Henry Cavill and rethinking courtship post-#MeToo
Courtship has never been easy. Successfully dating requires a cocktail of humility, confidence, and luck, and each individual has their own personal way of approaching that mixture. But navigating dating culture in the post-#MeToo era has especially made some people pause and reassess the manner in which they have previously approached wading into the dating pool. In fact, some, like Henry Cavill — an actor best known for playing Superman on the big screen — have expressed uncertainty and discouragement about trying to woo someone in this current social climate of heightened awareness of sexual harassment.
“Stuff has to change, absolutely,” Cavill told GQ Australia in a response to a question about how the #MeToo movement had affected him. But then he added, “There’s something wonderful about a man chasing a woman … I think a woman should be wooed and chased, but maybe I’m old-fashioned for thinking that.”
Neither the #MeToo movement, nor the basic acknowledgment of a woman’s agency, decrees the death of romance. The refusal to let go of traditional courtship, on the other hand — like that which Cavill described and seems to cling to — illustrates not just Cavill’s, but many straight men’s, inability to accept the possibility, let alone reality, of a shift in the balance of power between men and women and their equation of that shift in balance with the “death” of dating.
Take Cavill’s wistful statement about “chasing a woman,” for example. Idealizing “the chase” skews the dynamic between two potential romantic partners: The man is painted as the aggressor and the woman as something to be captured, won, conquered. Glamorizing a seemingly endless, active pursuit undermines a woman’s agency in favor of a man’s desires. This traditional courtship overlooks a woman’s desires and/or intentions in favor of a man’s desire and intent to pursue her. Cavill’s suggestion that this approach is “old-fashioned” is correct.
As if the romanticization of this predatory type of “courtship” weren’t enough, though, the 35-year-old actor went on to discuss how he feels the #MeToo movement itself has negatively impacted dating. “It’s very difficult to [actively pursue women] if there are certain rules in place,” he told GQ. “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 added: “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?’”
While caution is perhaps an improvement from offensive and sexist eras past, if someone feels like they can’t flirt with someone else out of fear of repercussion and accusation, there is a fundamental flaw in the way they flirt and likely approach their romantic relationships overall. Cavill (not to mention the men who agree with him) clearly has a misunderstanding of communication and harassment. His biggest fear in approaching a woman, he seems to claim, is that he’ll be labeled a rapist. If one doesn’t want to be called a rapist, all one must do is not rape someone. Cavill also laments that he now has to stop pursuing women after they say they’re not interested. Cavill, and, to be sure, plenty of other straight men, would do well to understand that accepting rejection is necessary to respect the safety and agency of anyone.
Ultimately, if someone feels that they have had to change the way they flirt or pursue people since #MeToo’s inception, there was something wrong with the way they flirted in the first place. The seismic shift that moved our cultural understanding and acknowledgment of the reality and prevalence of sexual harassment and misconduct has oft been misconstrued as a movement that vilifies men. In reality, it only rightfully vilifies those who act like heinous monsters.
Cavill has since walked back his statements, apologizing for “for any confusion and misunderstanding” they caused. But his initial comments still illustrate a larger problem with the reaction to #MeToo: namely the phenomenon of men victimizing themselves in the wake of this cultural shift simply because their flirting habits need to change. It’s an extremely myopic view to believe that the prime consequence of #MeToo is that men may become unfairly targeted. This self-victimization overlooks the survivors that shepherded #MeToo and the far greater discomfort they and countless other women have and still have at the hands of men. No one is rooting for men to mess up so they can be tarred and feathered. No one is looking for an excuse to unfairly accuse someone of misconduct. Many of us are, however, hoping that men who have acted reprehensibly are exposed and reprimanded accordingly.
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