Accountability doesn’t end with an apology

Graphic by Sarah Morgan

Graphic by Sarah Morgan

Sofia Uriagereka-Herburger

In the wake of the ‘#MeToo’ and ‘#TimesUp’ movements, we’ve been subjected to a wide array of ridiculous apologies, most of them from men under a spotlight. They’re wordy, loaded with mentions of growth and pensive glances, and entirely devoid of substance. 

For example, Louis CK took a desperately uncomfortable “sabbatical” from comedy, from which he returned after less than a year with a slew of cheap, self-deprecating jokes and not an ounce of self-awareness. And Aziz Ansari failed at attempting to be seen as the nation’s awkward darling once again, the engaging offbeat nature of his personality forever marred by a woman’s account of how he used just that to try to force her to sleep with him. 

I realize that the examples I’ve used are two relatively famous comedians, and obviously, they don’t represent the vast majority of men who abuse, exploit, or degrade women. But there is something fascinating about their apologies, with their total lack of understanding of their actions that makes you watch them the same stunned way you can’t look away from a car crash on the news.

These past two years have created a beautiful space for people to share their stories, heal through solidarity, and grow into different people together; but it has also created a sort of formulaic strategy for some of these men to employ. It becomes legitimately concerning to listen to these apologies: on the news, a politician to a crowd of misty-eyed supporters, on any Netflix comedy special—the whole “I, uh, realize I’ve been in the news a lot lately, huh? {hold for raucous laughter} I’ve been on a couple of feminist blogs, haven’t I? {hold again}” routine simply doesn’t cut it. The men in our own lives aren’t exempt either, from co-workers who read a couple of pages of overly simplistic (outdated) first-gen feminist literature over their mandated leave of absence, or from classmates who just simply cannot accept that they shouldn’t use slurs in their free time. 

It’s like a template has been provided in men’s bathrooms nationwide: “I’m sorry that when [offensive thing I did for no reason] happened, you took it that way. I didn’t mean for it to be taken that way. I’m sorry if it made you upset, and if I didn’t communicate that I was actually trying to say/do this [still offensive thing] in [a still offensive] way. Sorry that you can’t see that [I am apparently still a child, don’t get mad at me!]”

Not to discourage apologizing, or the progress that has brought it on, but it’s imperative that we stop aligning the actions of a perpetrator’s apology with everyone else’s forgiveness. When men hurt people, particularly if the hurt is rooted in racial or sexual violence, an apology is an infinitesimal part of a process that may never be completed. This is likely difficult for men to hear, particularly those who cultivated their ‘nice boy’ image for years, whether to manipulate women into sleeping with them or mothering them—you are not entitled to forgiveness. You are not entitled to be let back into the spaces you used to share with the people you hurt. 

While these petulant, laughably immature apologies are easy to disregard at the nationally televised level, if we don’t dissect them for what they are, this process of pseudo-apologizing becomes even more deeply entrenched in our own circles. If the concerns we have for the disruption of dynamics outweighs the concerns we have for protecting those hurt by the actions we refuse to condemn, then the progress of the last two years has been a falsehood. •