Early Thursday morning the Hollywood Reporter announced that the premiere of Louis C.K.’s upcoming film, I Love You, Daddy, had been abruptly cancelled “in advance of N.Y. Times story.” Hours later, The New York Times dropped its promised bombshell: “Louis C.K. Crossed a Line Into Sexual Misconduct, 5 Women Say,” which details multiple accounts of the comedian engaging in sexually violent behaviour.
Many people expressed surprise and dismay at the thought that Louis C.K. might be a sexual predator, not just because he’s a popular and well-loved comedian but also because he has built a large part of his personal brand on being an unapologetic feminist. For years, Louis C.K was lauded for his radical and pro-woman comedy; he received endless praise for the ways in which he used his act to tackle difficult subjects like violence against women and rape culture. “How do women still go out with guys, when you consider the fact that there is no greater threat to women than men?” he asked during his 2013 HBO special, Oh My God. “We’re the number one threat! To women! Globally and historically, we’re the number one cause of injury and mayhem to women. We’re the worst thing that ever happens to them!”
It seems like it must require some level of cognitive dissonance to process the fact that a man who has been so public about his feminism has also been privately abusing women, yet Louis C.K.’s story is sadly not uncommon. Sexual predators often purposely cultivate an overtly feminist public persona and go out of their way to befriend prominent progressive women. This strategy benefits them on multiple levels: they get to enjoy a special status as one of the good guys fighting the good fight, they will have access to vulnerable women who think they are a safe person, and finally they will have a large group of women willing to vouch for them if allegations ever do surface.
The past few years have provided us with numerous high profile examples of this predatory pattern. In almost every case there had long been rumours circulating about the men involved, but their wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing “feminism” helped shield them from consequences for years. There have been stories circulating the media about Louis C.K. since at least 2012, when Gawker published a blind item about him, with more details about his sexual abuse described in multiple publications following that.
We’ve seen this before. Countless times, in fact. Up until his fall from grace in 2013, writer/internet personality/serial abuser Hugo Schwyzer did his best to harass women who saw through his nice guy act (women who were, as Mikki Kendall notes in The Guardian, primarily women of colour). Meanwhile, his white colleagues either outright defended him or implicitly supported him through their silence.
There had been a decade or more of whispers about Jian Ghomeshi before the Toronto Star published a story in 2014 about allegations of violence made against him; his abusive treatment of women was so commonly known that even men later admitted they had heard that he was a “creep.” In spite of this, when Carla Ciccone had tried to sound the alarm about Ghomeshi’s behaviour in 2013 for xoJane, she found herself castigated by national media outlets and accused of “just wanting attention.”
Earlier this year, Joss Whedon’s ex-wife Kai Cole wrote an open letter saying that he used his politically progressive reputation “as a shield… so no one would question his relationships with other women or scrutinize his writing as anything other than feminist.”
These are just the better-known, more public examples of this type of predation. Every feminist woman I know has a story–often multiple stories–about something similar that happened to them. Nona Willis Aronowitz calls the men who engage in this specific brand of abuse “woke misogynists;” these men, who seem to grow more common by the day, learn to spout feminist rhetoric not because they particularly care about women’s rights but because they can use it to manipulate and violate women.
What do we do when predatory men co-opt our language and use our own movement to inflict violence on us? There aren’t any hard and fast answers to that question, but a few suggestions do spring to mind:
Look at what men do instead of listening to what they say.
Stop making feminist heroes out of men.
Always believe women.
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