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Famous men and the hypocritical response to Harvey Weinstein

After the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal broke, men all over Hollywood have come out against the influential producer. While some of these men mean well, their statements are often hypocritical and hurtful. One key example of this is a recent Ben Affleck tweet about Weinstein. On Oct. 10, Affleck tweeted, “We need to do better at protecting our friends, sisters, co-workers and daughters.” He suggests that it is only because of their relationships with men that women are important, and not simply their humanity. This puts the impetus on sexual assault prevention on the personal connections women have with men, rather than a basic understanding that women are human and should not be assaulted.

Beyond this lack of understanding, Affleck’s comments were shown to be hypocritical, as Affleck himself has a history of sexually harassing women. Female celebrities were quick to point this out, pointing out one instance where he grabbed actress Hilarie Burton’s breast on live TV. In 2004, during an interview for the Canadian television series “Box-Office,” Affleck pulled his female interviewer onto his lap and talked about her breasts in a sexually explicit manner. Other lesser-known actresses and media representatives leveled groping allegations against Affleck. He apologized for his treatment of Burton, but did not speak on the other allegations.

Matt Damon has made similarly problematic statements about Weinstein. In an interview with Deadline Hollywood, he said, Look, even before I was famous, 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. This is the great fear for all of us.” With this statement, Damon limits his understanding of sexual assault to whether or not it will happen to his daughters. He implies that he did not have the same emotional understanding on sexual assault before he had daughters. Before his daughters he “did not abide this kind of behavior,” but it also didn’t keep him “up at night.” Like Affleck, Damon’s personal-relationship-centric view of sexual assault corresponds to problematic behavior. After the Weinstein scandal broke, former New York Times writer Sharon Waxman revealed that in 2004, she attempted to publish a story about sexual harassment involving Weinstein and one of his associates. She said that at the time, Damon and Russell Crowe called her to defend the men and persuade her to axe the story.

Men like Affleck and Damon clarify why the view of sexual assault that centers men’s “friends, sisters, co-workers and daughters” is not an effective deterrent to sexual assault. This is because it relies on the emotions of men within the context of their personal relationships with women, rather than respect for the women themselves. It is easier for men like Affleck and Damon to look the other way when faced with people like Weinstein, since they might not be close with the affected women. Affleck’s “sister, co-workers and daughters” are only protected from assault because of their brothers, male co-workers and fathers.

Unfortunately, this attitude about sexual harassment and assault also shows up in our nation’s politics. After Trump’s “grab ‘em by the pussy” comments were leaked during the 2016 presidential campaign, many politicians remarked that they were horrified by the comments because of their relationships with their wives and daughters. In particular, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that “as the father of three daughters,” he was horrified by Trump’s statements. Of course, these “wives and daughters” comments did nothing to stop Trump’s political rise. He was elected president only months after the “grab ‘em by the pussy” comments were leaked.

To prevent men like Weinstein and Trump from harassing and assaulting women, men like Affleck, Damon and McConnell need to include more women in their empathy. Women are disempowered when men only care about them because of their relationships with others, rather than because of their intrinsic worth and right to equality.

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