Mary A. Pura | November 22, 2017
In a speech given in 2004 at The University of Massachusetts Boston, the late Dr. Andrew Lazare, a leading authority on the psychology of shame, humiliation and apology, had this to say about the nature of apology:
“Apology is more than an acknowledgment of an offense together with an expression of remorse. It is an ongoing commitment by the offending party to change his or her behavior. It is a particular way of resolving conflicts other than by arguing over who is bigger and better.”
Unfortunately there has been a failure in our society to adopt this important formula, especially in the context of sexual harassment. The painful memory of sexual assault can never be erased. What is done can never be undone and it certainly cannot be eradicated with self-pitying words, which is what many recent Hollywood ‘big shots’ have been trying to do. Apology, in their opinion, does not include remorse but rather a defense of the self.
It has been only a month since producer Harvey Weinstein’s years of sexual misconduct were brought to the world’s attention. Since then, names have rapidly been pouring out of Pandora’s box, such as Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner, Andrew Kreisburg, and Louis C.K (to name a few). This, unfortunately, is not a surprise, especially to actresses in Hollywood, where sexual harassment is not only rampant but a secretly adopted part of the business.
Now that so many reputations are unraveling, the accused have a responsibility to respond accordingly and ideally follow Dr. Lazare’s formula. But we live in an age where the overall massacre of the English language is a daily practice on Twitter for US President Donald Trump, who is also accused by at least 16 women of sexual harassment. Trump has made an art out of self-pitying language, which distracts and manipulates public opinion. While Weinstein and Louis C.K may be hiding behind the mask of liberalism, they have done exactly the same thing. These so-called apologies, especially the ones written by the latter two men, demonstrate how our society has failed to teach men the importance of language in cases such as these.
Quartz, an online news media outlet, recently released an article where the writers quite literally take a red pen to Louis C.K.’s so-called apology letter. They put those English degees to use; the letter is covered in red ink. What is continually crossed out are the dramatized lines of self-admiration. Here is just one example:
“I wish I had reacted to their admiration of me by being a good example to them as a man and given them some guidance as a comedian, including because I admired their work.”
This statement not only fails to address the issue at hand, but manages to leave us with the important reminder of how ‘powerful’ and ‘admired’ Louis C.K is. The same editing process should be done to Weinstein’s patched up one-paged statement:
“Though I’m trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go. That is my commitment. My journey now will be to learn about myself and conquer my demons.”
Somehow Weinstein has managed to distort his narrative into an Eat, Pray, Love journey of self-discovery. There is no mention of the demons he has permanently left behind with his victims. These men would have you believe that they had no control over their actions and that they themselves are the true victims of their sexual deviance. Weinstein transforms his actions into an heroic one, taking on the National Rifle Association in his mother’s name. So, of course all is forgiven now, right?
With the continual use of phrases such as “I’m learning,” or “I know I have an issue,” not once do they simply state, “I am sorry.” In fact after reading both of their statements, I found that the word ‘sorry’ is not used at all.
Even if they had put aside their dressed up language and actually said the word, it still cannot take away the damage they have done. But if they truly want to ‘heal,’ then leaving their ego at the door is a start. I highly encourage our readers to read the entirety of these statements as well as the countless others that have and will be released to the public. Examine their language. How much of it is about themselves and how much is about their victims?
Words, as we know, have power, and the way they are constructed can reveal the true nature of someone’s character. While Weinstein and Louis C.K. do not deny the truth of their actions, their written manifestos of self-pity are equally as shameful.
Mary is a recent graduate of Mount Holyoke College and is currently studying an MSc in Literature & Society at The University of Edinburgh. Her research interests include 19th century Victorian Women’s literature and Visual Culture. She is a self-proclaimed feminist and lover of caffeinated beverages.
Reviewed by Sini Eikonsalo, June L. Laurenson, and Christa Burgin