A TV network is reportedly working on a show exploring how accused men have been affected by #MeToo. This is not what the world needs right now.
It was inevitable. Just six months after the first articles about Harvey Weinstein’s abusive behaviour were published and the world split open with women’s stories about sexual harassment and assault, it is apparently time for us to start contemplating how male perpetrators can be redeemed. According to former Vanity Fair editor and legendary journalist Tina Brown, a TV show is in the works in which disgraced US news anchor Charlie Rose will interview other men whose careers were felled by #MeToo scandals.
Brown confirmed on 25 April that she was approached to produce the ‘atonement series’, telling Page Six that she declined to take part. Earlier this week, she was quoted as saying that the men slated to appear in the show included comedian Louis CK and broadcaster Matt Lauer, as well as other men accused of sexual misconduct.
Interestingly, Rose, CK and Lauer have all admitted to sexual harassment, issuing slippery statements in which they expressed heavily caveated remorse. When five women alleged that CK had masturbated – or tried to – in front of them, he confirmed that their stories were true, but added: “At the time, I said to myself that what I did was OK because I never showed a woman my dick without asking first”.
Lauer has disputed some of the allegations of harassment that led to him being fired from NBC’s Today show, while acknowledging “there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed”. No fewer than eight women accused Rose of trying to expose himself in their presence, groping them and/or making lewd phone calls; he’s said that while he now understands he “behaved inappropriately”, he “always felt that I was pursuing shared feelings”.
These men have not positioned themselves as the targets of smear campaigns, but rather as blundering figures victimised by their inability to interpret women’s thoughts and feelings. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that theirs are the names that have been attached to this TV series, rather than – say – Patrick Demarchelier, Danny Masterson or Jeremy Piven, all of whom have vociferously denied the allegations of assault made against them.
Or perhaps not. A generous reading is that the (unnamed) network behind the show is predominantly interested in men who understand that they behaved badly and hope to make amends; men who want to atone for what they’ve done and figure out how to move forward, out of the shadow of #MeToo.
But now is not the time for that kind of programme, or indeed any attempt to humanise perpetrators of sexual aggression against women. Because atonement goes hand in hand with redemption – and these men have not earned the right to be the stars of their own redemption narrative.
The urge to provide people with redemption is human, and often commendable. Few sensible adults believe that anyone is all bad; we know that people can do terrible things without being inherently terrible themselves. We love films and books where (usually male) baddies find their way into the light at the end, from Ebenezer Scrooge and Darth Vader to Severus Snape – and in real life, our belief in the possibility of rehabilitation is one of the reasons why very few crimes carry genuine life sentences.
But you don’t have to think that Rose, CK, Lauer et al are incurable monsters who deserve to be shot into outer space to feel that now is not the appropriate time for them to return to our TV screens. I’m sure they think they’ve done their time, having been sentenced in the oft-cited ‘court of public opinion’; I’m sure they sincerely believe that they and their careers have suffered adequately for the distress they inflicted on women. I’m sure they feel they deserve a chance to remind everyone that at their core, they are not bad men.
It doesn’t matter.
When someone does something wrong, it is normal for them to be distanced from those that they harmed. Misbehaving children are sent to their rooms; convicted offenders are sent to prison. Most of the alleged perpetrators outed by #MeToo will never face criminal charges, and thus it is entirely appropriate that they disappear from the public eye for a long, long time; that they give us all some space.
The idea that men are already waiting in the wings, preparing to launch themselves back into the spotlight after just six months, feels like a gut punch – especially when you consider than many women had to wait years, if not decades, for their allegations to be taken seriously, and will still be dealing with significant trauma. The thought of these men appearing on television seems like just another example of their refusal to accept boundaries. The fact that they are already cannily contemplating how to rehabilitate their careers, when they previously spent those careers exploiting and humiliating female co-workers and people in professional thrall to them, is maddening.
If famous men sincerely want to atone for the behaviour that led to them being taken down by #MeToo, the most meaningful thing they can do is stay out of the limelight. Nobody is owed a public platform or a glittering media career; indeed, Rose, Lauer and CK are so rich that it’s doubtful they need to work at all.
Rather than perform their contrition and sadness and confusion on screen, these men could quietly donate money to charities working to support victims of sexual abuse and workplace harassment. They could spend their time reading feminist literature. They could go to therapy to help address their harmful patterns of behaviour. They could ask the women in their lives about their experiences of sexual harassment or misconduct, and really listen to their answers. They could take up gardening or pottery or tai chi, for god’s sake. But they should not attempt, and we should not allow them, to portray their experiences as the real tragedy or the focal point of #MeToo.
The stories of the #MeToo movement took years to break because so many of them concerned rich and powerful men; men who could get away with it. If we allow these men to begin their public redemption story so soon after their fall from grace, they will be getting away with it all over again.
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