abusive men

Why Can’t Abusive Men Just Straight-Up Apologize?

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Kate Harveston

Not your typical liberal millennial.

Since the Harvey Weinstein scandal shook Hollywood this past fall, its ripple effect has been felt across all sects of public life. Other show business icons, politicians, and public figures have come under fire for their own misdeeds in the months since. The responses have varied, from outright denial (ahem, James Franco) to total ownership, apologies and self-removal from positions of power (a la former senator Al Franken).

Unfortunately, the majority of the apologies offered up by these sexually abusive men fall far short of the heartfelt remorse and acknowledgment of wrongdoing that their victims truly deserve. Many of these men opt instead to make weak excuses, blame others or circumstances, or only accept partial blame for the abuse. It’s easy to see why many feel like these aren’t really apologies at all, but pathetic PR attempts to salvage a permanently tarnished reputation.

I decided to dissect three super lame, high-profile apologies, none of which accomplish the job they supposedly set out to do: to admit wrongdoing and simply apologize.

Harvey Weinstein

According to allegations backed by countless celebrities, Harvey Weinstein has been terrorizing women in Hollywood for decades — and many people in his inner circle, men and women alike, apparently remained silent about it. Weinstein’s absurdly inadequate apology begins like this:

“I came of age in the 60’s and 70’s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.”

…Um, what?

If you just did a double take, you’re not the only one. Weinstein began his “apology” with a lame excuse about how he was groomed to be the type of man who forces sex on unwilling women, attempting to paint himself as a victim.

Unless the history books have gotten it majorly wrong, millions of men grew up during this era and didn’t go on to sexually assault women. So that seems like an odd way to launch into an apology to one’s victims.

After somewhat conceding to the damage that he’s done, saying “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it,” Weinstein gets right back to whining about poor him. He goes on to say, “My journey now will be to learn about myself and conquer my demons.” This seems to refer to his checking into rehab, which he expands on later in the apology.

The fact that he turns his apology to his victims back to himself so quickly reveals something very important about Harvey Weinstein and so many men like him: he’s still making it about him. Maybe he’s sorry that he hurt anyone — or maybe just that he got caught — but now this is really about figuring out how to fix himself.

It’s so representative of the misogynistic culture that we still live in, where we allow so many of our men to grow up believing that the world revolves around them no matter what, and that there’s always a way to deflect blame off of themselves if they get creative enough (hello, rape culture).

Later on in the apology, Weinstein quotes a Jay-Z song. It’s the final nail in a horrible-apology coffin.

Louis C.K.

Rumors of Louis C.K.’s sexual misconduct have been swirling for years, and in the wake of the Weinstein scandal, the reality of them finally came to light. At the very least, C.K. never tried to deny them, stating simply, “These stories are true.”

Total ownership of his actions, no denial or sugarcoating. Seems like a good start, right? Unfortunately, things take a turn.

Referencing the five women who came forward to tell their stories of unwanted sexual encounters with the performer, Louis C.K. states, “The power I had over these women is that they admired me.”

Again, this apology falls entirely short of addressing the real issue. The issue is not women’s “admiration” of you, Louis. It’s that you took advantage of a screwed up system that has been in place for pretty much ever. A system that favors men, and puts them in positions of power that women in the same industries will have a difficult time overcoming. It’s a system that forces women to have to stay silent and acquiesce to the demands of the powerful men in their lives just to keep their careers and reputations intact.

Louis does allude to a power structure when he says he “wielded that power irresponsibly.” However, it’s easy to see that the “power” he’s referring to is not our patriarchal power system; it’s his supposed ability to render these women so awe-struck by his fame that they felt they had to do things they didn’t want to.

Yeah, okay, we get it. You’re such a big deal.

Next time, Louis, choose your words more carefully. Or better yet, don’t do anything that requires an apology in the first place.

Matt Lauer

Perhaps the biggest bombshell since the Weinstein scandal dropped was the sudden removal of Matt Lauer from The Today Show due to allegations of sexual harassment and abuse. One day, he was riffing with his cohosts, and two days later, Hoda Kotb was sitting in his place alongside a downcast Savanna Guthrie.

After receiving multiple allegations from women of sexual misconduct over the past 20 years, NBC removed Matt Lauer from his post without warning. The swift action seemed just and right in light of the accusations, but Lauer seems to bear some ill will toward his accusers — or, more accurately, his victims — all the same. From the get-go, Lauer’s apology reeks of insincerity.

In a statement, Lauer says, “Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed.” Lauer’s unwillingness to totally own up to what he’s done illustrates that he’s really just not listening. Embarrassment and shame aren’t the same as heartfelt remorse for wrongdoing, and he’s attempting to invalidate the way some of his victims felt about his actions by claiming that they’re “mischaracterizing” the events of the inappropriate interaction.

You made someone uncomfortable. You can’t tell someone not to feel a certain way just because you feel it’s being “mischaracterized” from how you view it.

Lauer goes on to say that, “As I am writing this I realize the depth of the damage and disappointment I have left behind at home and at NBC.” While his family and company have certainly suffered, and will continue to suffer, as a result of his decisions, Lauer discounts the pain of his victims when he turns the narrative to his friends, family and personal life so quickly.

It’s just another apology fail from a fallen American star. Are we really surprised?

These apologies fall so far short of the reparations that are actually needed in order for our societal discourse to start shifting. They reek of male entitlement and victim blaming, rape-apologist culture. Boys and men who look up to these people may hear their words and begin to subconsciously take in the idea that it’s okay to hurt women as long as you half-ass an apology and find someone or something else to blame.

The #MeToo movement was a huge step forward in breaking the silence surrounding the widespread abuse of women. It’s helping to change the conversation and hold abusive men accountable, and there are even new laws and workplace policies being reviewed and implemented across the country to provide for better transparency and reporting of sexual misconduct.

This is great news, and hopefully it starts to discourage men from acting like pigs in the workplace and beyond. But we need not forget to keep holding men fully accountable when they do act up by demanding more from the discussion we have afterwards.

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