It has been said that women have a habit of apologizing too much. But amid the wave of sexual abuse allegations coming to light in the aftermath of Harvey Weinstein’s downfall, it has become clear that men have the opposite problem: a seemingly pathological inability to say the words “I am sorry.”
On Friday, Louis C.K. confirmed a New York Times report detailing how he had masturbated in front of multiple female comedians without their consent. “These stories are true,” C.K. wrote in a lengthy statement. “At the time, I said to myself that what I did was OK because I never showed a woman my dick without asking first, which is also true.”
Although C.K. noted, “I have been remorseful of my actions” and “there is nothing about this that I forgive myself for,” instead of actually atoning for his sins, he emphasized “the power [he] had over these women” who “admired” him and how he “took advantage of the fact that [he] was widely admired” in the comedy community.
The three words curiously and glaringly missing from C.K.’s statement? I am sorry.
Unlike other prominent men who have been accused of sexual misconduct, Louis C.K. actually owned up to his bad behavior. “I can hardly wrap my head around the scope of hurt I brought on them,” C.K. wrote of his victims. So what is it then about those three little words—I am sorry—that men find so difficult to say?
Apologies aren’t only about admitting you were wrong, but serve as an implicit promise that you’re going to try to correct your behavior and way of thinking in the future. I have a theory that boys just aren’t taught to apologize in the same way girls are so, in an effort to right this societal wrong, here’s a guide for men on how to apologize.
Don’t: Apologize for offending the people you hurt.
Let’s just get this one out of the way. The oldest tool in the faux apology toolbox is “I’m sorry if [insert shitty action here] made you feel that way.” I know it’s bullshit. You know it’s bullshit. Whoever you’re apologizing to knows it’s bullshit. The reason your actions made someone else feel bad is probably because of something you did. So just own it.
The other problem with men pseudo-apologizing to women with the “I’m sorry I made you upset” is that it plays into the old stereotype of women being too emotional, which just makes it even shittier.
Do: Put yourself in your victim’s shoes.
This might seem like a kindergarten-level piece of advice, but before you say anything, imagine if you were the person you hurt—what would you want to hear?
Don’t: Blame your behavior on outside factors.
When Weinstein responded to the initial New York Times report, he explained, “I came of age in the 60’s and 70’s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different.” Although the disgraced film executive did note that it’s not an excuse, that’s exactly what it is. When you make those excuses, you’re suggesting that you don’t take full responsibility for what you’ve done.
After actor Anthony Rapp accused Kevin Spacey of making sexual advances toward him when he was only 14, Spacey claimed “not to remember the encounter.”
“If I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior,” Spacey wrote. Blaming it on the alcohol doesn’t excuse trying to sleep with a 14-year-old, and implying that it does only hurts your case—and the victim—more.
Do: Apologize for everything.
Sometimes there’s more to apologize for than your physical actions. Louis C.K. spent years denying the accusations he confirmed after the New York Times report came out. Although he does say in his statement, “I have been remorseful of my actions. And I’ve tried to learn from them. And run from them,” he doesn’t apologize for previously denying legitimate reports about his sexual misconduct. C.K.’s statements of denial—in September, he told the New York Times, “I’m not going to answer to that stuff, because they’re rumors”—is deeply offensive to his victims.
Don’t: Change the topic in order to make yourself the victim.
In Spacey’s apology to Rapp, he came out as gay, perhaps in an attempt to change the conversation, or position himself as a victim of the closet. It’s hard to overstate the negative reaction to Spacey’s statement—everyone from GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis to Trevor Noah to Billy Eichner came out against it—which goes to show the public has little patience for self-pity when it comes to abusers.
After a man accused George Takei of groping him while he was passed out, the Star Trek star denied all allegations and then, in a (now-deleted) tweet, blamed “Russian bots” for “amplify[ing] stories containing the allegations against [him].” HuffPost‘s Philip Lewis tweeted in response, “I’m done with 2017,” which best sums up the general reaction to this.
Do: Say I’m sorry.
There are a million ways to evade just saying “I’m sorry.” Louis C.K. said, “I have been remorseful of my actions.”
Kevin Spacey said, “I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior.”
Harvey Weinstein said, “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it.”
Art Landesman, the former publisher of Artforum who resigned after nine women accused him of sexual harassment, said, “I fully recognize that I have tested certain boundaries, which I am working hard to correct. I have never willfully or intentionally harmed anyone.”
I could keep going forever.
Just say I’m sorry, guys. Accept that it won’t mean people will forgive you. In fact, accept that this isn’t about how you feel at all. It’s about the pain you’ve inflicted on others and acknowledging remorse for your shitty actions not because you were caught, but because what you did was wrong.
Pretty basic stuff, really.
Follow Eve Peyser on Twitter.