The Guardian, by Suzanne Moore
One of my recent donations to a crowdfunding page was in memory of a friend’s spouse for research into a rare form of cancer. Another was to keep a local community centre going, and a third to help someone with huge medical bills in the United States after an accident.
I am not here to talk about my altruism, but to explain how I and many others treat crowdsourcing. The fact that Alex Salmond, the former leader of the Scottish National party, is using crowdfunding to pay his legal costs for a judicial review into the Scottish government’s handling of sexual harassment claims against him, is somewhat gobsmacking.
Salmond is of course innocent until proven guilty, and has quit the SNP to fight his cause. There will be a police investigation into the allegations. As soon as he asked for support – he originally sought £50,000 – his supporters raised £63,000 within a few hours, and at the time of writing the total had passed £76,000. Many of his supporters claim this is a smear campaign run by Westminster to undermine Scottish independence.
I am a longtime and staunch supporter of Scottish independence (you can check my record) but all of this leaves an extremely nasty taste in the mouth. Allegations of sexual harassment are serious and need to be dealt with by due process. Again, I presume Salmond’s innocence, but wonder why this wealthy man (he makes a lot of money from his Kremlin-backed RT show,among other things) must use crowdfunding to clear his name.
Some of the fallout generally from the #MeToo movement has revealed a dazed and confused response to individuals. There is legal process but narratives of redemption and forgiveness are also interwoven, which many of us feel can be deeply inappropriate.
Money, of course, talks and it also protects. I am relieved to see that Jennifer Lawrence, whose nude photos were leaked in 2014, way before the #MeToo movement, has finally got some justice. George Garofano, one of the men who hacked Lawrence and several other stars, was given eight months in prison with three years of supervised release. Garofano pleaded for a lesser sentence, saying: “It will take me a while to forgive myself for this, and I am disappointed in myself.” His brother claimed that Garofano had been in “emotional prison”. Right. Remind me who the victim is here? At the time Lawrence was only 24 but incredibly lucid. She said that this was a “sexual crime “ and “a violation” and she spoke out passionately about it.
Since #MeToo started we have seen momentum gather but then falter. Many were surprised to see Louis CK pop into a comedy club in New York to do an unannounced set, less than a year after admitting to masturbating in front of women he worked with.
He received a standing ovation. This comedian, known for his “honesty” and confrontation with complex realities, has yet to explain how he and his team spent more than a decade quashing stories of his sexual misconduct. Is 10 months of an extremely wealthy man’s silence enough? Who gets to forgive him? His fans? Who still suffers the damage? The women whose careers he most certainly undermined?
I am not suggesting Salmond did anything remotely like this, but surely it is perfectly possible to support Scottish independence and let the Scottish government do its work. What does this crowdfunding exercise convey to women who have endured sexual harassment, I wonder? Crowdfund your legal fees against well-known rich men or forget it?
This is a strange place to be in at the moment, with different causes jostling for priority. But one thing is clear. Salmond, innocent or guilty, is signalling his power in a way I find deeply worrying. The message being sent out to women is that if you make accusations you will be up against enormous power and wealth.
Lawrence had enough money and power to win her case in a way that many young women would not. Good for her. I would donate to crowdfunders for victims of sexual assault to pursue their cases any day of the week, but Salmond’s decision sticks in my craw. The ego of these men is revealing, is it not? Yes, they are innocent until found guilty. But they also have the option of remaining silent or raising money for women whose lives and careers have been ruined by sexual harassment or assault. Standing ovations for comedians and massive donations to crowdfunders send the same old signal to us: what happens to women is always less important than the reputation of “great” men.