In the string of apologies from perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault in political and entertainment circles, “I’m sorry” has become a quick fix, like a bandage men can slap over any wounds they may have caused. However, it can be seen clearly in their publicly issued apologies that, as the cliche goes, they aren’t sorry they did it, they’re just sorry that they got caught.
Let’s begin with the man who started this trend of recent self-serving, meaningless apologies: Harvey Weinstein. In his written statement, Weinstein started by saying, “I came of age in the 60s and 70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.” Weinstein continued on to apologize for his actions, assert that he does respect women, reassure us that he is getting the help he needs and then joke about his retirement party. He presented his apology in a sandwich of sorts. First, he excused his actions, blaming them on the shift in cultural views on women. This discredits the sincerity he later claims to possess, as he has already refused to assume full responsibility for what he did. He says he respects women, yet certainly doesn’t respect them enough to take the matter seriously, ending his statement by joking about how their accusations spurred his downfall and retirement, rather than acknowledging how he hindered their lives. Weinstein’s apology was intended to control the damage he created and redeem his image in the eyes of his fans and colleagues, not to make the victims feel heard.
While there are many different empty apologies we can study, there’s one in particular that had my eyes rolling and teeth clenching — that of Minnesota Senator Al Franken. Franken has mastered the art of apologizing without assuming any responsibility whatsoever. He discredited each accusation through vague responses and excuses while apologizing for how the women accusing him may feel. In his Thanksgiving statement following countless accusations of groping and sexual harassment, Franken stated, “I’m a warm person; I hug people. I’ve learned from recent stories that in some of those encounters, I crossed a line for some women — and I know that any number is too many … some women have found my greetings or embraces for a hug or photo inappropriate, and I respect their feelings about that.” First, inappropriate and invasive behavior has nothing to do with being warm or a hugger, and everything to do with entitlement and complete disregard for a woman’s ownership of her own body. Second, he never expressed responsibility or regret for his actions and acknowledged how the women may feel while attempting to discredit the source of their feelings. In apologizing, he was trying to salvage his political image, not having a care in the world about the women he harmed and the values he perpetuated.
These men, along with many others, including Matt Lauer and Dustin Hoffman, have perfected a way of apologizing for the damage they cause without apologizing for or even admitting to their actions. While an honest apology is truly not enough in the first place, a fake one means even less.
Email Tyler Crews at [email protected]