Of all the allegations that have come out recently, I feel like Louis CK's sits in the murkiest position for a lot of people, for a number of reasons. First of all, at least some of the women agreed; second of all, they're all old allegations, third of all, he apologized, and apparently had tried to apologize in the past, if my understanding of that article was correct. A lot of us are big fans of his work. We found his style of vulnerability relatable. The truth is I'm still going to find his jokes funny, albeit some of them much less so now.
That doesn't mean that what he did wasn't a dick move (haha, see what I did there?) and that his apology means fuck all.
It's hard not to view CK's apology as another tightrope trick. We've forgiven him for joking about pedophilia on national TV. Now he's trying to be forgiven for his behavior in real life, and we simply can't. He doesn't get to dust himself off from this with some profound insight, leaving us all ready to exhale and thinking, "Well done. I almost hated you for a minute there."
It took me a lot of cycling through rage and depression and apathy before I finally caught on to something. To set this up, I'm going to tell you my own story. This was a joke I told for a long time, and it got progressively less and less response. I realize now it's because what I was telling as a joke, the audience was realizing was actually a shitty thing that happened to me.
I was 19, and I had quit my job in a coffee shop, and I was determined not to get a job in the food industry again, but I'm a realist. I didn't have any real skills, didn't have a college degree, so I felt like I should just peruse the "Other" section of Craigslist to find some place that would hire me.
Fun fact, every part of Craigslist is casual encounters to somebody.
But anyways, I went through, I saw some weird ones, (Magician's assistant was one of my favorites) and after a couple of weeks, there was an ad that caught my eye, for an artist's assistant. I was so stoked, yes, I'm in! I send him my resume, and I get a response ...
He tells me more about the job, it's a photography project, he needs help with rigging lights, helping models, things like that, and I'm getting really excited, and we set up an interview.
And in the last line of the email setting up the interview, he writes, "By the way, this is a nude photo shoot with some subversive themes, are you alright with that?"
And I was like, "Yeah, I don't even know what a red flag looks like, what's going on?
So, day of the interview. I'm dressed up for a job interview, tried to look really professional, psyched myself up, and I get to his studio, which is also his studio apartment, because that's how artists roll. It looks legit enough, there's a few different lights, prints are up on the walls, but my potential boss opens the door in a bathrobe.
But again, I'm like, "Artists, right?"
And the interview is otherwise completely normal besides the dress code. He's telling me about time frames, about the gallery he works with, this, that and the other, and then about halfway through the interview, he takes off the bathrobe.
Now why is that halfway through the interview, not the end of the interview? Because I really, really fucking hated working in the food industry. I just kept my eyes up and tried not to look at his penis, which was perfectly round. I couldn't even tell how it was attached to his body. It was a little ping pong ball made out of deli ham.
And I never felt like anything "wrong" happened, by the way. I didn't feel violated, scarred or like I was in any danger. I was a little disappointed I didn't get the job,actually, and it took maybe two or three years before I finally snapped into, "Goddammit, there was no job."
Even knowing what I know now, I don't personally feel violated by that interaction. It was confusing for sure, and since he didn't start masturbating like CK did I didn't even really register it as that bad. He didn't touch me, he just sat naked and had a conversation with me about W-9s in the privacy of his own home. The bottom line of it is though, he shouldn't have done that. Why shouldn't he have done that? Because what context could 19 year old me, when looking for a job, possibly have to be like, "Excuse me, can I not see your weird floating bird egg penis while we talk about where I see myself in five years?"
I literally walked right into it, but in the world most people would live in, I was supposed to walk into a job interview. Even if it was supposed to be a "nude photo shoot with subversive themes," walking into that photo shoot was something I knew about and agreed to with defined context, not during the job interview.
The reason why it's socially unacceptable to just wield your genitals, I have to admit, is sort of ineffable. The best way I can think of it would be like, imagine you are a frilled lizard, which by the way has the hilarious scientific name of Chlamydosaurus and I did not make that up ...
When you expand your frilly jowls at a lady, your reasons are, as your species dictates: To ward of predators, to assess territory, and to establish courtship.
Now if you're a girl who has just stumbled into a frilly neck display or random image of a penis, you are now faced with essentially two options you weren't expecting: A fight be it because of some weird fear of women or defense of territory, or undesired sexual activity. You weren't there for that. You were there to hang out with a coworker, and hopefully get into some goofy hijinks that you can tell stories about later, at best.
And the problem is that guy who decides to frill up is completely indiscernable from a guy who's not going to do that. He may be someone you admire. He may be a friend of yours. He may even be dating you, and that's a super complicated territory.
What makes this action wrong is that it's an action that demands a response and in almost every case that response is to submit. When some guy pulls out his dick, what is your best case response to that?
Dude, gross, put that away.
No thanks, I have a boyfriend, heehee, but thanks!
*Bat at it like a cat* STAY DOWN MOTHER FUCKER, STAY DOWN!
There is no way someone can bring their genitals into a conversation without them become a centerpiece of that conversation. Even if you're not talking about it. Even if you're discussing hourly wage and gas per mile compensation, there's still a little bouncy, flaccid wiener that is the forefront of the conversation, and if you are in any setting or situation where that isn't meant to be the outspoken center of the conversation, it needs to be put away.
Louis CK apologized exactly because he is an exhibitionist. He is exposed raw for his weird, awful little self and he wants us to look and accept it. That's some sad, twisted psychology that I can admittedly empathize with a little, but what's empathetic on stage is not empathetic in real life because what happens on stage is meant to be divorced, just a little, from reality. Giving him a pass means that he doesn't have to feel bad about what happened, even if he does. That's the big fuckery of it. If he gets away with it, then making women powerless becomes a joke in the real world, and therefore okay, and I really wish I wasn't saying that because it sounds over dramatic as all, but it's the sad truth so far as I can see..
I wish I had a better way of explaining this to you, but I hope you understand.
No matter how you much you like his stuff, you have to let it go if you believe women have a place in the world. If this becomes okay, then this becomes a permissible power play. If he wanted to own it, he shouldn't have denied it in the first place, instead choosing to be defended by "rumors" that let a lot people have room to dismiss other allegations that came out. He did the same thing that people who accuse people of *making* false allegations do; he created essentially an atmosphere of hostility around women who accused him by making false accusations that they were lying, see how fucked that is?
It would also be super nice for women (like me!) to not have to write shit like this addressing bad men. I've said before I don't want to be a feminist. I have been working on a kickass article about whales and nonhuman personhood for like a month but people keep sucking so it gets pushed to the side. As a huge fan of Louis CK's work, this really sucked, but I (and you) will get over it.
We'll also find other people to make us laugh, and maybe finish some writing about whales.
Looking at how groups work as a whole rather than as individuals. Or something like that.