It's been more than two months since the New York Times broke the initial allegations of sexual misconduct against Harvey Weinstein, and since then, over 80 women have come forward. While Weinstein has denied all accusations of nonconsensual sex, the reports started a domino effect as man after man has been taken down for similar allegations. We have opened a national dialogue about a painful topic that's difficult to navigate — particularly if you're a man.
Last week, Matt Damon sat down with ABC News' Peter Travers to talk about the current climate of sexual harassment, and the women coming forward these past few months, which he described as "great," and "wonderful," and "necessary." However, he also expressed some hesitation with the movement, in particular noting that there was a "spectrum" of behaviour.
"We’re going to have to figure — you know, there’s a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right?" he said in the interview. "Both of those behaviours need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated, right?"
It was this point in particular that inspired Minnie Driver, who dated Damon in 1998 before he reportedly broke up with her on-air during The Oprah Winfrey Show, to take to Twitter and address the comments.
"God God, SERIOUSLY?" she wrote, later adding, "Gosh it’s so *interesting how men with all these opinions about women’s differentiation between sexual misconduct, assault, and rape reveal themselves to be utterly tone deaf and as a result, systemically part of the problem (*profoundly unsurprising)"
"They simply cannot understand what abuse is like on a daily level," she said. "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."
This "cut-off" in part comes from the fact that men are statistically less likely to have experienced abuse themselves, meaning their well-meaning dissecting of the issue constantly bumps up against their privilege — privilege that often makes it difficult to completely empathize with survivors' experiences. To suggest, even without meaning to, that women have not and cannot distinguish between different types of harassment and assault, that we've been blindly outraged in a way that is irresponsible, does a disservice to the women who have had to sit with the abuse in silence these past years, and makes us wary of the support people like Damon were initially trying to express.
Even after Driver's backlash, Damon continued to make comments that read as tone-deaf in the current environment. On Monday, he told Business Insider that "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." Please, won't someone think of the men?
No, because, the number of women coming forward has been overwhelming. That's because the amount of alleged sexual assault and harassment that occurs behind the scenes in Hollywood is overwhelming. The fact that it was ever allowed to reach this point is what #MeToo is all about. The movement is bringing these stories out of the shadows. You can't change the past, but you can change right now and listen. It's a tangled web, but the truth is simple: You either trust women or you don't, and the insinuation that it's more complicated than that indicates that we haven't quite gotten there yet.
But we still can. After all this time, what women need, and what the industry needs to eliminate systemic misconduct, is for celebrities — celebrity men, especially — to trust that survivors are telling the truth, and to know that even though it may inspire some hard conversations, it will stop Hollywood's previous negligence in its tracks. Only by acting as allies will famous men help the conversation move forward, rather than stagnate like it has been for decades.
Refinery29 has reached out to Damon for additional comment.
If you have experienced sexual violence of any kind, please visit Rape Crisis or call 0808 802 9999.