In the post-Weinstein debate, a lot of people have been publicly coming down on Matt Damon for arguing that there is a “spectrum of behavior”. Yet as far as I have been able to tell, not a single woman I personally know disagrees with him.
When I was in my early twenties I experienced unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature on a number of occasions. This unwanted physical contact came, at different times, from both men and women.
Being a heterosexual male clearly didn’t exempt me. On the other hand, none of these “perpetrators” were predators in the manner of a Harvey Weinstein.
Rather, they were invariably people who had deluded themselves, with no evidence, into thinking that something mutual might result. In other words, those situations were not about power — they were about cluelessness.
I certainly found such encounters to be annoying, but I also felt somewhat sad — not for me, but for those clumsy idiots. They were clearly looking for some kind of connection, and they were also clearly not good at reading signals.
I am fortunate that I have never experienced any sort of forcible sexual assault, so I couldn’t presume to know the pain of somebody who has. But let’s not be confused about this: Rape is a serious and horrifically dehumanizing crime, and we should not lump it together with annoying physical overtures.
My understanding is that people who have experienced such an assault may spend the rest of their lives dealing with the lack of physical safety that they must always carry with them. That is an incredible burden, and it damages lives.
So yes, I agree that we should not say that putting your hand on somebody’s ass without their permission is ok — because it certainly is not. No person should ever be disrespected, and our culture has a long and terrible history of disrespecting women in particular.
But I also think that we must be careful not to lump all battles together without distinction. To do so would be a serious disservice to people who have endured rape.
But beyond that, the distinction Matt Damon is making is important, because ultimately feminism is a plea for rational discourse. Without such distinctions, the serious feminist awakening currently at hand may be drowned out in the noise of general shouting.
In the war on a culture of unthinking male supremacy, there are multiple battles to be fought, but they are not the same battle. If, in our anger, we lump them all together, we may end up losing the war.