Henry Cavill, who plays Superman in the DC Universe films, was asked what he — who, at the time of this writing, has not been accused of sexual assault or harassment — has learned from the #MeToo movement. His response prompted angry, sniping responses from supporters online.
The question came from GQ’s Adam Baidawi, who published his wide-ranging interview with Cavill on Tuesday. To Baidawi’s credit, he did not write his piece in such a way to elicit scorn against the “Mission Impossible 6: Fallout” star, but it still happened.
Cavill said he’d “been fortunate enough to not be around the kind of people who behave that way,” referring to those accused of harassment, and couldn’t think of any situations to look back on and think something was wrong, except to say some people were “overfamiliar” with some actresses.
When asked how the movement made him reflect on his own behavior, he said he didn’t believe he has ever acted inappropriately, but said anyone could cast “too harsh a light on anything.”
But the actor also said the movement has made him more fearful to approach women. His philosophy had always been to woo and chase women, something he said now seems “old-fashioned.”
“It’s very difficult to do that if there are certain rules in place,” Cavill said. “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.’”
He further commented on how “the chase” is no longer allowed in dating.
“Now? Now you really can’t pursue someone further than, ‘No’. It’s like, ‘OK, cool,’” he said. "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?’”
Cavill is not crazy to come to this conclusion. On college campuses in America and in the U.K., new policies and attitudes broaden the definition of sexual assault to include anything another person doesn’t like or decides later they didn’t like. The #MeToo movement has — rightly — taken down some terrible abusers, like Harvey Weinstein, but it has also become a breeding ground for exaggeration and equating “jerky” behavior to sexual abuse.
Consider the recent accusations against Pulitzer Prize-winner Junot Diaz. In May, after speaking at the Sydney Writers’ Festival in Australia, female writer Zinzi Clemmons accused him of forcibly kissing her six years earlier. She later took her accusation to Twitter, saying that Diaz used his power to take advantage of her as a graduate student.
Two other women writers chimed in with their own accusations against Diaz. Monica Byrne claimed Diaz yelled at her during a dinner argument, claiming it was a “verbal sexual assault.” Carmen Maria Machado claimed that when she criticized a character in Diaz’s book, he responded with “a blast of misogynist rage and public humiliation.”
At worst, Diaz seems like a jerk, but using phrases like “exploited” and “corner and forcibly kiss” someone makes him seem like some sexual abuser.
In reality, these characterizations were greatly exaggerated. Diaz claims he never kissed Clemmons, and she sent him a friendly email after the alleged incident without noting the kiss. Someone who saw her after the event “described her as delighted, not shaken,” according to an interview with the Boston Globe. Clemmons never said whether the kiss was on the mouth, the cheek, or somewhere else.
Audio of the exchange between Diaz and Machado proved he did not launch “a blast of misogynist rage and public humiliation.” Rather, he was polite. Byrne claimed the rejection of her novel excerpt by the New Yorker might have been evidence of gender bias. She said Diaz responded: “I don’t know if you know how statistics work, but that’s like saying if you haven’t been raped then nobody’s been raped.”
That might have been a bit snarky, but to characterize it, as Byrne did, as “completely bizarre, disproportionate, and violent” is absurd. Byrne is now compiling a list of others somehow harmed by Diaz, and gave an example of a man whose manuscript was allegedly belittled by Diaz.
This is what #MeToo has been reduced to: Gaining attention by claiming sexual abuse from important people who have slighted women. Accusations like this are what make men like Henry Cavill nervous.
Of course activists still claiming #MeToo is about the worst cases of sexual abuse quickly lashed out at Cavill, claiming it’s easy to not rape or sexually harass someone.
It was easy to avoid being a “creep,” but when women — and men — can exaggerate normal, even messy, human interactions as sexual harassment, people may change their behavior out of fear of being caught up in a witch hunt.