By Jonathan Borge
Updated: Jul 13, 2018 @ 1:24 pm
Gregg DeGuire/Getty Images

Superman is getting super dragged for controversial comments about sexual harassment.

While discussing his single status in a new interview with GQ Australia, actor Henry Cavill addressed what he’s learned from the #MeToo movement, explaining that though he agrees “stuff has to change,” he’s fearful of being villainized for flirting with and pursuing women. 

“There’s something wonderful about a man chasing a woman. There’s a traditional approach to that, which is nice," he said. "I think a woman should be wooed and chased, but maybe I’m old-fashioned for thinking that.” He went on to detail why, exactly, he’s hesitant in the #MeToo era.

“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,” he added. “But it’s safer than casting myself into the fires of hell because I’m someone in the public eye, and I go and flirt with someone, then who knows what’s going to happen?”

Cavill said that his fear in the game of pursuit is essentially being considered creepy. “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?’”

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Of course, Cavill’s comments didn’t go down so well on Twitter. He was immediately called out for perpetuating the narrative that, in the wake of #MeToo, it’s men, not women, who are the victims. Women on Twitter explained that there’s a difference between “politely asking someone out and sexually harassing them,” and that if you don’t want to be categorized as a rapist, the solution is simple: don’t rape anyone.

Cavill subsequently issued an apology: "Having seen the reaction to an article, in particular about my feelings on dating and the #MeToo movement, I just wanted to apologise for any confusion and misunderstanding that this may have created."

However, the arguments made in reaction to his initial comments certainly aren't new. After dozens of women came forward with allegations of sexual harassment and rape against Harvey Weinstein last fall, feminist writer Roxanne Gay drove this point home in an op-ed for The New York Times.

“When this happens, men, in particular, act shocked and surprised that sexual violence is so pervasive because they are afforded the luxury of oblivion," she wrote. "And then they start to panic because not all men are predators an they don’t want to be lumped in with the bad men and they make women’s pain all about themselves."

Gay went on, "They choose not to face that enough men are predators that women engage in all sorts of protective behaviors and strategies so that they might stop adding to their testimony."

In a clairvoyant line that seems to address Cavill's conundrum explicitly, she said, "And then there are the men who act so overwhelmed, who ask, ‘What can I possibly do?’”

She also encourages men to be honest and come forward with stories that are telling of the pervasive nature of harassment not just in the workplace, but anywhere.

“It would equally be a balm if men spoke up about the times when they witnessed violence or harassment and looked the other way or laughed it off or secretly thought a woman was asking for it,” she adds. “It’s time for men to start answering for themselves because women cannot possibly solve this problem they had no hand in creating.”

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Similarly, Tracee Ellis Ross participated in a segment for Jimmy Kimmel Live! last December during which she read a parody-style children’s book designed to teach men how to not harass other people. Ross’s bit was funny—“And if I am your employee, don’t rest your hand upon my knee. No, I won’t sit on your lap. I shouldn’t have to say this crap,” she said—but it outlined the fact that ultimately, women are the true victims of widespread sexual discrimination, and that men shouldn’t whine about their innocence.

In reference to the #MeToo movement, she said, “It is a systemic problem about the abuse of power that takes place across all industries and has enabled a culture of inequity to persist for far too long.”