In a recent interview with ABC News, actor Matt Damon ignited a controversy with comments about sexual assault in Hollywood:
“I do believe that there’s a spectrum of behavior…And we’re going to have to figure out — you know, there’s a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right? Both of those behaviors need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated, right?”
Damon’s comments have been taken to task on social media, most notably by actress Alyssa Milano, who tweeted in response, “Some forms of cancer are more treatable than others, but it’s still cancer.” Whether a woman is groped, told dirty remarks at work that make her uncomfortable, or brutally raped, the point is not to compare “how bad” the experience was. The root of all sexual mistreatment of women is male entitlement and rape culture, the “cancer” of our society.
Actress Minnie Driver also made valid points about the ignorance of Damon’s comments:
“I honestly think that until we get on the same page, you can’t tell a woman about their abuse. A man cannot do that. No one can. It is so individual and so personal, it’s galling when a powerful man steps up and starts dictating the terms, whether he intends it or not…If good men like Matt Damon are thinking like that, then we’re in a lot of fucking trouble. We need good intelligent men to say this is all bad across the board, condemn it all and start again … I felt that what Matt Damon was saying was an Orwellian idea, we are all equal except that some us are more equal than others.
How about: It’s all fucking wrong and it’s all bad, and until you start seeing it under one umbrella, it’s not your job to compartmentalize or judge what is worse and what is not. Let women do the speaking up right now. The time right now is for men just to listen and not have an opinion about it for once.”
I shook my head when I initially read Damon’s comments, thinking to myself, “Just another tone-deaf male with no personal experience to back up what he’s talking about.” But upon further reflection, I realized that, underneath the ignorance that comes with being as high up on the Hollywood food chain as he is, Damon actually had a point.
There are plenty of jerks out there who take advantage of and manipulate women, but not all of them deserve to be put behind bars.
At the same time, where do we draw the line between “jerk” and “predator”? When do words like “rape” and “assault” begin to lose their power?
I couldn’t help but recall the time that my assault was trivialized by another survivor, who tried to convince me that my experience was a cakewalk compared to how her ex had violated her. The conversation was so hurtful, I forced myself to recall every detail of what my boyfriend did, to remind myself that I had a “right” to my pain.
Whom does it ultimately help to quantify different levels of suffering? Who are we to assign how much trauma a person is “allowed” to feel after being groped or harassed, but not raped? It’s a slippery slope that can lead to a sort of Oppression Olympics – “My suffering is worse than your suffering” – which doesn’t really help anyone, or address the issue of rape culture at large.
Legally, it’s important that a sliding scale of sexual trauma exists, but survivors of all people know that the law does not always bend toward justice. The law can punish crime, but cannot alter the mindset of men who believe that women they purchase drinks for owe them sex; that cat-calling is a compliment; butt-slapping funny; or that consensual sex one time equals consent to sex all the time.
Measuring the precise amount of trauma inflicted on women – the “spectrum of behavior” as Damon calls it – is not as important as the fact that men feel entitled to do it, period.
This piece originally appeared on Huffington Post