“As someone who knows fans of country music, I was horrified by the mass shooting at a concert in Las Vegas” ― said no one ever. That’s because you only need to be human to understand that fatally gunning down 58 people and wounding hundreds of others is a heinous, immoral act.
In the same vein, you should only need to be human to understand that it’s wrong when a man sexually harasses and assaults a woman, grabbing her body without her permission, demanding she put her hands on his naked flesh, blocking her from leaving a room, or pushing her head down to his crotch.
These are all things that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein did to young women who were looking to him as a potential mentor and boss, according to accounts in The New York Times and The New Yorker. If they didn’t comply, Weinstein reportedly threatened that he’d end their careers.
Clearly bad stuff.
Yet at least a couple of celebrity men put out statements or gave interviews about these revelations with a qualifier ― emphasizing that as fathers of daughters, they found this behavior abhorrent.
“Look, even before I was famous, I didn’t abide this kind of behavior,” mega-star Matt Damon said in an interview with Deadline Hollywood in which he condemned Weinstein’s behavior and denied reports that he had helped cover it up. “But now, as the father of four daughters, this is the kind of sexual predation that keeps me up at night. This is the great fear for all of us.”
Later in the interview, Damon says, “We have to be vigilant and we have to help protect and call this stuff out, because we have our sisters and our daughters and our mothers.”
Ben Affleck also took care to mention that we need to do better in “protecting our sisters, friends, coworkers and daughters.” (Weinstein has several daughters, and that doesn’t seem to have checked his behavior in any way.)
Singer Vanessa Carlton urged actress Gwyneth Paltrow to speak out because she has a daughter ― as if the pain of Weinstein’s other victims and possible future victims wasn’t enough.
Daughter qualifiers played an even bigger role in Pussygate one year ago, when Republicans rushed to condemn Donald Trump’s statements on the now-infamous “Access Hollywood” tape.
“Such vile degradations demean our wives and daughters,” tweeted former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney at the time.
“As the grandfather of two precious girls,” Jeb Bush said, “I find that no apology can excuse away Donald Trump’s reprehensible comments degrading women.”
As I wrote back then, the implication behind these kinds of statements is that women are only worthy of basic respect in relation to men.
If a man is killed or murdered, it’s much harder to find similar quotes from politicians talking about their sons and fathers and grandsons.
That’s because men see each other as humans. And a lot of men still don’t view girls or women that way. Indeed, almost from birth, boys and girls are taught that they’re very different from each other. And stereotypes about how girls are weak and boys are strong are drilled into kids. It’s no wonder that some boys grow up to sexually assault women and others grow up wanting to protect them.
In a sense, sexual assault is the flip side of the “daughter statement.” In both situations, a woman is an object ― to grope or to protect from groping. She’s not a person, but a thing that men have power over.
Of course, having children is extremely meaningful. And, yes, some parents feel a heightened urge to guard their offspring that also leads them to feel heightened empathy for other kids. At least, that’s been the case for me personally. And the truth is, for men, having a daughter can be somewhat transformative.
But that’s simply not a prerequisite for feeling empathy for victims of sexual assault.
Not everyone felt compelled to mention their offspring in their recent statements about Weinstein. Former President Barack Obama, whose own daughter interned for the producer, made no mention of the fact that he is the father of girls in his statement on Tuesday.
“Michelle and I have been disgusted by the recent reports of Harvey Weinstein. Any man who demeans and degrades women in such fashion needs to be condemned and held accountable, regardless of wealth or status,” Obama wrote.
“We should celebrate the courage of women who have come forward to tell these painful stories,” he added. “And we all need to build a culture, including by empowering our girls and teaching our boys decency and respect, so we can make such behavior less prevalent in the future.”
Decency and respect. You don’t need a daughter to understand that.