Matt Damon is wrong – and right

800px-Matt_Damon_TIFF_2015In 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

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4 thoughts on “Matt Damon is wrong – and right

  1. I watched Damon’s remarks in context, and I guess to me it didn’t seem like he was trying to measure women’s suffering because he was specifically talking about punishment for these kinds of behaviours, which of course, not everyone who’s ever engaged in sexual harassment needs to go to prison.

    What I think was missing from Damon’s remarks (either because he just doesn’t get it or bc he was trying to make a different point) is that sexual harassment and sexual assault both stem from the same source: entitlement to the bodies of others, specifically men’s entitlement to the bodies of women under patriarchy, although the problem can and does affect others too, regardless of the genders of the parties involved.

    The danger, I think, with Damon saying that non-criminal sexual harassment is just “gross and shameful” is that it seems like he’s blind to the fact that both criminal and non-criminal sexual misconduct stem from the same lack of respect for women’s humanity.

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  2. I’ve been watching from the sidelines for a couple of months now. But your post (well, really Minnie Driver’s reaction to Matt Damon) has encouraged me to write. Of course there’s a spectrum. And offenders need to be judged on that spectrum.

    I’m certain that at some point during my long life, my ‘advances’ towards women when I was a single guy, were unappreciated. Did those women feel harassed? I can’t say; maybe, I hope not. But it definitely wouldn’t be fair to lump me in with Harvey Weinstein, or even George HW Bush.

    I’ve experienced advances (and clear sexual harassment at work including bodily contact) made towards me, by men and women, that were unelcome. I think those people are assholes, but not criminal, and not even worth being called out in public. Why? Because there are always going to be assholes, that’s a part of life. There’s a proper reaction to each incident and it’s up to the victim to determine the correct course of action to take. But weighing what action to take is informed by where the infraction falls on the spectrum of behavior Damon wrote about.

    Minnie Drive says we need to see all of this behavior under one umbrella. She feels that Damon’s spectrum lessens the seriousness of some of the behavior. Well, some of it is less serious. And by calling it a spectrum, he was actually lumping all of it together under Driver’s umbrella, but he was also ranking it. Just because it is under the same umbrella, doesn’t mean that the behavior is equal.

    Sorry, this has been brewing for a while now.

    — Another tone-deaf male.

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