I knew this was coming but I thought Matt Damon’s apology for his comments about sexual harassment would happen long before now. Maybe it did and this is just the first time he’s given this speech on television. Today Matt Damon retreated from his earlier comments on sexual assault, telling the Today Show, “Boy, I really wish I’d listened a lot more before I weighed in on this.” From Deadline:
“I think, ultimately, what it is for me is I don’t want to further anybody’s pain with anything that I do or say,” said the Downsizing star, who rose to fame in a slew of movies produced by Harvey Weinstein. “So for that, I’m really sorry. This whole Time’s Up — a lot of those women are my dear friends and I love them and respect them and support what they’re doing and want to be a part of that change and go along for that ride.”
He added, “I should get in the backseat and close my mouth for a while.”
That’s a complete retreat from what Damon said in an interview with ABC’s Peter Travers last month. As I noted at the time, Damon said, “I do believe that there’s a spectrum of behavior, right?…There’s a difference between patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right? Both of those behaviors need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated.” He also said, “The fear for me is that right now we’re in this moment where, at the moment and I hope it doesn’t stay this way, the clear signal to men and to young people is: deny it. Because if you take responsibility for what you did, your life’s going to get ruined, right?”
I predicted at the time that Damon would take a hit for making these observations, and he did. People like Alyssa Milano jumped all over him on Twitter:
Sexual harassment, misconduct, assault and violence is a systemic disease. The tumor is being cut out right now with no anesthesia. Please send flowers. #MeToo
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) December 16, 2017
This intentionally misses the premise of what Damon said. His first comment was “Both of those behaviors need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated.” In other words, he’s not at all saying one form of harassment is okay while the other is bad. He’s saying both are bad but to different degrees. If you want to stick with the cancer metaphor, there are some cancers which can be treated in an outpatient clinic in a few hours. There are others which require chemo or radiation therapy that can leave you sapped of energy for months. They are both bad news but they aren’t remotely the same experience and anyone who acted as if the former was the latter would have people’s eyes rolling.
Unfortunately, Damon’s timing on his walk back really couldn’t be worse. As we just saw with the Aziz Ansari story, there are, in fact, some interactions between men and women which are judged misconduct by one party but not by the other, and for good reason. A bad date and poor communication do not necessarily equal misconduct. So it would be a categorical error to lump those incidents in with Harvey Weinstein threatening and physically forcing women to have sex with him.
Damon should have stuck to his point and used Ansari as an example why he was right to make some distinctions. Instead, he is now in full retreat simply because he doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. That’s a lot easier stance for him to take, given that he knows some of the women involved, but the point he was making will need to be reckoned with eventually.