As a political science student pretty obsessed with House of Cards, I worshipped Kevin Spacey. I thought he was a genius. I thought he was also probably a decent guy. I assumed he wasn’t a sexually abusive guy, because I liked him.
Lots of people felt the same way about Louis C.K.. Lots of people probably felt the same way about the scores of men in Hollywood now being accused of sexual misconduct, and abusing their power to mistreat women. It’s really important to recognize the significance of that. These people were icons, celebrities, heroes even.
Sometimes our heroes misuse their power, and sometimes they get away with it for decades.
That’s how rape culture works. It’s a culture. It’s not an isolated incident, or a list of men, or a scandal we move on from. It’s ingrained in our institutions, our society, our everyday lives. It doesn’t just touch evil, horrible people that we already hate, it touches our heroes too. The culture of Hollywood enables these men to do terrible things for a very long time, but this isn’t a Hollywood problem, it’s a problem for all of us.
What these men did is abhorrent. No doubt about that. I understand the impulse to write them off entirely as abhorrent people. There is plenty of justification for doing so.
But rape culture is not merely a product of abhorrent people. It’s also a product of a lot of abhorrent things done by very average people, or even very good people. It’s a product of someone’s mother telling them to put on a different skirt before they go out at night because they look like a slut. It’s a product of a football coach saying “boys will be boys.” It’s a product of improper lessons about consent. It’s a product of a million actions and words and consequences that add up to create a culture.
In his statement responding to allegations of sexual misconduct, Louis C.K. says that he thought his actions were okay because he always asked women before he masturbated in front of them. He says that he now understands the way that the power imbalance between him and these women eroded their ability to actually give consent to that, but that he didn’t understand it at the time.
There are a lot of things wrong with that picture, but the one that sticks out to me most is that someone who seemed intelligent, articulate, and at least somewhat well-meaning (all features that led him to be worshipped by so many) could be so misinformed about how consent works, and willing to act so rashly on the basis of that misinformation. We need to combat that misinformation, not only for Louis C.K., and not only for the women who have had to bring forth these accusations, but for all of us.
But it’s not enough. Rape culture continues to exist, and we need to continue to fight it, not just in Hollywood, but everywhere.