MATT DAMON IS RIGHT. There is a big difference between patting someone on the rear and rape or child molestation.
The actor got into trouble for making that sensible observation, followed up by this also sensible one: “Both of those behaviors need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated.” For that heresy, Damon was blasted by women — some famous, some not — who believe it’s wrong to run various forms of sexual misconduct through a Harry Potter-like sorting hat. From their perspective, everything, from neck rubs to violent rapes, are actions perpetrated by evil misogynists deserving of professional death by firing and perpetual humiliation.
But that’s not how society addresses other wrongdoing. Trespass is different from breaking and entering. Larceny is different from armed robbery. Manslaughter is different from murder. Certain elements of a crime must be proved to warrant a guilty verdict, and the punishment is supposed to fit the crime. The #MeToo moment is not playing out in a court of law, and there’s plenty to be outraged about. But lumping it all together is a mistake, as a matter of fairness and feminist strategy.
Isn’t it better to hear what men have to say than to tell them to just shut up, as Damon was angrily urged to do? His comments were dismissed as egomaniacal “mansplaining” from a privileged member of the patriarchy. I don’t hang out in Hollywood, and I haven’t dated him like Minnie Driver has, so I don’t know where Damon is coming from on this. But many men seem to be honestly grappling with the tsunami of female rage connected to acts they grew up thinking about as a genetic right. They are learning that casual gropes and grabs, not just fierce physical assaults, are a big deal, with life-changing consequences for women. In fact, the ongoing conversations between men and women are among the most positive outcomes of this cultural reckoning. For the first time, we are talking about male behavior with colleagues and family members. Why shut it down with across-the-board man-shaming?
If that’s empowerment, count me out. The allegations of rape and other predatory behavior made against Harvey Weinstein fall into their own heinous category. The words Donald Trump spoke on the “Access Hollywood” tape, buttressed by multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, put the president in another bracket. What Roy Moore allegedly did is different from what Al Franken was photographed doing. One recently published list of men taken down by #MeToo is up to 97 and includes one woman. And the accusations against them really do cross the spectrum, as Damon said.
If the full range of offensive male behavior is going to be eradicated, as Damon also advocated, it needs to be confronted and discussed rationally. To do that, men need to be heard too. And not every woman who makes an accusation should be automatically believed.The effort by Project Veritas to use a woman to try to lure The Washington Post into reporting false allegations about Moore proves that. Because the Post didn’t automatically trust the woman’s story, it saved itself from a trap. A degree of healthy skepticism rightly tests credibility.
Yet urging caution or restraint in the age of #MeToo puts a person at risk of being Twitter-shamed as a generationally out-of-touch enabler. The anger of Weinstein’s victims is understandable. So is the anger of any woman who has a #MeToo moment to share — and by now, we know that adds up to a lot of angry women. But turning that anger against anyone who questions the rush to condemn every man for every touch — that sets up a modern day bonfire of the vanities. It won’t change the world. It just gives Damon another movie idea to pitch.
Joan Vennochi can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.