Why do men like Louis C.K. and Aziz Ansari get a second chance?

September 29, 2018

The amount of coffee I've needed to get through this week. 


With the news that Louis C.K. and Aziz Ansari had started performing again, every woman who’d ever been told that if she came forward and accused a man of sexual harassment it’d ruin his career groaned in disgust. As a survivor myself, I wasn’t surprised. Disgusted, yes, surprised, no. Because I think #metoo was just the a part of changing how our society views consent, and we’re now grappling with “What next?”


I find it gross that, within days of another public figure’s disgrace, we’re already talking about how he can come back, repent, and once again take his place as comedian beloved by many. The rapidness with which we, as a society, marginalize victim’s voices is breathtaking.


 On the one hand, I want to advocate for asking the victims what would look like atonement and repentance to them. What would the victim’s need to see to feel that their harasser or assaulter had repented? What would it look like to them? Do they want a personal apology, or do they never want to see his smug face on the side of a bus again?

But, on the other hand, I’m wary of insisting that their victims engage in the emotional labor of looking out for their assaulter’s career. Why must she even give any headspace as to how he could come back, or make it right?  Whatever shape and form her healing may take, that’s up to her. And, after having the courage to speak up, she owes no one an explanation of how she’s dealing with or moving on from the trauma.


It’s almost inevitable, this cycle of disgrace, bad PR apology, and eventual repentance and comeback. Americans love a comeback story, true, though those used to be reserved for men who’d struggled with addiction or losing an important game. But our society also has deep puritanical roots. We draw on these roots in much of the language surrounding the future of these men in the public sphere and with the very assumption that these men deserve a second chance. Note that I highly doubt any of the men whose downfall has come during the #metoo movement needs to continue working for financial reasons.


I was raised Christian, even attended a Christian college which required I go to chapel three times a week, and while it’s no longer my faith path I remember those old lessons. Lessons that, if we’re going to apply the Christian model of forgiveness here, don’t align with what I was taught.


If you commit a sin, you can repent and God will forgive you. But if you commit that sin again, it’s called a sin of presumption. You’re presuming on God’s grace. How many women did Louis C.K. jack off in front of? And a part of repentance is atonement. If you feel genuine remorse, you try to make it right. As someone who often draws on his Catholic roots in his comedy, I’d expect Louis C.K. to have some awareness of these teachings.


Going to therapy - that’s for them, it’s looking inwards and talking about themselves. Even writing a big check to a woman’s organization – ego boost. To my knowledge, none of these men have done anything that required them to look the women they hurt in the eye and apologize – should the women want this. Everything they’ve done has been at a distance from their offenses.  


I’d be more inclined to believe Louis C.K.’s half-assed apology if, instead of taking the recent gig at the Governor’s Comedy Club, he’d said, “You know what? Why don’t you give this to one of the women I harmed?” Or if there were any evidence that he’d tried to personally undo the wrong he’d done.


That’s what I think society is still trying to deal with, post #metoo. Because to answer the question of whether or not they even deserve a place on the stage, or on our television sets again, is to look at our own complicity. We want to enjoy our favorite comic’s stand-up without guilt – I loved Louis C.K.’s comedy specials and had watched them several times. We don’t want to feel vaguely ashamed that we loved their work. And the executives who turned a blind eye in favor of profit don’t want to admit their complicity in putting profit before people.


And to ask their victims when they would be okay with men who’ve harmed them returning to their careers is to essentially say to them; sorry for your pain and trauma, but how soon can we all go back to normal?


It gets down to the following – the assumption that forgiveness must come, and that these men can resume their careers after a short time away, tells me that American society has not yet internalized the belief that a woman’s body, life, and consent matter more than previous assumptions about redemption. Change is happening, but we’re not there yet.


We can also see this in the current Supreme Court hearings. When a societal norm, or the social contract, is broken, there's usually a punishment of some sort. Ostracization. Harm to the offending parties reputation or an end to their career. We've seen none of that. Because the idea that women are fully equal to the men who harm them is not yet a part of our social contract. 


We're not there yet. And until we reach the day that a man like Kavanaugh would never be considered for a seat on the Supreme Court, until we reach a day when a man's right to return to the public stage after violating a woman's consent isn't presumed, we can't claim to be.


As far as I’m concerned, Louis C.K. can take a permanent seat.

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