self-preservation. Even Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has chided some unfair provisions of college Title IX trials. No one should be asking, Well, what's she got to hide?