By Sarah Buchlaw
CW: Sexual assault, misogyny
Another man in power outed as an assaulter, and another shrug from America’s men.
“Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades,” the “New York Times” headline from Oct. 5 read. Details of Weinstein’s extensive history of harassment and sexual assault were published for the first time that day, but the exploitation from Weinstein and Hollywood as an industry are no secret.
Let’s make two things very clear: First, Weinstein is not nearly the first (or last) man in the television industry to take advantage of women. Second, the men of Hollywood have been complicit in their industry’s abuse for as long as it has been happening.
A recent “Good Morning America” segment interviewed Matt Damon and George Clooney, two stars who worked closely with Weinstein in the 1990s. “Now they’re coming to terms with the dark and twisted reality of their former mentor,” the interviewer said as the camera focused on the two men.
Coming to terms? Spare me the pity for these poor naive men who had no idea that their colleague was doing anything inappropriate.
“I knew he was a womanizer, you know; I wouldn’t want to be married to the guy … but, like, it’s not my business, really,” Damon said, as if knowing that Weinstein cheated on his wife with vulnerable women is not the same as knowing he was a manipulative user of women.
When the interviewer remarked on how Weinstein’s behavior was seen as a kind of open secret in Hollywood, Damon responded defensively. “He didn’t do it out in the open. If there was ever an event or something that I was at in public with Harvey and he was doing this kind of thing, and I missed it, and there’s some woman who was somehow assaulted and, you know, it was at the Golden Globes or something like that, and I somehow missed it, then I’m sorry.”
So, the only thing Damon could possibly bear guilt for would be if one of Weinstein’s victims had been assaulted at an awards show at which Damon was present? Never mind that he has known about Weinstein’s assault of Damon’s colleague Gwyneth Paltrow since the 90s, or that stars like Courtney Love and Seth MacFarlane made allusions to Weinstein’s reputation in the 2000s, or that shows like 30 Rock have made jokes about Weinstein being an assaulter in several different episodes.
Damon didn’t know; it wasn’t “out in the open,” so get off his back, everybody.
I suppose Damon and his male colleagues were also shocked to hear the news of over five other celebrities outed this month as sexual harassers and assaulters. More than three dozen survivors have come forward about experiences with Weinstein alone, and dozens more about the newly accused, including celebrity chef John Besh and photographer Terry Richardson.
Yet male stars expect us to believe that none of them were in on it?
Unfortunately, the generally defensive (or completely silent) response by men to the Weinstein scandal extends far beyond Hollywood.
In the weeks following the news of Weinstein, all kinds of women spoke out in all kinds of ways. Mayim Bialik’s modesty-prevents-assault “New York Times” article and the “Me Too” campaign are just two of several such responses from women, and they both received ample criticism.
I agree with a lot of what people had to say about them both; Bialik’s article oversimplifies women as either brainy or beautiful, and implies a preventability of assault that is insulting. “Me Too” makes women who are survivors of assault feel obligated to share traumatic experiences, and those who do share must relive it for all of cyber-space to see.
But focusing on the shortcomings of these women’s responses seems far less important than calling out the male responses to Weinstein. I was disheartened to find that the few men whose reactions I did see on Facebook seemed intent only on shirking responsibility.
I saw countless women admit to being victims and survivors, but no men come forward as perpetrators of assault, or even as participants in a system that oppresses and hurts women.
Instead, I saw bragging posts about pride in never hurting a woman, or sadness that there are “bad men” who do these kinds of things.
News flash to defensive men, famous or not: desperately distancing yourself from men like Weinstein helps far less than acknowledging your connection to assault. The idea that only bad men assault women, so you, a good man, are relieved of all guilt and responsibility, is preposterous.
All men participate in and perpetuate this country’s patriarchy, and that system is what harms women and leads to assault. However uncomfortable it may be for you to hear it, you are all guilty to some extent, and it’s time to fess up.
Every time you have refused to call out the inappropriate behavior of other men, denied your own sexism, or failed to listen to women, you have been an accomplice in the work of Weinstein and others.
To all the Matt Damons of this country: not being a perpetrator of assault does not relieve you of responsibility, and it certainly does not make you an outstanding person. Accept your role in a system of violence, and change that system. I look forward to more honest and productive responses to issues of assault against women from America’s men.