Given his long professional relationship with Harvey Weinstein, Matt Damon has discussed the sexual assault allegations being brought to light in Hollywood, politics, and beyond since October. But when the actor recently spoke about sexual assault allegations on ABC News' "Popcorn With Peter Travers," Damon's words caused quite a bit of backlash. Among other things, Damon apparently felt it necessary to distinguish between sexual harassment and child molestation, seemingly focusing on the accused men's experiences over the victims' experiences.
When men in Hollywood — and men, in general — should be taking a back seat to listen to the women and men who have made accusations, for many, Damon's conversation on the topic demonstrates the opposite. And the internet is not letting the Downsizing actor get away it. (Bustle has reached out to a rep for Damon regarding the backlash, but did not receive a response at the time of publication.)
While Damon started off his interview with the Rolling Stone movie critic by saying, "I think we're in this watershed moment. I think it's great. I think it's wonderful that women are feeling empowered to tell their stories, and it's totally necessary," he didn't stop there.
"There's a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right?" Damon said. "That's criminal behavior, and it needs to be dealt with that way. The other stuff is just kind of shameful and gross." He brought up former Senator Al Franken — who resigned from the Senate after multiple women came forward with allegations that he groped them (according to TIME, Franken has apologized for some behavior, but denied some of the allegations) — and Damon said he "personally would have preferred if they had an Ethics Committee investigation."
Damon also said society is "so energized to kind of get retribution," and then compared Franken's alleged behavior with what Weinstein's (Weinstein has denied any allegations of non-consensual sex). Damon said,
"When you see Al Franken taking a picture where he's putting his hands on that woman's flak jacket and mugging for the camera ... that is like just like a terrible joke, and it's not funny. And it's wrong, and he shouldn’t have done that. ... But when you talk about Harvey and what he's accused of, there are no pictures of that. He knew he was up to no good. There's no witnesses. There's no pictures. There's no braggadocio. That stuff happened secretly because it was criminal and he knew it, so they don’t belong in the same category."
While people can obviously recognize that there is a "spectrum of behavior," as Damon put it, those different levels of sexual misconduct don't necessarily need to be distinguished right now (or by Damon), as many Twitter users pointed out:
Damon also acknowledged how Louis C.K. admitted his sexual misconduct, which included masturbating in front of women without their consent. Damon recalled thinking after reading C.K.'s statement, "Well, we can work with that." He explained,
"I don't know Louis C.K.. I've never met him. I'm a fan of his, but I don't imagine he's ever going to do those things again. You know what I mean? I imagine the price that he's paid at this point is so beyond anything that he — I just think that we have to kind of start delineating between what these behaviors are."
But again, people had issue with Damon pitting one man's behavior (or apology or response) against another's and passing a judgement on it.
During the interview, Travers asked Damon, "What's our responsibility to make sure it doesn't happen?" especially in reference to the fact that Damon knows some of the men in Hollywood who have been accused of sexual assault. Damon claimed he knew Weinstein was a "bully," but didn't know about the extent of the allegations against him. He explained further:
"So the question is, at what point does somebody's behavior that you have a professional relationship with … away from the profession bother you enough that you don't want to work with them? For me, I've always kind of, you know, as long as nobody's committing a crime, I'm like, 'Well, that's your life, and you go live it. I don't need to spend time with you, away from my professional life, at least.'"
When asked how he handles accusations against his friends, Damon said, "If it's a friend of mine, I'm always talking to them. I know the real story if it's my friend. If it's a colleague … I guess it depends on the situation and the allegation and how believable I think it is." Again, this quote didn't go over too well with the internet:
Even though his words are not entirely surprising since Damon has faced backlash for statements about sexual assault before (when the allegations against Weinstein first came out and he used the somewhat problematic "as the father of daughters" line), his viewpoint is particularly disheartening since some elements of the issue he seemed to grasp, including rightfully not blaming women for taking meetings in hotel rooms with Weinstein.
Instead of doubling down on his opinions, Damon needs to be listening to the people who claim they have experienced sexual abuse. To actually fix the way our culture handles sexual misconduct, men's default shouldn't be to speak out about their male brethren. Instead, they should recognize that it's "wonderful" that women are empowered, as Damon did, and then simply hand the microphone over to those women, because theirs are the voices that need to be heard right now.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.