Over the past year, the #MeToo movement has started a new conversation about the frequency with which women are subjected to sexual abuse, assault, harassment, and coercion. But, as is the case with many progressive movements, #MeToo has also been criticized (mostly by straight, cis men) for what some consider its lack of nuance. One such critic is actor Sean Penn, who recently suggested that the #MeToo movement divides men and women.
In a September 17th appearance on Today, Penn discussed his forthcoming Hulu series, The First, which he stars in with actress Natascha McElhone. While McElhone told Today host Natalie Morales that she felt her character was influenced by the #MeToo movement, Penn disagreed. The actor said that the movement was “shouldered by a kind of receptacle of the salacious.”
When Morales asked him to clarify what he meant, Penn said that, “we don’t know what’s a fact in many of the cases.” He defined “salacious” as when “you call something a movement that is really a series of many individual accusers, victims, accusations, some of which are unfounded.”
Morales was quick to interject, saying, “most women would say it’s uniting women.” Penn again disagreed, arguing that among the women he’s talked to “there’s a common sense that is not represented at all in the discussion when it comes to the media discussion of it.”
When Morales later asked if he felt the movement had “too many shades of gray,” Penn insisted that “it’s too black and white.”
Penn, whom the Daily Beast notes has faced accusations of domestic abuse in the past, has often been critical of #MeToo. In a May interview with The Guardian, he defended long-time friend Charlie Rose, the TV host who was fired from PBS and CBS for sexually harassing women on staff. In the same interview, Penn called #MeToo “a movement led by mania.”
Penn’s latest comments demonstrate the inaccurate—and outright ignorant—attitudes and perceptions many still hold about those willing to speak up about sexual misconduct. We have a long way to go, and men like Penn need to learn when to take a step back and listen.