He’s known for playing superman, but actor Henry Cavill’s kryptonite seems to be understanding consent.
The British actor faced backlash earlier this week for an interview in GQ Australia, in which he made some pretty questionable comments about the ways dating has changed in the #MeToo era. “There’s something wonderful about a man chasing a woman,” the 35-year-old told GQ. “There’s a traditional approach to that which I think is nice.” But in the current climate, the actor—who describes himself as old-fashioned—continued, “it’s very difficult to do that if there are certain rules in place. Because then it’s like: ‘Well, I don’t want to go up and talk to her, because I’m going to be called a rapist or something.'”
Cavill’s solution to his dating conundrum? He says it’s much safer to throw himself back into old, dysfunctional relationships.
“Now?” Cavill concludes. “Now you really can’t pursue someone further than, ‘No’. It’s like, ‘OK, cool’. But then there’s the, ‘Oh why’d you give up?’ And it’s like, ‘Well, because I didn’t want to go to jail?’”
We know, it’s a lot to unpack. And we can’t help but feel: Angry? Tired? Disappointed? Like we want to scream because Gilead is seriously nigh?
But it’s not just what Cavill said that’s problematic; it’s also the v. serious implications his comments have for the movement and sexual assault reporting as a whole.
It trivializes the movement as an overreaction
At the heart of Cavill’s off-the-cuff statement is a complete misunderstanding of the entirety of #MeToo. As Twitter user Amy Rebollar notes, Cavill’s post-#MeToo aversion to flirting is telling. “He is basically saying that women are so sensitive that they can’t even handle someone flirting with them,” she tweeted. “Superman can suck it.”
#henrycavill said in his @GQMagazine interview that the #metoo movement has made him nervous to flirt because he doesn’t want to be called a rapist. He is basically saying that women are so sensitive that they can’t even handle someone flirting with them. Superman can suck it.
— Amy Rebollar (@amyrebollar) July 11, 2018
Cavill’s comments are an oversimplification of an extremely complex issue. Aside from grossly trivializing the movement, they also trivialize the predominant voices behind it: those of women.
What’s worse, Cavill may not even realize he’s doing it. In the unfair (and seriously toxic) history of gender norms, women have been classified as hysterical, overly-sensitive and crazy. And because of this, there’s an inherent tendency within society to brush off “women’s work” and interests as unimportant. Just think of recent social media reactions questioning the validity of reporting in women’s magazines, or the double standard exhibited when comparing Kylie Jenner’s success—on the backs of the female-driven beauty industry—to that of other young, male upstarts. A large portion of society still doesn’t see women’s voices as valuable. Because of this, it becomes easy to brush off their concerns.
Our biggest takeaway from what Cavill has learned about the #MeToo movement? Essentially, it’s made dating hard for him. Perhaps he’s not used to women having a voice? We’re finally comfortable vocalizing what we want and expect from a partner and in a relationship, and if that’s difficult for Cavill to navigate, than he needs to take a serious look at how he interacts with members of the opposite sex.
Frames it as victimizing men
The actor’s comments are especially frustrating for the way they frame him as the party without autonomy, unfairly victimized by the movement. As many Twitter users pointed out in the immediate backlash, it’s not *that* hard to not be identified as a rapist. “This is absurd,” @HelenRPrice tweeted. “If Henry Cavill doesn’t want to be called a rapist then all he has to do is…not rape anyone. The mental gymnastics some men are doing to position themselves as “victims” of #MeToo is insane.”
This is absurd. If Henry Cavill doesn’t want to be called a rapist then all he has to do is… not rape anyone.
— Helen Price (@HelenRPrice) July 11, 2018
But Cavill isn’t the first to touch on men being unfairly victimized by #MeToo. In April, video footage surfaced of author and self-help coach Tony Robbins decrying the #MeToo movement for its effect on men, criticizing people who used “victimhood” and the movement in order to “get significance and certainty by attacking and destroying someone else.” If we weren’t initially clear on his meaning, Robbins clarified that “more than a dozen men” in positions of power told him they were wary of hiring attractive women because “it’s too big a risk.”
Even those who have been charged with assault are playing the victim card.
Earlier this week, music producer Dr. Luke, a.k.a Lukasz Gottwald—who was accused of sexually assaulting pop singer and former client Kesha in 2014—claimed his career “will never recover from the damage” of her assault charge. Just days later, former Denver radio DJ David Mueller, who in 2017 was found guilty of assault and battery against singer Taylor Swift—for which Swift was awarded a symbolic $1—told Radar Online that the pop singer “ruined [his] life.”
Gottwald and Mueller’s comments completely shun any responsibility for their actions and further demonize their accusers—survivors. Activist and #MeToo creator Tarana Burke, responding to the backlash over Cavill’s comments and the role of the media in a 12-tweet-thread, touched on the onus of accusers, re-emphasizing the role of the movement, not as a witch hunt to bring innocent men down, but as a means to hold the guilty accountable. “The fact is these people brought THEMSELVES down with their own behaviour,” she tweeted. “The movement is about people owning their truth and releasing the same associated with sexual violence. That is not a NEW concept. What’s new is that there is some accountability now.”
The fact is these people brought THEMSELVES down with their own behavior. The movement is about people owning their truth and releasing the shame associated with sexual violence. That is not a NEW concept. What’s new is that there is some accountability now.
— Tarana (@TaranaBurke) July 13, 2018
Perpetuates rape myths
Both Cavill and Robbins’ comment speak to something else: the idea that victims frequently lie about sexual assault. This isn’t new. And while false reporting is a reality in some cases, it’s rare, and the numbers are greatly exaggerated. In Canada, only 2-4% of all sexual assaults reported are false. Regardless, certain groups continue to use this myth to discount survivors. And doing so can be extremely detrimental to both survivors who’ve disclosed—as disbelief can lead to a spiral of secondary traumatization—and those intending to disclose (who are then deterred to do so by the fear of not being believed).
Cavill says he’s “traditional,” but he’s straight-up caught in the past
Seriously, this isn’t Mad Men. While some may find Cavill’s claims of being a traditionalist romantic, his subscription to these bygone ideals are precisely the problem. We desperately need to move beyond the idea of dating as some sort of game of cat and mouse. Viewing women as a prize to be “chased” and won not only objectifies them, but removes their autonomy and personal agency, assigning their bodily worth as based on the desires and whims of men. Sure, some women may enjoy being “wooed” as Cavill noted, but they’ll tell you. The idea that a woman (or man) saying ‘No’ should be seen as a challenge for a suitor is seriously problematic because it blurs the lines of consent—which, with the recent re-appealing of the sex ed curriculum in Ontario, are more important to understand than ever.
There needs to be an increased emphasis on transparency and open communication in dating, and Cavill’s tactics just don’t work.
People make mistakes. Cavill has since issued an apology, but the damage is done. If anything, his ill-advised statements have opened our eyes to the work that still needs to be done—the education and conversations required around consent, sexual assault and what dating looks like in the era of #MeToo.
So thanks for that Henry, although we’re betting this is *one* thing you’re wishing could be digitally removed from everyone’s memories.
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