He didn’t call the women liars, which makes him notable in the long lineup of prominent men accused of sexual misconduct or assault in the last six weeks.
Beyond that, Louis C.K.’s response to Thursday’s New York Times story, in which multiple women accuse the actor of masturbating in front of them, isn’t worth the ticker-tape parade some folks appear to be organizing.
“These stories are true,” he wrote. “At the time, I said to myself that what I did was OK because I never showed a woman my (penis) without asking first, which is also true.
“But what I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your (penis) isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them.”
A predicament is when your babysitter cancels at the last minute. Watching a man you hardly know pleasure himself — with no idea what he plans to do next — is more like a nightmare.
Semantics, sure. But when you couple it with the next part of his statement, he sounds more like an actor playing the role of Remorseful Guy.
He’s still onstage. The women are his extras or, even further removed, his audience.
“The power I had over these women is that they admired me,” he wrote. “And I wielded that power irresponsibly. I have been remorseful of my actions. And I’ve tried to learn from them. And run from them. Now I’m aware of the extent of the impact of my actions. I learned yesterday the extent to which I left these women who admired me feeling badly about themselves and cautious around other men who would never have put them in that position.”
I left these women who admired me feeling badly about themselves?
This is where I want to pull ol’ Louis aside backstage and whisper:
You’re the diminished one here.
You’re the one who has now joined the disgraced ranks of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and producer Brett Ratner and filmmaker James Toback and Senate candidate Roy Moore and the rest of the coterie of men accused of allowing their toxic hunger for dominance and pleasure cloud their ability to see women and girls as fully human.
You’re pretending that a New York Times story made you see the light. (“I learned yesterday … “) You could have looked in the eyes of those women you cornered and learned — actually learned — years ago.
Instead, I might point out, you waited for public rebuke and a hit to your bottom line, which makes you even less believable in the role of Remorseful Guy.
But I’m not directing this show. I’m simply watching it play out over and over, in industry after industry. We all are. And the women, of course, are neither extras nor audience members. They’re humans who have grown distressingly accustomed to navigating the Louies and Harveys and Bretts of the world to pursue their careers.
“I have spent my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want,” C.K. wrote in closing. “I will now step back and take a long time to listen.”
I hope he does. That’s the best bit in his entire 494 words — none of which, it’s worth noting, is “sorry.”
Heidi Stevens is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Readers may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.