Harvey Weinstein. Kevin Spacey. Louis C.K.. We’ve seen titans of entertainment rightly toppled as Hollywood faces a violent reckoning with its systemic culture of sexual abuse and harassment, mainly against women. The #MeToo movement has swept through the worlds of movie-making, politics and the media, cutting down careers built up over decades in a matter of seconds with the power of a single tweet, a Facebook post or the publishing of a bombshell news report.
And now it looks like we could be adding Matt Damon to that growing list of A-list stars who’ve fallen from grace – even though he’s not been accused of any wrong-doing.
Instead, Matt Damon (who built his career as one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars with roles in Good Will Hunting, Saving Private Ryan, the never-ending Bourne franchise and more recently in The Martian) has curiously taken on the role of the leading defender of Hollywood’s sex pests.
Last week, in an interview with ABC News, the 47-year-old appeared to suggest Louis C.K.’s behaviour shouldn’t end his career and stressed that there was an important difference between child molestation and ‘patting on the butt’.
Damon said in the interview: “The Louis C.K. thing, I don’t know all the details. I don’t do deep dives on this, but I did see his statement, which kind of, which [was] arresting to me… And I just remember thinking, ‘Well, that’s the sign of somebody who - well, we can work with that.’ … I don’t know Louis C.K. I’ve never met him. I’m a fan of his, but I don’t imagine he’s going to do those things again. You know what I mean? I imagine the price that he’s paid at this point is so beyond anything that he - I just think that we have to kind of start delineating between what these behaviours are.”
He went on: “I think it’s wonderful that women are feeling empowered to tell their stories, and it’s totally necessary. I do believe there’s a spectrum of behaviour… There’s a difference between patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right? Both of those behaviours need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated.”
And then, clearly not learning his lesson, Damon did another interview with Business Insider yesterday where he stressed how important it is to praise the men in Hollywood who haven’t been accused of sexual assault or harassment. He said: “We’re in this watershed moment, and it’s great, but I think one thing that’s not being talked about is there are a whole shitload of guys - the preponderance of men I’ve worked with - who don’t do this kind of thing and whose lives aren’t going to be affected.”
There’s so much to unpack with these tone-deaf comments that I almost despair.
First, it makes sense that a privileged, white male like Matt Damon would think that Louis C.K. has already ‘paid the price’ for allegedly forcing women to watch him masturbate without their consent. But really, what price has he paid? It’s nothing compared to the emotional and psychological price paid by his alleged victims. And how about the impacts on their careers? The female comedians he allegedly did this to said they felt incredible pressure to keep their stories quiet to avoid shaming a powerful figure in comedy.
Next, Matt, if you’re reading this, shut up with your comments about how there is a ‘spectrum of behaviour’. As was discussed by Eleanor Lisney, who spoke excellently at a Second Source event (a new organisation set up to tackle harassment in the media), fundamentally all sexual assault and harassment has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with power. It doesn’t matter if it’s rape, groping or a demeaning comment about a woman’s body – they are all designed to humiliate women and maintain the powerful position of men. They are all unacceptable, wherever they fall on the so-called ‘spectrum’, and they all need to be aggressively tackled.
This was explained beautifully by actress Alyssa Milano, who took Damon to task on Twitter:
Dear Matt Damon,— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) December 16, 2017
It’s the micro that makes the macro.
We are in a “culture of outrage” because the magnitude of rage is, in fact, overtly outrageous. And it is righteous.— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) December 16, 2017
I have been a victim of each component of the sexual assault spectrum of which you speak. They all hurt. And they are all connected to a patriarchy intertwined with normalized, accepted--even welcomed-- misogyny.— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) December 16, 2017
We are not outraged because someone grabbed our asses in a picture. We are outraged because we were made to feel this was normal. We are outraged because we have been gaslighted. We are outraged because we were silenced for so long.— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) December 16, 2017
There are different stages of cancer. Some more treatable than others. But it’s still cancer.— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) December 16, 2017
And look, I understand why this concept is so frightening for men. Indeed, it’s why so many men have been so resistant to the whole #MeToo movement – it’s because men fear they will lose their own positions of authority and therefore their own identity. They fear that if they’re not in charge (especially in charge of women), then what are they? A more equal society would force abusive men to confront themselves – and for many of them, this is terrifying. It’s why homophobes are so threatened by the idea that people can be gay, bisexual, transgender, straight or anything in between – because to accept this principle would be to acknowledge that they are also included. They’d rather shut down debate and refuse to face themselves.
And in Matt Damon’s case it would force him to confront whether he was ever complicit in the abuse or harassment of women. In fact, he’s already begun to admit that he knew about Harvey Weinstein’s mistreatment of Gwyneth Paltrow many years ago.
Finally, we come to Matt Damon’s most ridiculous comments yet: why aren’t we talking about men not accused of assault? It’s pretty simple Matt; you don’t need a gold star for not raping someone. And by moving the conversation away from the empowerment of women you are taking a political stand against them. You are aligning yourself with the system that prioritises men and subjugates women. I’m sure it’s hard to accept Matt, but not everything is about you. This is a moment to talk about how we can make fairer workplaces that are free from discrimination and harassment.
Ultimately, if we can take anything positive from Matt Damon’s intervention in the #MeToo debate it’s that men – all men – need a lot more education on how to support women and make the situation better for everyone.