Add Liam Neeson and Condi Rice to the growing list of famous names who have pushed back against some of the excesses and premises of the #MeToo/#TimesUp movement.
After the bombshell allegations against megaproducer Harvey Weinstein first broke, #MeToo accusations have exploded, often involving celebrities like Jeremy Piven, Ben Affleck, Dustin Hoffman, and, just this weekend, Aziz Ansari. Some of those who have been accused as well as some on the outside looking in, like Neeson and Rice, have publicly suggested that the movement is in danger of going too far and, in some cases, already has. Below are five famous figures that have challenged #MeToo in some way over the last few months, followed by a look at the new accusation leveled against Ansari that appears to be an example of an abuse of #MeToo.
The Associated Press reported on Saturday that in an interview with Irish broadcaster RTE, actor Liam Neeson described the #MeToo movement as having turned into "a bit of a witch hunt."
"There’s some people, famous people, being suddenly accused of touching some girl’s knee or something and suddenly they’re being dropped from their program," he said in an interview that was part of his promotional campaign for his new film "The Commuter."
As an example, Neeson cited longtime Minnesota Public Radio host Garrison Keillor, who may have been collateral damage in the wave of sometimes unsubstantiated accusations. The kinds of accusations leveled at Keillor, said Neeson, weren't the same as those leveled at Weinstein. The actor also called into question accusations against Dustin Hoffman, describing himself as "on the fence" regarding their veracity.
Though he raised questions about the kinds of accusations being leveled, Neeson also partially praised the movement on the "Late Late Show" Friday, describing it as "healthy," AP notes.
In a discussion with CNN's David Axelrod on Saturday, Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned against the potential negative impacts of the #MeToo victim mentality on women.
"Let’s not turn women into snowflakes. Let’s not infantilize women," said Rice.
Like Neeson, she described the movement as largely healthy, and expressed sympathy with women who have been treated poorly in the workplace, as she has been herself at times. But she also suggested that if the movement gets out of control, it could end up backfiring on women, with men getting "to a place that [they] start to think, 'Well, maybe it's just better not to have women around.'"
"I've heard a little bit of that," she added, "and it, it worries me."
Like his peers, Matt Damon has largely expressed solidarity with #MeToo; however, he was also one of the first to challenge the direction some of it was taking. Unfortunately for Damon, his ham-fisted attempts to rein in #MeToo blew up in his face when he seemed to try to downplay some serious, admitted offenses, and failed to convincingly explain his lack of action in the case of Weinstein, with whom he had worked closely several times over the years.
"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?" Damon told Peter Travers in an interview in December. "Both of those behaviors need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated, right? ... I mean, look, as I said, all of that behavior needs to be confronted, but there is a continuum."
While Damon rightly attempted to distinguish between things like rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and tasteless jokes, he also tried to defend Louis C.K., who openly admitted to his appalling behavior. Damon also managed to work in a partial defense of Democratic Senator Al Franken, which came off as Damon's usual partisanship. The result was Damon getting blasted from all sides, including by "Good Will Hunting" co-star Minnie Driver, who called his attitude "part of the problem."
Like Damon, Jeremy Piven has expressed solidarity with the movement in general, but he has raised strong objections against accusations leveled against him and called out those who abuse #MeToo sympathy. After being accused by reality television star Ariane Bellamar of cornering her and grabbing her breasts and butt on two separate occasions, Piven issued a blistering response.
"I unequivocally deny the appalling allegations being peddled about me. It did not happen," said Piven in a statement issued in late October. "It takes a great deal of courage for victims to come forward with their histories, and my hope is that the allegations about me that didn’t happen, do not detract from stories that should be heard."
After two more accusers came forward with similar allegations, Piven stood by his claim that he is innocent, insisting that he would take a lie detector test to prove it and threatening legal action against false accusers.
While singer Seal has not come out and blasted the #MeToo movement in general, he has slammed some of its celebrity leadership, particularly Oprah Winfrey, for what he suggests is their hypocritical role in furthering an industry plagued by the kinds of sexual misconduct they are now getting applauding for speaking out against.
In an Instagram post following Winfrey's much celebrated speech at the Golden Globes, Seal called out those who have been "part of the problem," like Winfrey. Seal posted two photos of Winfrey chumming it up with Harvey Weinstein and wrote, "When you have been part of the problem for decades, but suddenly they all think you are the solution." He added a sarcastic comment to the right of the images: "Oh I forgot, that’s right…..you’d heard the rumours but you had no idea he was actually serially assaulting young stary-eyed actresses who in turn had no idea what they were getting into. My bad."
Aziz Ansari: A Victim of "#MeToo Excesses"?
In an opinion piece in January, political commentator Andrew Sullivan summed up many of the arguments of other well-known names who are warning against the "excesses of #MeToo." What started off as a "righteous exposure of hideous abuse of power," says Sullivan, has "morphed into a more generalized revolution against the patriarchy":
The early exposure of Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and Harvey Weinstein — achieved by meticulous, scrupulous journalists and smart, determined women — quickly extended to more ambiguous and trivial cases. Distinctions among many different types of offenses — from bad behavior at private parties to brutal assault and rape of employees and co-workers — were being instantly lost in the fervor. Punishment was almost always the same — social ostracism and career destruction — whether you were Mark Halperin, who allegedly sexually assaulted women in his workplace, or Al Franken, damned because of mild handsiness and pretending to grope a woman’s breasts as a joke. Any presumption of innocence was regarded as a misogynist dodge, and an anonymous online list of accusations against named men in the media was created and circulated with nary an attempt by its instigators to substantiate a single one. Within a few weeks, the righteous exposure of hideous abuse of power had morphed into a more generalized revolution against the patriarchy.
Over the weekend, what appears to be an example of the "#MeToo excesses" Sullivan and others are warning about made headlines: #TimesUp-supporting comedian Aziz Ansari was accused of sexual misconduct by an anonymous accuser going by the name of "Grace." In the account published by the website Babe, Grace describes an awkward and regrettable sexual encounter with Ansari, but one in which she describes him failing to respond to her "non-verbal cues" that she was "uncomfortable" hooking up with him, rather than anything that could be defined as "sexual assault."
Ansari responded with a partial defense of himself. "The next day, I got a text from her saying that although it may have seemed okay, upon further reflection, she felt uncomfortable," Ansari told NBC in a statement. "It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned. I took her words to heart and responded privately after taking the time to process what she had said."
As The Daily Wire's Matt Walsh points out, what Grace describes is not rape or sexual assault, it is a regrettable one-night stand that has been folded into the #MeToo movement in a way that reveals some of its actors do indeed participate in the kind of "witch hunt" Neeson referenced. Here's Walsh capturing what appears to be really driving Grace's #MeToo accusation:
Grace felt violated after the fact. I don’t blame her for that. I blame her for seeking revenge by publishing intimate details of a clearly consensual encounter, but her feelings of emptiness and vulnerability are perfectly warranted. She was indeed violated, but she was complicit in the violation. That is the nature of casual sex. The two partners violate each other. A man uses a woman’s body for his own selfish ends, and the woman allows it, and reciprocates by using the man for her own purposes. If either wakes up feeling depressed the next day, it’s because they regret participating in such a degrading and humiliating exchange. The regret is real, and can be crushing, but it does not retroactively turn the events of the previous evening into rape. The sex remains what it was when you willingly participated in it: self-centered, dehumanizing, shallow, soulless, and, yes, consensual.
This article has been revised to include Seal's condemnation of Winfrey.