Since the New York Times broke the story on the numerous sexual abuse accusations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, there has been a flood of celebrities, ranging from Emma Thompson to Ryan Gosling, rushing to condemn his acts and the culture that supports it. While it’s crucial to see people — particularly men — coming forward to show their support for victims of sexual assault, a worrying trend has been appearing.
It seems as if men cannot condemn the rape or sexual abuse of women without somehow mentioning their relationship to them.
Nothing demonstrates this more than Matt Damon who, during an interview with Deadline, stated that “I didn’t abide this kind of behavior. But now, as the father of four daughters, this is the kind of sexual predation that keeps me up at night.” As if he couldn’t be fully concerned for the safety of women until he became a father, and then suddenly these issues that have plagued women for their entire lives became important to him. He then went on to say: “we have to be vigilant and we have to help protect and call this stuff out because we have our sisters and our daughters and our mothers.” And while he is right that men do need to be vigilant and call out abusers since they have a power that women do not, it is not because women are sisters or daughters or mothers or in any way related to men. It’s because women are people, and people deserve to have basic human rights.
This article isn’t designed as an attack on Matt Damon, but rather a critique of men’s knee-jerk reaction to stories like this. Damon wasn’t the only celebrity that chose this route, Ben Affleck, during a statement that was heavily criticized due to his previous actions towards other women and silence about accusations against his brother, chose to reference women as “our sisters, friends, co-workers, and daughters” following this trend of only showing sympathy towards women by showing how he relates to them.
It might seem like a trivial point, but it’s an important one, as it seems to be a phenomenon that only emerges when talking about female victims of sexual violence and harassment. It would seem strange if a woman came out and said, “It hurts me to see boys being murdered because I have a father and a brother” because those facts just don’t seem relevant. It doesn’t need to be said that women are mothers and daughters, friends and co-workers, because everyone is fully aware of that, and it doesn’t make a difference either way.
Men speaking out isn’t some reciprocal action, something they should do to pay women back for being related to them or interacting them, it’s simply the right thing to do.
Next time there is a big sexual abuse scandal in the media, which, unfortunately, is something that will happen. I don’t want to see these men spouting meaningless platitudes about how they care because they have daughters or sisters or mothers. I want to see men taking responsibility for the culture they’re embedded in. I want to see them calling out abuse before it gets this far. And I want them to view women as people, regardless of their relation to them.