Louis C.K., #MeToo, and Forgiveness

I’m constantly grateful for living in the #MeToo age. Every day I’m blown away by the bravery and strength of courageous women who risk their careers and their privacy to show the world that actions have consequences and no one should be above the law.

We’ve seen prominent men, from Bill Cosby to Harvey Weinstein, felled by accusations of sexual abuse. Men who were once thought to be untouchable are paying the price for their arrogance and inappropriate behavior. But we still have miles to go in fixing the underlying problems within Hollywood, the comedy scene, and our culture in general.

A few weeks ago, on Sunday August 26th, Louis C.K. took the stage at the Comedy Cellar in New York. Just a few months after being publicly accused of masturbating in front of women without their consent. He decided that the time was right to return to the spotlight and continue with his career right where he left it.

His return angered many, especially female comedians who felt that C.K.’s return to comedy would provide a terrible precedent for the future.

Those defending his return claim that he has “served his time,” and should be allowed to move on.

But should he?

There has been no formal trial, so he hasn’t spent a day jail, or paid any sort of fine. He is seemingly allowed to return to his former life with his career barely having suffered at all. He still has thousands of adoring fans. He is still a millionaire. Apparently there is nothing to stop him from reverting to his old ways.

If we allow once disgraced men to return to their old lives without any consequences, why call them out at all? What has this movement accomplished if sexual abuse still permeates Hollywood with zero repercussions?

Should we forgive someone who may have said he was sorry but has not actually shown any signs of remorse or done anything to outwardly show regret for his actions? Does he truly deserve a second chance?

When it comes to forgiveness we have to be extremely careful who we forgive. Many celebrities suffer from scandal in their career. It’s how they handle that scandal that matters. At first, it seemed like Louis C.K. had gotten it right. He publicly apologized and retreated from public life. And had he stayed away a little while longer, perhaps engaged in charity work or went to rehab, he had a really good shot at deserving a second chance. But upon his return, according to people present at the comedy club, C.K. went right back to making rape jokes.

Very often we forgive people who don’t necessarily deserve our forgiveness. But in those cases there is usually another factor motivating us, either love, or a desire for reconciliation. We forgive because we don’t want to carry the burden of hate or resentment. It’s more for our benefit, than for the other’s. But, here, we have no motivation to forgive. C.K. has not shown us that he’s learned from his mistakes or grown as a person. And because he is a celebrity we have to hold him to a higher standard. Why? Young men will see how the world welcomed him home, and they might think they can get away with similarly inappropriate behavior.

Incidentally, some of the women who have come forward with accusations have received death threats and been publicly shamed for their accusations. We should protect them. In the public sphere we must make it clear that sexual misconduct, of any sort, will not be accepted. Not now. Not ever. No matter how funny the joke. And, really, it’s not so much a matter of forgiveness as it is a matter of accountability. Louis C.K. did something wrong, and he has not paid the price.

If we continue to allow him a return to the stage as if nothing has happened, then we have collectively  failed women—failed his victims, and every future woman subjected to that same degrading treatment and abuse.

So what should we do?

It is easy to feel helpless in a situation like this. C.K. is a powerful man and has the ability to amplify himself and whatever message he wants to promote. He has adoring fans who will choose to look the other way and ignore the facts of his past. And we can’t change that. But we can take small actions that, if done by enough people, will have a large enough impact to effect change.

First and foremost, we need to stop paying attention to him, stop watching videos of him on YouTube, or listening to his comedy routines on Spotify. We need to let club owners and producers know that if they work with him and allow him on stage, we’ll stop supporting them. If interacting with Louis C.K. ultimately hurts their bottom line, they will drop him. It’s up to us to make sure that happens.

Louis C.K.  is a public figure and if we absolve him of his crimes we publicly say to the world that assault and abusive behavior is okay… as long as you’re rich and famous.

Louis C.K. does not deserve our forgiveness, not even our attention.