“You have to forgive them for your sake.”
There are few phrases that send me over the edge as quickly as this one and any of its variants. I’ve covered this before, but it’s still something that bugs the shit out of me, especially during this time of #MeToo. I keep thinking about how much of the focus from some people* is on how hard we’re being on the perps. Or to be more precise, how hard we’re being on them by extension of being hard on the perps.
“This is gonna make it harder to meet women,” they whine. “I’ll be too afraid to even come up to a woman and flirt because she’ll scream sexual harassment!”
First of all, if you consistently have women saying you’re sexually harassing them, well, you’re doing flirting wrong. If you have to worry about your technique coming across as sexual harassment, then you’re also doing it wrong. If the general response from women you’re flirting with is, “Get the fuck away from me!”, you’re definitely doing it wrong.
Side rant: Women do not have to be gamed into fucking/dating you. Well, you in particular, maybe, because you (from two paragraphs up) have a poisonous attitude that women can smell a mile away, but in general, women are on the same sexual spectrum as men, which means ranging from asexual to ‘can fuck three times a day and still be horny enough to masturbate afterwards’.
That is another post for another day, so I’ll hew back to the main topic with difficulty.
I was raised evangelical Christian. There was the usual hell and brimstone bullshit, and the ‘forgive your transgressors’ bullshit that accompanies many religion. I was pissed as hell at Christianity for many years after I left, and then it faded away with difficulty in time. I got to the point where I didn’t care about it, and if someone wanted to believe, it was fine as long as it didn’t infringe on my rights and personhood.
I’ve never cared for the word forgiveness, but when it was accompanied by true contrition on the part of the perp, it was acceptable. But, to me, the underlying idea of pressuring someone into forgiving makes me supremely uncomfortable. It’s for the forgiven and for the audience, not for the forgiver. Or, to put it more plainly, it’s for the perpetrator, not the victim. It’s to make his (and it’s usually a him, but not always, of course) life easier because America loves a good redemption story.
And patriarchy, of course.
Here’s one of the insidious side effects of any ism–the narrative is centered around the majority and not the minority. That’s why it’s worse to be called a racist than actually be one, for example. That’s why anyone who is a minority has to be excruciatingly conscious about how they voice their objections. They know that they are going to get pushback that is outsized compared to what they actually said.
Taking this back to the concept of forgiveness. I don’t know if this is a specifically Christian attitude, but pervasive in this country is that someone who doesn’t forgive a perp in X amount of time is actually worse than the perp. I think it’s a Christian attitude crossed with the love for redemption PLUS the need to keep the status quo as is. It’s similar to families in which there’s one relative, let’s say Uncle Joe, who is an absolute asshole in behavior and words. He’s sexist, racist, homophobic, classist, and everything else, and everyone knows he’s going to say/do something awful at every family get-together. Yet, when Cousin Susie speaks up and says something to him, she is the one who is scolded and pressured into smoothing things over for the good of the family.
It’s the missing stair theory, which I first saw at the Captain Awkward website but originated at Pervocracy. Everyone works around the asshole and everybody knows they’re working around the asshole, but they don’t ever think, “Hey, maybe we should fix the asshole instead of working around him.” They try to warn new people about him, and they make sure to keep an eye on him, but god forbid they ever mention it. And, if someone else does, that person is often ostracized instead. The status quo is a powerful drug, yo.
Also, no one wants to feel complicit in upholding a sick system, and that’s what we have when it comes to sexual harassment/rape culture in America. There are a million different ways we tell women that they are there for the gratification of men, and we punish them for daring to speak up when all this goes terribly wrong.
To loop back to dudes who whine about not being able to flirt with women now–my dudes. #MeToo may be a relatively new movement, but the sentiments behind it aren’t new by any stretch of the imagination. Most women have been groped, cat-called, sexually molested, harassed, or raped at least once in their lives. The sheer volume of stories coming out during #MeToo isn’t because it’s a new thing that just started to happen in the past few years; it’s because women are finally feeling comfortable speaking–and still getting a hell of a lot of pushback for it.
I can’t stop thinking about Louis CK. I’ve written about him before, but he’s the one who’s stuck with me because I really liked his comedy. I’ve quoted him ad nauseam, and he was one of my favorite comedians before the revelation. Once I heard it, though, I dropped him from my lexicon like he never even existed. I felt conflicted about it for some time, but I knew I couldn’t in good conscience continue to reference him like nothing happened. In addition, the revelation made me feel sickened in retrospect by some of the stories he told in past stand up specials that made me laugh. He made me feel complicit after the fact for condoning what I would have considered questionable behavior in real life, but that was fucking hilarious in the context in which he presented it.
When he was confronted, he admitted he’d done it and said he would step away and spend a lot of time listening to other people. It was the one thing I actually respected him for (among a lot of disgust for his behavior and how he wielded his clout and power), and I hoped he would get his shit together at some point and become a better person in his absence. I wasn’t going to go back to supporting him, but I wished him well. Fun fact, I just realized I was still subscribed to his newsletter and instantly unsubscribed.
Anyway, about a month ago, roughly ten months after his revelation, he crashed a comedy club and did a set without warning that included a rape joke.
There is so much wrong with this that. First, that he was allowed to do the set in the first place. Yes, I know he’s Louis CK and that even now, having him perform will probably boost a small comedy club. However, there were women in the audience who were uncomfortable and even afraid while he was doing his set because there were many men who were applauding him and shouting encouragement. I can see myself in that situation being frozen and wondering what the fuck I should do. Hell, I have been in a similar situation. I was at a Dana Gould show (comped ticket), and he told an incredibly gross rape joke that had me frozen in my seat. I wanted to leave, but I knew that would be making a scene. I stayed for the rest of the (unfunny) set, and it was not a pleasant experience.
With Louis CK, I would like to think I would have gotten up and walked out, but I can’t say for sure. I know I would have felt violated and triggered by seeing him, though. And as a paying customer, I would have been enraged and never gone back to the club. Not only that, I would have spread the word on social media to inform everyone where it had happened so they could avoid it as well. That tipped my ambivalence about Louis CK into disgust. It was incredibly slimy of him to do that, and it was clear that he had learned jack and shit. There was some comedian on Twitter, Michael Ian Black, I think who said even though it was unpopular, he thought that Louis CK had done his time, so he should be allowed to perform again.
Yeaaaaaaah. There was plenty of backlash, and he finally ended up seeing the light, but it took a lot of work on the part of beleaguered women who patiently and not so patiently took away every one of his reasons for saying what he did. They rightly pointed out that Louis CK spent no time, still had tons of money, and made no amends. He did not express remorse and went so far as to make a rape joke during his set. In addition, he did not have the balls to set up his own show and perform–no he stealth-bombed a club, knowing he would be accepted because he’s fucking Louis CK, man. The fact that Michael Ian Black was so concerned about another man’s redemption story, with heavy emphasis on man, is wearying, but also not surprising.
It’s what’s behind all the ‘we can’t even flirt’ bullshit that’s happening now. It’s funny, though, because my reaction to these men saying they won’t flirt at all any longer is, “GOOD!” It’s a hollow threat, of course. They’re going to keep being assholes because they’re unwilling to look at their own behavior, and that’s what I hate about the current bullshit over forgiveness. Demanding a victim forgive their perp without demanding anything from the perp (as in the case with Louis CK) is putting the onus on the wrong person entirely. It’s saying the initial transgression doesn’t count nearly as much as the lack of forgiveness, which I find to be rampant in evangelical Christianity. I found this article by a woman who was sexually abused by her father in a very fundamental Christian household, and I can relate to everything she’s said. I admire her for having the strength to take him to court and the strength to resist after he was released from jail all his attempts to manipulate her into having a relationship with him again. The last two paragraphs in particular stick with me:
There are things about my abuse that I can forgive, but the list is short and circumstantial. I can forgive my dad’s untreated mental illness; I can forgive my dad’s alcoholism and drug abuse; I can forgive my mother for feeling too stuck in an emotionally abusive relationship to risk standing up for me. But I cannot forgive the act and I will not forgive him.
I don’t feel guilty about this. And that’s the best healing I’ve experienced so far.
I feel the same way about forgiving certain people. I don’t think I need to forgive them, and, indeed, I find it offensive when told I do ‘for my own good’. I included the Kelly Clarkson song above because it’s similar to my own feelings about forgiveness–you don’t have to do it to move on. It’s clear that Kelly hasn’t forgiven, but she’s built a better life without her father in it–which is better than empty forgiveness.
I hate the word forgiveness because of how loaded it is these days and how forgiveness is often touted as the only way to ‘heal’, whatever that means. For me, there are some people I will never forgive. What I have done is let go of much of the anger and moved past it. I’ve made those people less important to me than they used to be, and that’s really all I care about. I don’t care why they did what they did or if they’re better people now or whatever. All I care about is that it doesn’t affect me the way it used to, and in some cases, it doesn’t affect me at all. And, like Monica in the article I linked above, I don’t feel guilty about it at all. That’s healing for you!
*Men. Let’s be real. It’s men. Specifically cis het men.