In the past few years, the cycle of powerful men being accused of sexual assault and abuse has played on repeat. Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Harvey Weinstein. In each case, the men were alleged to have used their influence to take advantage of — and then silence — women they encountered professionally.
Each time, it seems to evoke the same response from men.
When an “Access Hollywood” tape from 2005 was released, Americans heard Donald Trump bragging about grabbing women’s genitals. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell responded:
When Ailes, the former CEO of Fox News, was accused by multiple women of sexual harassment, commentator Geraldo Rivera spoke up.
And, like clockwork, when stories surfaced about Weinstein’s mistreatment of women in Hollywood for decades, actor Matt Damon followed the formula.
Every catastrophe has its own cliches. We hunker down against a hurricane. We refuse to let the terrorists win. We offer thoughts and prayers. But even words that are well-intentioned can, after a few too many repetitions, begin to draw ire.
Mark Macias, a public-relations adviser who works in crisis management, puts it this way: Would you condemn racism with the preface, “As a person with a black friend . . .”?
“I am sure there are a lot of people who never spoke out [against Weinstein] and they might feel a little guilty, and this is their way of appeasing their conscience,” Macias said. “But you shouldn’t have to bring up proof that you can relate.”
Lawmakers who, in the wake of mass shootings, are quick to offer those “thoughts and prayers” via Twitter and Facebook have lately faced a backlash from some who say they’d rather see legislative action instead.
“When social media gives the opportunity for us all to express similar feelings in similar ways, people start to think that they are hollow,” said Peter Smudde, an Illinois State University professor of communications.
The sentiment of wanting to pray may be genuine, Smudde said, but the strong backlash to the phrase has made it not only a cliche, but a taboo. “As a father of daughters” seems headed for the same fate — and Damon quickly felt the blowback.
For his critics, it wasn’t that Damon mentioned his kids. But because he denounced sexual violence and mentioned that he was a father in the same breath, it seemed to them he was denouncing sexual violence merely becausehe is a father.
Politics and intentions aside, research has shown that having a daughter can, in fact, change how a man treats other women. Studies have found that men with daughters are less attached to traditional gender roles; male CEOs with firstborn daughters pay their employees more; male judges with daughters are more likely torule in favor of female plaintiffs in cases involving employment discrimination; and male venture capital managers with daughters hire more female partners.
All of these steps toward equality can be achieved, of course, without producing any offspring.
Take, for consideration, the advice of writer Anne Victoria Clarke, who in a post for Medium this week, promised one easy trick for men to make sure they are “treating women like people.” Just behave toward them like you would toward Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
“Simply,” Clarke suggested, “offer them the same respect, admiration, and healthy dose of fear you’d offer anyone who could completely destroy you should you deserve it.”