December 20, 2017 | Posted in Editorial Features by
The other day, Matt Damon kicked off what became a tedious and frustrating debate about the demarcations between different kinds of sex crimes. His essential point was that what Louis CK and Al Franken did wasn't the same as what Harvey Weinstein did, and we needed to protect ourselves against a culture of outrage. In response, Alyssa Milano and Minnie Driver chimed in.
I don’t just speak for myself in this article, I speak for too many friends and co-workers as well. - Minnie Driver: men like Matt Damon 'simply cannot understand what abuse is like' https://t.co/Z9M120C6XZ
— Minnie Driver (@driverminnie) December 17, 2017
Dear Matt Damon,
It’s the micro that makes the macro.
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) December 16, 2017
Look, guys. Here's the thing about communication: People often don't know how to say what they mean because they aren't sure exactly, at the root, what they mean themselves. You've likely experienced that when arguing with a significant other. Hell, I've experienced it just today. When you read two opposing viewpoints and both seem correct in their own ways, it's time to dig a little deeper.
Is there a difference between catcalling and brutal, violent sexual assault? Yes. Is it the micro harassment that makes the macro crime, as Alyssa says? Yes. Is it impossible for men to understand the constant barrage of harassment women deal with their whole lives and why it's so scary, like Minnie says? Yes, yes, and yes. They're all right, because Damon is unknowingly making a true statement on top of a deeply damaging undercurrent that has dictated how we've historically treated women. Alyssa and Minnie are coming after that undercurrent - a different conversation entirely.
The fact of the matter here is that Damon's point is already moot before anyone chimes in at all. He's arguing about distinguishing between the nature of crimes, which yes, exist - but would only merit discussion if the powerful accused men in question were facing prison time or corporal punishment. Our entire justice system is contingent on understanding those technicalities and drawing lines in the sand, but the justice system has no hand in this.
Harvey is at a luxury rehab - not behind bars. Louis lost his shows and a great deal of his notoriety, but he's not wearing an orange jumpsuit. Neither are Al Franken, Morgan Spurlock, Mario Batali, Matt Lauer, or the countless other men who've been called out for sexual harassment and assault these past few months. Griefs are merely being aired. These men have been fired, they've personally resigned, they've sought recluse at five-star spas away from the public, but no one is coming after them with pitchforks and handcuffs. So who has to draw the line between gradations of crime and humiliation, as Damon suggests? Maybe the people that employ and enable these men professionally. But not the women who come forward.
I'm going to use the example of Taylor Swift's trial against the DJ who sued her for defamation as an example. For anyone unfamiliar, the aforementioned famous DJ, David Mueller, reached up her skirt and grabbed her bare ass cheek for an extended period of time during a photo op. When she quietly reported the incident to his employer - what we encourage all women who have been harassed to do - they fired him. Standard procedure all around. It was a short moment in his life, but a terrible choice that likely reflects others he's made, and he faced the consequences. Then, when word got out and he had trouble finding new work, he sued her for $3 million. She countersued for $1. One. Dollar.
In the trial, Mueller's lawyer asked Swift is she felt bad that the butt grab ruined Mueller's career and besmirched his name. Her response was simple, succinct, and blisteringly poignant about who we really blame for harassment repercussions. "I am not going to allow your client to make me feel like it is any way my fault because it isn’t,” she said. “I’m being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are a product of his decisions. Not mine.”
I fully understand that a man should not be thrown in jail for 10 years for a groping incident that may or may not have been intended as malicious. I can hold that kind of cognitive dissonance. I also understand how the gradations of crime would be important to differentiate between were we discussing jail time, outrageous legal fines, or anything remotely related. But we aren't. No one is going to jail. No one is going to court - except for Mueller, who brought himself there. The only punishments thus far have been professional and social repercussions, which follows the natural order. You speed, you get a ticket. You don't show up to work, you get fired.
The women who call out these various crimes have never said that Al Franken's crimes were as severe as Harvey Weinstein's. They've had no power to fire these men themselves or make their friends and family take any allegations seriously. They've merely said what these men did and how it made them feel, and the repercussions have naturally followed, as they should. Consequences for bad behavior can't be so shocking to these men that this seems like an injustice, can they?
The question to ask is this: When we put Matt Damon's point within the existing context, what is he saying? He may think that the powers that be should go easier the men who've committed "minor" crimes and preserve their jobs, sure - but it sounds a lot like he's saying that women shouldn't come forward with the harassment and the groping and the lewd behavior (not to mention all the manipulative and demoralizing things we've experienced and fear will escalate and occur again) - because only severe crimes deserve consequences. Boys will be boys, after all.
But you know what? Women have been made to bear the weight of the punishment and the crime for far too long already. It's about damn time we stopped asking them to.