Henry Cavill missed the point of #MeToo -- and he's not the first one

Elizabeth Di Filippo
Henry Cavill. Image via Getty Images.
Henry Cavill. Image via Getty Images.

Instead of making headlines for his new movie, Henry Cavill is receiving backlash for his off-the-mark comments about dating during the #MeToo movement.

In a new interview for GQ Australia to promote his film, “Mission: Impossible- Fallout,” Cavill exhibits a growing trend for men in the post #MeToo era: A confusion for how to interact with women.

The piece, written by Adam Baidawi, paints Cavill as elusive and private, if not boring at times subject. While most feature pieces for high-profile magazines like GQ feature a semblance of real intimacy between the interviewer and the subject, Cavill comes across as seemingly afraid, or unable to make a misstep — and that fear extends into his romantic life.

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When asked about what he’s learned from the #MeToo movement, not just as someone who works in Hollywood, but as a man, the actor becomes uncharacteristically chatty, which is where the interview runs off its rails.

Cavill notes that he has witnessed inappropriate behaviour and has intervened while on set and is aware of the need for change saying, “Stuff has to change, absolutely. It’s important to also retain the good things, which were a quality of the past, and get rid of the bad things.”

The good things for Cavill, is a man pursuing a woman — a notion that the “Superman” star seems weary to act upon himself for fear of his actions being misconstrued.

Henry Cavill. Image via GQ Australia.
Henry Cavill. Image via GQ Australia.

There’s something wonderful about a man chasing a woman,” he says. “There’s a traditional approach to that, which is nice. I think a woman should be wooed and chased, but maybe I’m old-fashioned for thinking that 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.’ So you’re like, ‘Forget it, I’m going to call an ex-girlfriend instead, and then just go back to a relationship, which never really worked.’ But it’s way safer than casting myself into the fires of hell, because I’m someone in the public eye, and if I go and flirt with someone, then who knows what’s going to happen?”

Cavill continues, “Now? 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?’”

At first, his comments read as seriously cringeworthy, and there’s no denying that they are. The #MeToo movement wasn’t a witch hunt to crucify all men, but an attempt for women to share their experiences of sexual assault to illustrate just how common women and men are victims of verbal, physical or sexual harassment.

Cavill’s comments are congruent what experts say is a common reaction men are having in light of the allegations of sexual assault or misconduct that have been dominating the headlines. Men are confused, and fearful that perhaps they will “accidentally” do something wrong.

In an article for the Canadian Press, Sheryl Ubelacker writes that the #MeToo movement has created a “climate of mistrust between the sexes.”

Image via Getty Images.
Image via Getty Images.

Registered psychotherapist Ayan Mukherjee believes there is an hesitancy for men to pursue women romantically out of fear of their actions being misinterpreted.

I think men are also feeling like, ‘You know what? It was already kind of hard to reach out to women from a dating point of view, even if you’re trying to reach out in a healthy manner and a sex-positive manner,'” he said. “Now it has become even harder in the sense that one false, unconscious move and you have been categorized … there is no spectrum from being someone who just flirted badly or made a faux pas versus a serial rapist.”

In addition, dating coach Jack Mardock says many of the men he talks to are second-guessing their behaviour in past encounters, and fearful that it may have been inappropriate.

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“I talked to some of these guys and said ‘Did anything happen in the past?'” he said. “And they would talk about how when they were in college and were conversing with someone of the opposite sex, but none of it was inappropriate. But the fact that they think it might be inappropriate, it’s not good.”

Mardock says that many of the men can be so paralyzed by the fear that they’ve behaved out of turn they’re hindering their chances of building a new relationship.

So when you have guys thinking ‘Oh God, what if I did something in the past, what if it comes back to haunt me, they just end up putting their heads down … either outside of work or in work,” he said.

The confusion and subsequent fear is a new reaction by men to an age-old problem that has impacted women. The newfound paranoia that perhaps a man’s interactions with women haven’t been appropriate is a direct result of rape culture quieting and discrediting victims, and conditioning women to believe that it was our duty to police our actions, instead of holding men accountable for theirs.

Image via Getty Images.
Image via Getty Images.

The over-correction to avoid women altogether out of fear that their flirtations could be misinterpreted is an indication that perhaps men or “some men” are unable to decipher between flirtation and aggression, between a woman’s interest and a woman’s discomfort.

What Cavill touches upon is interesting in that although he fears being misinterpreted, he simultaneously longs for the past when a man could pursue and woo a woman, and really — we should all want that, too.

Traditionally, a man would ask a woman on a date. A man would ask a woman to dance. A man would ask a woman if he could get close to her, to hold her hand or touch her. The long and short of it is that it’s always been about asking women first and treating women with respect.

Confusion is a good thing. For any man worried that their actions could potentially be held against them, maybe it’s time to be more conscious of what they say to a woman, what they text to a woman and what a woman says in return.

Cavill has since apologized for his remarks.

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