You aren’t granted forgiveness, you earn it, argues Lucy Mangan.
Years ago, I betrayed a friend. Not in a huge way – I got drunk and told someone something (not massive, not minor) I shouldn’t have. When I woke up the next morning, it felt like my conscience was something alive. I was riddled with squirming worms of guilt that could not be quieted. I scrambled for my phone, arranged to meet my friend for lunch and spent the morning alternately pacing my flat, crying and hyperventilating while I composed my confession and apology. This duly occurred a few hours later over a meal I could barely eat. She was furious, told me so, I apologised again and again and eventually, once she had rightly vented her spleen, she said, “Fine. It’s OK. Pay for lunch and just don’t let it f**king happen again.”
It hasn’t, and we are still friends, and maybe even slightly better ones than if the whole thing hadn’t happened. Failure, forgiveness and amends can fix things occasionally more firmly than before.
I think of this more and more often, as the rehabilitation roundabout for men who’ve mucked up picks up speed and now seems to be approaching terminal velocity. Last month, comedian Louis CK returned to work (and a standing ovation) with a 15-minute set at New York’s Comedy Cellar nine months after he effectively admitted to masturbating in front of multiple women at work (some of whom left the comedy industry thereafter).
More recently, Jian Ghomeshi – a Canadian radio host fired from his job in 2014 after three ex-girlfriends accused him of sexual misconduct including sexual assault, punching and choking, which led to accusations of a similar nature from 20 other women – published a newspaper essay reflecting on his experiences in a way that minimised his actions, and was clearly intended as his entrée back into public life. Ghomeshi’s publisher argued that the experience of being pilloried and the fact that his behaviour wasn’t criminal (a judge found him not guilty) justified the piece.
And now there’s fall and comeback happening virtually simultaneously as President Trump seeks to have Brett Kavanaugh confirmed as a Supreme Court nominee. Kavanaugh is accused of, in his teens, pinning a fellow high school student down, while his friend watched, trying to strip her and putting a hand over her mouth while she screamed. He denies it and his supporters are pushing for the nomination while offering everything from the ‘Boys will be boys!’ to ‘It was a very long time ago!’ defence.
And I think – there have been no squirming worms for them. No dark nights of the soul. They haven’t even paid for lunch. They have simply… waited. And somehow, now, without any redemptive acts on their parts, the onus has been placed back on the victims – and those of us in wider society who are on the side of the victims, or are unacknowledged victims ourselves of similar men and similar actions – to forgive them. As if biding your time, being quiet and losing money is the same thing as feeling remorse and making amends.
You aren’t granted forgiveness, you earn it. That’s the basic human contract. To expect women to give it out of the goodness of their hearts or to make them look like insane grudge-bearers if they do not is effectively to deny that women are fully human.
Be sorry. Make amends. Redeem yourselves. Because – I’m sorry too – anything less won’t do.