Conflation, complicity and other C words
Will my feminist card be revoked if I admit I don’t TOTALLY disagree with Matt Damon?
Trust me, it’s an uncomfortable thing for me to say. Right now, in this climate, admitting you don’t 100% disagree with Matt Damon, or basically think he is a garbage person at this point, is enough to get your fancy, brass-plated feminist card stomped on right in front of you.
A few weeks ago, Matt Damon made this statement:
“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 … I do believe that there’s a spectrum of behavior, right? And we’re going to have to figure — you know, there’s a difference between, you know, 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, right?”
Booooooo! We immediately said. Garbage person! I will put aside at this point that calling people out as “garbage people” is becoming so prevalent that we may need to create some Garbage Pail Kids-esque trading cards for public figures*.
I’m not about to say that Matt Damon should have said these words. In fact, in the few weeks he was promoting his film, I wanted to just slowly place my hand over his mouth to get him to stop talking roughly half a dozen times. But I do agree in part with what he is saying. Not for Matt Damon’s sake, and not for the men’s sake, but for the women and for the victims.
This is word, in my estimation, that screws up Matt Damon’s statement. In the context of his words, he is saying that there is a difference between everyday, garden-variety harassment and rape. And, make no mistake, there is. However, the word “conflate” out of context kind of messes that up. You see “conflate” means to liken one thing to another, to make it the same. Given the entire statement, it seems like he was trying to say we shouldn’t give the same weight to a pat on the butt as we do to rape. And we should not, any more than we should say a slap on the face is the same as a brutal assault.
Women like Alyssa Milano and Minnie Driver responded by saying that Damon was out of turn, and that of course they are the same thing. Unfortunately, both Damon and Milano/Driver are right, and that muddies the water even further. Damon is correct that there is a spectrum of behaviors and that we should not look at an inappropriate comment, or a toxic relationship the same way we look at a violent assault, or molestation. However, they are in the same category. This is where the word “conflate” doesn’t fit. As many women pointed out, the micro is what creates the macro. The tacit allowance of men to grab ass can definitely lead to these violent behaviors. But to say they are the exact same thing has the unfortunate side effect of trivializing rape.
Minnie Driver, along with thousands of other internet randos, pointed out that Matt Damon should sit down, shut up, and listen while someone who knows what it is to be abused can speak to this sensitive topic. She compared harassment and rape to being like a cancer, a systemic disease wherein one behavior leads to another. I don’t disagree. Matt Damon is not the person to say these words. So let me try, given that I am a woman, a survivor of sexual assault and a survivor of cancer (Enough cred for you guys? Sweet.) It is like a cancer, but you know what? Being told you have Stage 4 cancer is a hell of a lot different than having a mole removed. And, even though that mole could end up metastasizing, let me tell you this: being a Stage 1 cancer patient in a room full of terminal cases? Not even the same ballgame.
Man, Twitter is really having a big ole’ vocabulary boner with this one, isn’t it? It’s almost as if there’s one ginormous internet circle jerk with this word at the center. But what is it to be complicit? A simple Google search tells me it is to be an accomplice in some kind of wrongdoing, to know or be involved in a criminal act.
Apparently, anyone who worked with Harvey Weinstein who we’re eager to see fall from grace is “complicit.” But, I’d wager that the campaign to paint notable female actors as complicit is it’s own version of misogyny: it blames women for the crimes of men. Earlier this year I wrote about feminism becoming an epic catfight. I had hoped that the #MeToo movement would bring us closer together, but it only seems to have divided us further.
Nowadays, one only has to voice a thought for something to be true.
While it was a Trump-supporting loon who created the posters of Meryl Streep that went up all around Los Angeles, I saw it long before that. Other public figures, especially Rose McGowan, referred to Meryl Streep as complicit, armed with no other information other than this thought: “Oh, I bet she knew!” Based on what? I’m not looking for hard evidence here. Maybe an interview or a statement. Anything other than a fifteen year old GIF of Streep clapping for Roman Polanski? Hmmmm…
In another typical Rose McGowan moment, she accused former co-star Alyssa Milano of being a fake and an apologist merely for being friends with Harvey Weinstein’s ex, Georgina Chapman. The wife’s complicit, her friends are complicit, everyone with a vagina who has ever been in a room with that man without being assaulted is complicit!
Think about that for a second. Is this what we’re doing? As feminists, do you really think the path to believing women and equity is making baseless accusations and tearing down other women, other survivors to get our endgame? Call me crazy, but I’d rather get this done the right way.
It’s a word so hopeful and yet I don’t dare to hope for it. With the arrival of the #MeToo movement which has shaken our society to it’s core but has yet to see any real, practical change, I almost cried with relief when “Time’s Up” was announced.
As powerful as stories are, they are released and inevitably buried under a pile of misleading headlines and more profitable and sordid tales. How do these stories, so bravely told, turn into action? This initiative, started by powerful women in Hollywood such as Shonda Rimes, sets up an actual practical fund for victims of abuse and harassment — a way for women without the means to get some backup. This is not just for Hollywood starlets, but for janitors, farmworkers and low-level retail employees.
Pretty amazing, right?
So, the next time you just have to re-tweet someone’s misguided statement on harassment for the thousandth time, or post a meme of Matt Damon sucking on car exhaust; If you really feel that you’re contributing to this movement by getting the sickest burn on Twitter or calling a survivor of sexual assault a rape apologist for merely asking for information (yes, this happened to me); If you feel that you are a benefactor to victims of rape, molestation and abuse by delighting in the misfortune of others — remember this: you can also do something that actually matters. Try donating to the Time’s Up legal defense fund , writing your representative about the rape kit backlog or actually talking to a friend who has survived sexual abuse.
This isn’t just a hashtag. It isn’t dollar signs for media outlets. It isn’t about being the first one to call a celebrity a “garbage person.” It’s about the actual lives of women, and changing our future.
Or you could just Tweet this, I guess. Up to you.
*We should really make Garbage People trading cards. Kickstarter, anyone?
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Thanks for reading!