Late last week, comedian Louis C.K. acknowledged that the sexual harassment allegations against him are true. I’ve seen a very small amount of Louis C.K.’s work, primarily what has been shown to me by friends, and I’ve never been an avid follower of the comedian. As a result, I approached both the allegations against Louis C.K. and his statement last week with somewhat of a blank slate.
I first read Louis C.K.’s statement after a Facebook friend posted it with praise. Here was a man who got it, she said. But as I read the statement, this sentence brought me up short (in bold):
These stories are true. At the time, I said to myself that what I did was okay because I never showed a woman my dick 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 dick isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly.
Throughout his piece Louis C.K. claims he gets it. He says he understands sexual harassment now. He says he realizes why his actions were wrong and that he understands why. He presents himself as newly woke. And yet, that one short sentence told me that Louis C.K still didn’t get it, no matter how much he thought he did.
The women Louis C.K. masturbated in front of weren’t fans seeking him out because they admired him. They were comedians trying to make it in a challenging industry, and women working in production or related fields. They were with Louis C.K. not because they admired him but because they were on the job, or trying to make industry connections (which amounts to the same thing).Louis C.K. is big name in comedy. He had the ability to influence their careers, for good or for ill. It was this, and not their admiration for him, that gave him power over these women.
Here’s another excerpt from Louis C.K.’s statement:
I also took advantage of the fact that I was widely admired in my and their community, which disabled them from sharing their story and brought hardship to them when they tried because people who look up to me didn’t want to hear it.
Powerful. He was powerful. He had power over these women’s careers. He had the ability to blacklist them. This wasn’t about how admired he was. It was about how influential he was in the industry these women were trying to make a go in. Since reading Louis C.K.’s statement, I’ve also read several pieces about women whose careers were impacted, whether because they decided they couldn’t go on tour with him or because his manager blacklisted them. The threat was very real.
“The power I had over these women is that they admired me,” Louis C.K. said in his statement. But this wasn’t about admiration. It was about his ability to derail these women’s careers. If Louis C.K. can’t grasp that, he still has a long way to go before he can fully take responsibility for his actions.