Since the New York Times and the New Yorker published blockbuster accounts of the widespread sexual assault and sexual harassment allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein, a wave of similar revelations have broken across the media and entertainment industries. These searing conversations have been painful to witness, but they also feel like the potential beginning of a highly necessary and long-overdue housecleaning that may strip a generation of abusers of their power.
At the same time that many women and some men have stepped forward and demonstrated great courage in sharing their experiences, the men they’ve accused have put on a clinic of their own. Their responses to these allegations have been a damning illustration of denial and failure to take real responsibility. Here are six of the worst things men have said about sexual misconduct in October alone.
1. I Was Drunk: Most recently employed by actor Kevin Spacey, who responded to Anthony Rapp’s allegation that Spacey propositioned him when he was just 14 by saying “If I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior.” Let’s be extremely clear: being drunk, even blackout drunk, is not an excuse for harassing or assaulting someone, or for propositioning a minor. In this situation, being drunk is something else you are also responsible for, not a mitigating circumstance that allows you to plead to a lesser offense.
2. I Went To Therapy and/or Rehab: Used by journalist Mark Halperin, who noted that “For several years after my departure from ABC News, I had weekly counseling sessions to work on understanding the personal issues and attitudes that caused me to behave in such an inappropriate manner.” Ditto Harvey Weinstein, who after the initial stories about him broke jetted off to a week-long therapy program where reports suggested he was falling asleep in sessions or ignoring them to spend time on his phone.
Of course, saying that treatment stopped you from harassing and assaulting people is only convincing if that turns out to be true. And more to the point, suggesting that the person grabbing those women, or storming into their hotel rooms, or masturbating in front of them, or kissing them without their consent wasn’t really you, it was some little demon on your shoulder or some mental health condition, is not, in fact, taking responsibility. If you need to go to therapy or to rehab for yourself, go for it. But your recovery is not an offering to the people you’ve hurt.
3.Those People Are Liars: Deployed by director James Toback, who has been accused of sexual harassment by literally hundreds of women, and responded by saying that “anyone who says it is a lying c——–r or c— or both … Anyone who says that, I just want to spit in his or her f—–g face.” Joining him in this strategy is former Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly, who dismissed new sexual harassment allegations against him as “the lies and smear,” and the president of the United States, whose spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, recently said it is the White House’s position that all the women who have accused Donald Trump of assault and harassment are lying.
I understand why denying the accusations against you is necessary if you intend to defend yourself in court (or to sue your accusers). But more and more, the public understands that all the incentives are stacked against people who report sexual harassment or sexual assault: Nobody comes forward for fun or out of vendettas. When men insist their accusers are liars and do it in poisonous terms, it says a lot more about their characters than the about moral fiber of the women they seek to destroy.
4. I’m Sorry I Made Anyone Feel Bad: Recently invoked by Leon Wieseltier, a former editor of the New Republic and, since the allegations against him broke, a now-former fellow of the Brookings Institution, who said “The women with whom I worked are smart and good people. I am ashamed to know that I made any of them feel demeaned and disrespected.” Also used by Spacey, who said of Rapp, “I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all these years.” Apologies like this have a handy way of placing the offense at the remove. In this formulation, the problem isn’t the behavior in question, but a mismatch between the intentions of the person accused and the response of the person who was the target of their actions. It’s a handy way of not really taking responsibility, even as you frown in sorrow.
5. The People Who Come Forward With Sexual Harassment Allegations Are Literally Killing People: Another tactic O’Reilly has used is suggesting that the people who accused former Fox News host Eric Bolling of harassment, resulting in his firing, were responsible for the death of Bolling’s son, which was later ruled accidental. This is a disgusting attempt to try to turn the tables by exploiting someone else’s pain, in addition to the fact that it was untrue. Basically, don’t do anything Bill O’Reilly has done since he was fired from Fox News — or ever.
6. Actually, I’m Gay: Spacey, again. Good God, do I really have to explain why this is terrible? LGBT people have spent decades fighting the lie that their sexual orientation is itself criminal, or inclines them to criminal behavior, including the abuse of minors. By using Rapp’s allegations as the occasion of his coming out, Spacey has single-handedly struck a blow to the movement that allowed him to come out in the first place. Even by the disgraceful standards of this list, that’s bad.