Back when the “me too” movement kicked off, I posted on FB that line from Cato’s letter that “The only security which we can have that men will be honest, is to make it their interest to be honest; and the best defence which we can have against their being knaves, is to make it terrible to them to be knaves. As there are many men wicked in some stations, who would be innocent in others; the best way is to make wickedness unsafe in any station.” A friend of mine replied that this is exactly what was happening: predators were finally finding their position unsafe.
The story of Louis CK returning to stand-up for an impromptu set despite sexual harassment charges he admits were true makes me wonder how unsafe these stations really are. Fans gave his appearance on stage a standing ovation. Some pundits are arguing being off-stage a few months is more than enough suffering; Michael Ian Black, for instance, argues Louis has “served his time” — he’s trying to find redemption, aren’t we obligated to give it to him? If there’s no redemption, why should he (or any man) even try to be better (a line of thinking beautifully mocked here)?
I agree there needs to be a path for redemption, but this ain’t redemption. It’s the comic’s fans not giving a crap about what he’s done, or what he might do in the future. Will we see the same if Matt Lauer successfully works on a comeback (or for that matter Trump’s racist ally Steve Bannon almost getting a platform again) As Rebecca Traister puts it “these men can return to their industries, with the expectation that their reentry might be near the top.” The women who backed away from projects because Louis CK or Lauer were involved? Had their careers wrecked by Harvey Weinstein? Had to deal with the alleged climate of harassment and Who Cares Who Grabbed You under Les Moonves at CBS? The men’s defenders don’t seem worried these women might not be able to find a path back, or concerned about fairness for Janet Jackson (at the link it details how Moonves allegedly trashed her career). As Abigail Nussbaum says, Louis CK returning unrepentant and unredeemed is a workplace safety issue.Harassment’s not just about sex, it’s about women (in some cases, men) becoming unable to work in their profession, do their job, earn a living because of the risk.
CK taking a few months time out is not redemption: “Louis CK” says Nussbaum, “has done absolutely nothing to indicate that he is seeking redemption. He clearly wants his career back, but there has been absolutely no indication that he regrets his past behavior (except inasmuch as he regrets what it eventually cost him), much less any attempt to make restitution to his victims, or work on himself to try to become a better, less toxic person. But because he is a famous, rich white man, Black automatically assumes the existence of his regret.”
Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg points out the difference between forgiveness (given, voluntarily, by the victim, if they so choose), atonement for sin (granted by God) and redemption, which requires actual work: Acknowledge the wrong you’ve done, preferably publicly. Become a person who won’t do it again. Make restitution. Apologize “in whatever way will make it as right as possible with the victim.” And when the opportunity arises to do it again, don’t. Samantha Field discusses the same process from a Christian perspective (her point that restoring someone to their old position does not redeem them seems relevant to the CK mess). John Scalzi suggests, though I don’t have the link handy, that ten years away from the limelight/political office should be a minimum.
We have a long way to go yet before unsafety for the wicked is the norm.