Do the men accused of misconduct during the #MeToo movement deserve a second chance?
In November 2017, Louis CK’s name was added to the rapidly growing list of male celebrities accused of sexual misconduct in light of the #MeToo movement. Five women confirmed to The New York Times that CK had masturbated in front of them without their consent. Louis CK confirmed these claims, publicly stating, “These stories are true…. I have been remorseful of my actions. And I’ve tried to learn from them....I have spent my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want. I will now step back and take a long time to listen.”
In response to these claims and CK’s confirmation of their veracity, the comedian’s management company and touring agency — as well as television networks with which the comedian worked, like FX and HBO — cut ties with CK. In fact, CK recently claimed that he “lost $35 million in an hour.”
But less than a year later, CK performed on stage in NYC. His apparent decision that he had been remorseful enough to reclaim his career raises the question of whether an apology issued by an A-list celebrity while the world is watching him and then a year of supposed reflection, warrants forgiveness. More broadly, CK’s self-redemption asks the public: What do we expect of the men accused of sexual misconduct after they face public condemnation? Can we, should we, forgive them?
Louis CK wasn’t the only one who believed he deserves a second chance. So does Amarie Castillo, the host of the West Side Comedy Club, where CK performed his first set since the scandal in October 2018. CK is “owning up, acknowledging, and trying to figure it out,” Castillo told LaughSpin.
But others disagree, especially considering the content of CK’s most recent performance in December. CK was once hailed for integrating feminist commentary into his comedy. He has previously discussed how while heart disease is the number one threat to men, men are the “number one threat to women.” He has called out the discomfort women feel when male strangers stare at them and the general dissatisfaction women have with sex with men.
Many people who listened to leaked audio of the set found his new work to be more regressive than provocative, and certainly anti-feminist. In this set, CK emasculated Asian men, stating “You know why Asian guys have small dicks? Cause they’re women. They’re not dudes!” CK also mocked those who identify as gender nonbinary, saying “They tell you what to call them. Oh OK, you should address me as ‘there’ because I identify as a location. And the location is your mother’s cunt.”
Disturbingly, this regression seems to be evident in the work of men created after they were accused of misconduct. In recent years, Aziz Ansari has become known as an ally to women and other marginalized communities, often referencing feminism in his comedic work. But since being accused of misconduct, some have noted that Ansari’s comedy has become embittered. For example, in response to many progressives’ condemnation of a viral photo featuring a non-Asian girl wearing an Asian-style dress to prom, Ansari mocked the concept of cultural appropriation, and how “everyone weighs in on everything.” Ansari complained about the “destructive performativity of Internet activism and the fickle, ever-changing standards of political correctness.” Essentially Ansari called progressive discussions of social issues on the Internet — the very type of discussion of which he was once the target — destructive acts.
This pattern of regression is evident beyond accused comedians, too. TV journalist Charlie Rose was known as a liberal voice, even demanding “respect for women” during his show. But after eight women told The Washington Post that Rose had groped them, made raunchy phone calls to them, and was naked in their presence in 2017, Rose suddenly became less concerned with respecting women. In September 2018, he stated that his accusers were “exploiting” the #MeToo movement.
So were these men ever actually allies of women? Rather than address the gravity of the accusations made against them, many men called out by the #MeToo movement have instead run from their accusers and then combatively turned against them. They’ve tried to invalidate the movement itself, perhaps doing so in line with another common phenomenon in progressive spaces: that of men being active in the women’s movement only out of the desire to get brownie points for being considered a “good guy.”
It’s also possible that these men were never allies in any form, that they were previously pandering to progressives to garner power, objectifying them as consumers rather than actually supporting their subjectivity in their work. Now that the left has effectively rejected this pandering and given them a time out, perhaps they find it more convenient to pander to right-wing audiences. If this is indeed their plan, then mocking racial minorities, genderqueer kids, and cultural activists is certainly an efficacious way to accomplish it.
But what if we give these men the benefit of the doubt? What if they were genuine allies, but fell prey to labeling theory? Sociologist Howard Becker, who conceptualized labeling theory in the 1960s, defines the theory as the phenomenon during which individuals who have been labeled as deviant or criminal will act out the part, falling into a self-fulfilling prophecy. When one is cut off from society, they snowball deeper into deviance. If this is the case for men like Ansari, Rose, and CK, maybe being so publicly labeled as abusers changed their outlook on themselves as well as the public doing the labeling. Maybe they are becoming more dismissive of the social movements that they once supported because those very movements labeled them negatively. They accept their role as misogynists as a way of fulfilling the prophecy the labels they were ascribed laid out for them.
It’s impossible for us to know the truth. But no matter the reason these men are responding to the accusations against them they way they are, the bottom line is that it is no longer women’s jobs to nurse these men back to decency. The #MeToo movement’s work is to expose how these men messed up, not to clean up their messes. It’s up the accused men to do what they must to rectify their actions. If this sounds harsh, consider a group of people who broke free from the expectations surrounding their labels: “Victims.” Surely, men can also break the supposedly self-fulfilling prophecy of being labeled “abusers.”
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