Thanks to brave women (and people of all genders) and the #MeToo movement, many men have publicly been outed for a spectrum on toxic sexual behavior.
The key words there are: outed and spectrum.
Because both these words encompass a multitude of behaviors and consequences.
Rape culture is a spectrum, and it’s all bad. It’s a spectrum that includes sexist attitudes to sexual misconduct through rape.
Consequences range from losing an advertiser, to losing fans, to losing your show, to losing your freedom through incarceration.
And with these spectrums co-exists the reality, that the court of social justice and the court of law never ran in tandem.
Therefore, regardless of what the legal consequences of Harvey Weinstein’s actions will be, the segment of a society that prioritizes women’s health, rights, equality, and dignity, will already issue judgement of ways to divest in his company and push back on his enablers. Because the criminal justice system for rich, white men rarely issues proportionate sentencing. Because no sentence will ever erase or amount to the damage he caused his victims — and survivors of abuse who heard their stories around the world.
And when there is no legal consequence, the court of social opinion still must be active. Because law was never truly a barometer of what’s right.
When Aziz Ansari’s behavior on a date, pressuring a woman into sex, was without potential for legal punishment — in the context of a patriarchal culture that seemed to need a multi-billion dollar company and the concept of #hashtags to coalesce around the fact that gender-based harassment and assault is unacceptable no matter where it takes place or who carries it out — some felt he should be “cancelled.” Some felt it was just a “bad date” the mere discussion of it hurt the movement. Personally, I just felt the behavior should be addressed within the broader context of the movement.
(Although, to be clear the “Me Too” movement was founded in 2006 by Bronx-born activist Tarana Burke who started a non-profit called “Just Be” and is now the Senior Director of Girls for Gender Equality).
The offenses that do not have legal ramifications frequently get lost in our consciousness, to an even greater degree before the advent of the internet.
To combat this, activists combating rape culture can use social media to create punishment and or accountability where the law cannot. However, proportionality is a key element here.
It’s important to address each point on the spectrum of this rape culture. The reason that Aziz Ansari’s behavior was mentioned as part of the #MeToo movement is not because his actions are aligned with those of Harvey Weinsten and Matt Lauer, it’s because his behavior is on the lower end of the spectrum — which is also the most common. Pressuring women to submit to sex is all to common and has become a normality of masculinity. It is because this experience of a “bad date” is all too common, that it needs to be discussed. Just because something is common doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
And depending where actions lie on this spectrum, the standard of rehabilitation is different. R. Kelly’s rehabilitation would be a lifelong process connected to his sentencing and his empathic development (and he has not acknowledged, let alone shown remorse and development, for his actions). And that rehabilitation will differ drastically from someone like Kevin Spacey, who also may not face criminal charges, yet has to demonstrate a different level of effort and reform than Aziz Ansari. As Spacey’s actions were recurring and towards people in an entirely different context.
But effort and reform must be demonstrated to some degree no matter the offense.
In Right Now Aziz opened and closed on these thoughts. We can parse the language for political correctness all day — but that’s not what’s most important here. Because if we’re waiting for perfection in the pacing and wording of rehabilitation, it will be cancelled before it can lift off the ground, and we will never see it come to fruition.
Right Now’s intro demonstrated that now, not only does it matter to Aziz how the person felt in this moment — he did previously apologize but — but now is willing to be introspective on the lack of thoughtfulness on his part. A lack of being mindful in a moment with a person and their needs (which he also alludes to at the close in a poignant, macro sense). He understood the value telling his audience in person, and worldwide, representing people of all genders, that this experience made other men more thoughtful about their dates — and he believes that a good thing. Unlike the aforementioned camp who believe men being more thoughtful with women’s sexual desire has no place in the #MeToo movement.
And, contrary to many men who criticize this movement, he closed by saying that he did see a future where he wouldn’t be able to do comedy…and then worked to get past that notion. He focused on who he can be for the world right now. And he’s putting in time and effort to work towards being that person.
While we implore men to rehabilitate themselves from their sexual offenses, we need to remember a very important detail:
Women don’t have to accept your apology.
Just as someone who has reformed their life after being released from prison for harming someone, isn’t entitled to the forgiveness of the victim or their family. No matter how thoughtful I felt Aziz’s words were in his special, or anybody’s words are when they are discussing their past behavior and how they have bettered themselves, the recipient of the behavior is still entitled to their feelings. It is society that allows for rehabilitation. That emotional burden cannot be demanded from the person on the receiving end who still feels they are carrying their own
Ultimately, what Right Now demonstrated that there is a lot of life left for men who have erred during this vital movement. But the person has to want it. Time without introspection and change won’t yield forgiveness. In any context. Unlearning the patriarchal ideas that have harmed people in our past is a process — and it will always be imperfect. But it has to start somewhere. And this is what it can look like.