When my kids were tiny, they had a mechanical Woody from Toy Story doll, who, when you pulled the cord on his back, randomly uttered one of a selection of quotes. Over many years, as my kids got older and lost interest in him, Woody developed a fault. He’d talk without anyone having pulled his cord. Day after day, from the bottom of the toy bucket and usually at the least congruous and appropriate moments, Woody would suddenly interrupt conversation or break silence with, “There’s a snake in my boot!” and yammer on and on and on, until we were being driven mad and had to take out his batteries. These days, I think of him whenever Matt Damon, the short-circuiting Woody doll of the #MeToo movement, offers another of his hot takes on the Hollywood sexual-misconduct scandal.
The Oscar-winning screenwriter and actor, who campaigns tirelessly for dogs, this week told Business Insider: “We’re in this watershed moment, and it’s great, but I think 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.”
He’s right – will no one think of the unaffected in all this? Discourse is undeniably biased in favour of actual news and Matt Damon has helped me to finally ponder the sheer injustice of it all. When will we give credit to the millions of sober drivers who don’t plough down the lollipop man? When will we salute the determination and courage of those who, day in and day out, resolutely haven’t robbed a building society? Whither the non-murderers? What of the wars that didn’t happen and where is the hashtag for the plight of the healthy?
Damon, who in October found himself in a hole and not so much kept digging as attempted to jackhammer his way through to the Earth’s core, seemingly cannot stop talking about races in which, he’s at pains to remind us, he has no horse. Earlier this month, in what increasingly appears to an ongoing breakdown of all judgement and self-awareness, Damon mansplained the concept of degrees of severity along the continuum of sexual misconduct and serious sexual assault, helpfully spotting that being patted on the bum by your boss is not exactly the same thing as being violently raped, while seemingly identifying no common theme between the two. Remember working-class-liberal, climate-change-protesting Matt and his heart-melting bromance with fellow mensch, Ben Affleck? It feels like a lifetime ago.
In the same ABC interview, he expressed concern that the #MeToo movement clearly signals to men that if they stand up and take responsibility for their sexual misconduct, their lives and careers will be ruined (in fact, the overwhelming majority of entries on the #MeToo career death toll are not accused and vilified men, but female actors who suffered sexual harassment and assault). Damon opined that the movement was inadvertently encouraging men to lie about their past to protect themselves.
This minority of bad men had a bloody good innings while their innocent victims lost earnings, work, relationships, entire careers
While ostensibly applauding women for speaking out about sexual assault, father-of-four-daughters Matt Damon seems incapable of doing so without also suggesting they’re now missing the point and getting a bit carried away. Just as #AllLivesMatter attempted to drown out a protest against systemic racism by drawing false equivalence between black and white prejudice, and #NotAllMen positioned men as legitimate victims in the issue of sexual violence, what Damon is doing, in essence, is attempting to reclaim the #MeToo movement from millions of women who are getting equality all wrong, and reframe it as a celebration of men who don’t abuse them, metaphorically handing out cookies to the many men who are kind enough to not rape us.
And I won’t lie – the fact that all the men in my life very much don’t rape and assault women is a veritable boon to my life. And Damon is right – I really don’t say or even think much about their not committing serious crimes. I even expect it to come as standard, like opposable thumbs and a pulse. They themselves don’t think it remarkable, either. Increasingly, though, they feel mortified that this once-decent-seeming guy is now unable to stem his verbal diarrhoea on something in which he, by his own admission, has zero experience (much as his being a white man didn’t stop him from telling an African-American film-maker how to better do diversity).
The clear implication is that this issue was more judiciously tackled by clear-headed right-thinkers like Matt Damon, who made several films with Harvey Weinstein (still a free man) and identified no wrongdoing. Whose best bud, Ben, admitted, and apologised for, touching an MTV reporter’s breast in an interview (his life very much not ruined as a result. He is literally Batman), whose best bud’s bro, Casey Affleck, settled out of court in sexual harassment suits filed by two different women, and still got a job offer from none other than childhood pal Matt Damon, producer of Manchester By The Sea (life so very not ruined that the Academy handed Affleck junior an Oscar).
While Damon finds fault with what he clearly regards as the punitive methods of the rapidly growing and evolving #MeToo movement in Hollywood, what he persistently fails to acknowledge is that what really ruins the lives of sexual harassers is sexual harassment – and, frankly, nowhere near often enough. The default, innocent, decent man need not worry. Sexual harassment and assault are a choice, either a wilful ignorance or self-selecting villainy, an abuse of power and flagrant disregard for rules and common decency that have been tolerated for decades, and the known perpetrators celebrated and rewarded by a film industry that was undeniably complicit.
This minority of bad men had a bloody good innings while their innocent victims lost earnings, work, relationships, entire careers. Perhaps Damon should give those women more than two months to finally share their testimony, anger and difficult questions before suggesting everyone shifts their attention and sympathy to law-abiding male colleagues with no vested interest. Men who mostly took the roles, looked the other way and – just as worried about losing their own careers – did precisely nothing to stop or change things. Your way didn’t work, Matt. Your voice is unwelcome. Remove your batteries.