By Tod Robberson
Scientists have finally discovered a cure for that dreaded condition known as Male Answer Syndrome. It’s called the #MeToo movement. Men, it’s now our turn — to shut up. A lot of folks probably think that’s a good thing, but be careful about what you wish for.
In the nation’s mad rush to accuse, condemn, convict and outcast anyone who has engaged in sexually unacceptable behavior, we also are shutting down an important discussion that still needs to take place, one in which men must participate. A lot of men want to speak out in support of women, but in this atmosphere, they don’t dare.
Just ask Matt Damon. He was forthright enough on Dec. 14, during an interview with ABC News, to warn against lumping all transgressors into “one big bucket” without regard to nuance or distinction. “There’s a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right?” he said. “Both of those behaviors need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated, right?”
I don’t hold all Hollywood actors in high regard concerning their intellectual and political insights, but Damon strikes me as smart and thoughtful. He measures his words carefully.
Doesn’t matter. Team America: Word Police quickly arrived with guns blazing. We haven’t heard a peep from Damon since. He kept a low profile at the Golden Globes festivities. He dutifully dressed in black like all his other frightened male colleagues but stayed away from the microphones.
Just before Christmas, members of my family were debating what movies to go see. I proposed Damon’s new film, “Downsizing,” and was instantly put in my place. As I cast my eyes downward in shame and silence, I was informed that Damon defends sexual abusers. “Downsizing” was nixed in my household as a movie-going option, no matter how good the reviews.
Multiply that by a few million, and that’s Damon’s punishment. Because our nation is now in Autoshame Mode, “Downsizing” was officially downsized. Barely 10 days after Damon’s ABC interview, the Hollywood Reporter said “Downsizing” was radioactive at the box office.
What other actor wants to risk that fate? Publicists told The New York Times’ Cara Buckley that men attending the Golden Globes “were probably terrified of making missteps on the world’s stage. When every word men utter … is pored over, parsed and often harshly criticized, silence is often the best option.”
In truth, Damon’s words weren’t radically different from those of other observers, including women, on the national stage. In the Times op-ed page, critic Daphne Merkin wrote that she expected stars to show up at the Golden Globes and dutifully toe the #MeToo line. “But privately, I suspect, many of us, including many longstanding feminists, will be rolling our eyes, having had it with the reflexive and unnuanced sense of outrage that has accompanied this cause from its inception, turning a bona fide moment of moral accountability into a series of ad hoc and sometimes unproven accusations.”
Liberal America has a way of adopting groupthink not as a heartfelt expression of solidarity and empathy but rather as an inviolable requirement. You will submit to the groupthink of the moment — #Blacklivesmatter, #MeToo, #HillaryClinton, #FeeltheBern — or Team America: Word Police will blow your career away. In the name of keeping the troops in line, they will obliterate all notions of free speech and thought. Conservatives couldn’t be happier watching this feeding frenzy.
Did Al Franken deserve to be lumped in with Harvey Weinstein among the ranks of most-wanted sexual terrorists? No. But his critics weren’t interested in his defense. Franken’s career as a U.S. senator is now over.
I have not been sexually victimized by a person who had power over me, so I cannot claim to know how that feels. I did experience two times in my career when extremely powerful people abused me professionally. Had I chosen to come forward, I probably could have exacted a large libel settlement from one of those prominent people. I could have ruined the career of the other.
But in the process, I feared, I would destroy my own career. So I kept silent. And I have hated myself ever since.
What I went through compares not even slightly with the pain and humiliation that countless women have experienced at the hands of men who had power over them and abused or harassed them sexually. Yes, now is the time for them to speak out and be heard. Anyone who doesn’t have something to contribute to the conversation is best advised to listen quietly.
But please, if a few well-meaning men dare to venture a constructive viewpoint that isn’t 100 percent in line with the current groupthink, must they also be autoshamed?
Thoughtful people don’t deserve to be destroyed in the name of going after the guys who really deserve it.
Tod Robberson is the editorial page editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send comments to email@example.com.