Time is up for faulty apologies from accused men

Apologies from powerful men accused of sexual assault tend to lack sentiment and remorse.


Following his victory at the Golden Globes on Jan. 7, James Franco has been accused of sexual misconduct.

Franco, an actor and filmmaker, won the award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. He later made an appearance on “Late Night with Seth Meyers” and denied the allegations against him, saying he’s “just letting it be.”

Despite “just letting it be,” Franco wore a pin to the Golden Globes that read “TIME’S UP,” representing an initiative that calls for an end to sexual violence and inequality against women in all industries. The initiative began with informal meetings of famous actresses, like Shonda Rhimes, Ashley Judd, Natalie Portman and America Ferrera.

Franco is another name on the growing list of men that have been accused of sexual misconduct, harassment or assault following the allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein in October 2017.

Many of the recent allegations prompted an apology released to the public. But most of these “apology” statements lacked sympathy and reflection. Rather, they come off as narcissistic excuses for their past behavior.

Comedian Louis C.K.’s never used the words “I’m sorry” in his statement. Instead, he elaborated on the admiration women may have had for him. Actor Kevin Spacey used his statement to focus on his own identity as a gay man. Statements from former Senator Al Franken and journalists Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer — who was honored by Temple with a Lew Klein Excellence in the Media Award in 2009 — deflected the allegations against them entirely.

If we choose to ignore the selfish structure of these apologies, we simultaneously squander any chance of dismantling society’s patriarchal power structure. This invalidates survivors’ experiences and normalizes sexual misconduct against women.

“The man doesn’t get it,” said Nadine Rosechild Sullivan, a women’s studies instructor and the author of “I Trusted You: Fully and Honestly Speaking of Gendered Assaults and the way to a Rape-Free Culture.”  “They don’t understand what they’ve done or what they’re apologizing for. They’re not understanding the real horror they’ve caused.”

The lack of understanding among men is related to our patriarchal culture. Men are seen as more powerful than women, and thus their experiences seem more valid. Their apologies, which focus more on themselves than their victims, show the preference society gives to men’s voices over women’s.

“There’s a…cultural failure to communicate to males that females feel the same way they do and that they’re essentially human the same way they are,” Sullivan said.

This “cultural failure” is evident in the apology statements written by men — including Franken, C.K. and Rose. Instead of validating survivors’ experiences, all three men simply insisted they have respect for women. Using a sexual harassment apology statement to remind others of their supposed respect is a blatant disregard of women’s feelings and the serious allegations at hand.

Additionally, some men included the consequences that they anticipate they will face because of their actions in their apology statements. This raises the question: Why are some men just realizing now that sexual misconduct is unacceptable?

“The fact that men are surprised by the consequences of their actions, the fact that they’re realizing their careers may be on the line because they’ve harassed women…is a reflection of the power structure,” said Shelly Ronen, a women’s studies instructor.

“We’re using this kind of power dynamic as a gatekeeping way,” said Robin Kolodny, the chair of the political science department. “Men think they can behave this way in the workplace and get away with it because they’re men and the power structure would allow them.”

I commend the women who have come forward with accusations of sexual misconduct. Their strength and bravery are unwavering, even in a society that values men’s experiences far more than women’s.

To prevent these instances of sexual misconduct, we need to continue to hold the accused accountable, especially when it comes to men in power. If their apology statements show a lack of remorse and focus on their own experiences, this shows that society still focuses on men above women.

“A lot more needs to be done,” Sullivan said. “You need to break through rape culture and sexual harassment is a part of that culture.”

The most effective way to begin breaking down rape culture is to hold people accountable.

And if someone’s apology doesn’t sound sincere, it probably isn’t — and we can’t allow them to get away with that either.

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