Benita: Hello and welcome to feminist utopia, a podcast that explores what a world would look like if there were no gender roles where women and men are equally valued and respected in society. My name is Benita, Malone and my friend and Co founder Debby Williams, and I invite you to join us to challenge misogyny and look beyond the daily crises to envision a better future because if you can’t dream it, you can’t achieve it.
Debby: In speaking of dreaming, I want to open today with how beyond happy I am by the number of women running for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party. This is exactly what I didn’t envision when Hillary Clinton won the nomination. I didn’t understand four years ago what a door opener this would be and now we have such a great group of tremendous women that have chosen to throw their hat in the ring because Hillary Clinton blazed that trail.
Benita: I am excited too about all of the candidates and I think we’re going to see more before it’s narrowed down to the actual nominee. Definitely stay tuned for that. But today we are talking about the art of the apology and it is surprisingly difficult to get right and we have spectacular, a rate of miserable apologies that we’re going to talk about today and why they’re miserable and we can give some tips about what a decent topology looks like.
Debby: The stunning array of terrible apologies really look even worse when you compare it to the one decent apology. So now everybody thinks that the one decent apology is the gold standard and I could still see some improvement to be made there.
Benita: One of the things that is interesting was pointed out in a 2010 study published in psychological science is that women apologize more than men. What they found in that study was that women are more likely to believe they need to apologize. Men apologize less frequently because they have a higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior.
Debby: Well, that’s a shocker
Benita: and there are some really basic characteristics of what’s becoming to be termed a male apology. The first is there’s no real genuine remorse. They use the apology as a way to explain what their side was.
Debby: This can be summed up in the, I’m sorry you feel that way. I saw that Neil degrasse Tyson’s apology slash explanation. He didn’t mean to make her feel uncomfortable and he didn’t mean to come across as creepy. Well, you were, and this is something I have explained to my teenage son multiple times.
Benita: Intent in these situations doesn’t matter. What matters is being open and listening to how you can change your behavior. And when they do focus on their, well, they didn’t intend to do that. It turns it into victim blaming. It’s her fault that she misinterpreted when I brought out the knives to cut the apple or whatever it was, and then Neil degress types in case, well, who wouldn’t be threatened by knives.
Debby: And I find that victim blaming to be one of the most disgusting things about it, especially when you look at how Louis C k not only victim blames, but he goes even a step further, he becomes the victim. But I’m the real victim here. I swear that stuff enrages me.
Benita: Yeah. The other point is the male apology. They are more like press releases for their personal and professional triumphs, especially Mario Batali. He wrote this long apology. He sent out in an email newsletter and then he put in his recipes for pizza dough and cinnamon rolls.
Debby: How in the hell could anyone think that was appropriate? So where were the people that he should be surrounding himself with? Like PR or just friends? Who would say, Mario, that’s a dumb ass move
Benita: that’s going back to, it’s not really an apology. Yes, they don’t really feel like they did anything wrong. There’s no genuine remorse. There’s not even an explicit apology because it comes with that, but ‘she misinterpreted’ or, ‘but that’s not what I intended. ‘And it would really be nice if we didn’t give as much coverage to these responses if we could instead focus more on the survivors or the victims. Because the most insidious effect of these public apologies is that they erased the victim’s stories and all of a sudden we’re talking about Louis C, k, Louis, C K and Mario Batali, and we’re talking about Liam Neeson and not about the countless people that they harmed. And they’re not even part of this story anymore.
Debby: And that’s a very interesting point because through Dan Harmon , he centered the woman, former writer on one of his shows called community. Her name is Megan Gantz. He centered her and her feelings and his bad behavior in his apology, I think that should be core to any of these apologies is centering the person or people who were harmed by the actions of, of the person being challenged.
Benita: I definitely agree. And one of the things that really bothered me about Liam Neeson, and just a quick recap, he was on some press tour for a new movie coming out and he, about how one of his close personal friends had been raped by a black man and his knee jerk response was to become a vigilante and go out and roam the streets seeking justice on any black man that he happened to run into.
Debby: The most eye opening thing to me was again, the systemic ingrained racism and white people are like, oh, I get that. That makes sense. He was angry and he got over it. Isn’t that good? I’m like, don’t you get it that it’s the systemic racism that made him think purposely roaming in black neighborhoods with weapons was somehow a good idea in handling this because I guarantee if his friend had been raped by a white man, he wasn’t going to go wandering around white neighborhoods looking to beat up a white man. No one has really said that, and I’m just stunned.
Benita: I’m stunned that he thought it would be okay in a public forum to admit this, and it wasn’t something that he was deeply ashamed of. He didn’t even see it as being racist. He had no clue.
Debby: And the white people that are like, Gee, I might’ve done the same thing. Oh, you’re racist too. He didn’t say, I’ve realized that my role in systemic racism and doing things like that is a problem. He hasn’t acknowledged the racist part of It was like, I’m not a racist. Every time someone says to me, they’re not a racist. It’s always in the context of them being racist.
Benita: I think that’s a big clue. Just like the men who say they’re feminists, but it’s another non-apology from Liam Neeson and well, I don’t know the specifics of his apology. I can’t remember. I just remembered that it sucked.
Debby:I remember it mostly saying, yeah, that was really a bad idea, but I’m over it now. How I would sum it up, what was also offensive was how he was vaguely threatening to the reporter that he gave the story to effectively by saying you shouldn’t put that in your story.
Benita: Right. Let’s go back to Dan Harmon and remind me a little bit about the situation with him.
Debby: It was an ongoing years, long situation. He had a TV show, I think it was on NBC. His community was up a Sitcom about adults at a community college, so Megan Ganz was one of the writers and writers in Hollywood are kind of the lower tier people on the shows, but Dan Harmon, who was the show runner, developed a crush on one of the writers at the time. Dan Harmon had a live in girlfriend that he’d been with for years. One of his closing title pictures was animated picture with his girlfriend. He was open up front that he was in a relationship and he developed this crush on Megan and she had told him in many different ways, repeatedly you focusing on me is a problem. Don’t do it. It makes me uncomfortable. But Dan Harmon in his apology said he didn’t want to hear it. He said specifically there was no profit to me listening to her meaning wasn’t going to get what he wanted.
And he felt entitled. And this is all from his apology where he says that he ended up breaking up with his girlfriend and he thought, now I can tell Megan I Love her. Yeah. And after she rejected him, that time he went out of his way to punish her for it, making her doubt herself and her talent and making Community an untenable place for her to work. And it ended up causing disarray within the show, not just for Megan, but for the whole show. And the show ended up, I think moving to Hulu and then got canceled and Megan Gantz wrote about this experience in the Community writer room because of Dan Harmon and instead of saying, well, I’m sorry she felt that way. Dan Harmon took some time and reflected on it and wrote what is considered the gold standard #Me Too apology, which talks about his own internal motivations that were wrong, the lies he told himself and others to get away with it.
How he didn’t see her as a human being, how the industry allows this to happen. In closing, he goes, the last and most important thing I can say is just think about it. No matter who you are at work, no matter where you’re working, no matter what field you’re in, no matter what position you have, just think about it. You gotta because if you don’t think about it, you’re going to get away with not thinking about it and you can cause a lot of damage that is technically legal and hurts everybody. This is where I think it can be a little better. It’s often illegal and it hurts people. Right, but then that goes to the Aziz Anzari situation and everybody’s like, well, he just had a bad date. He took her hand and put it back on his penis more than five times. She didn’t want to touch his penis and he wasn’t going to take no for an answer.
He didn’t rape her, but he thought this is how you’re supposed to date and Aziz Anzari likes to present himself as a feminist. He calls himself a feminist. Another one I swear, every time a guy calls himself a feminist, I side eye the ever living hell out of them as Samantha B said, if you’re going to call yourself a feminist, you should fuck like a feminist. When you keep rejecting the message that you’re being told, that’s a problem and we can get into the whole, well, why didn’t she just say no? Why did she just use her words? Well, guess what? If you’re alone in a movie star or a TV stars apartment, do you really think it’s safe to say no? Or are you going to try nice your way out of a situation?
Benita: Care if he’s a movie star or someone that you’re on a first date with you. Nice your way out of every situation because we’re vulnerable. Incredibly vulnerable.
Debby: Yes. And a lot of people jump to Aziz Anzari’s defense saying, well it wasn’t illegal. And I’m like, I completely agree it wasn’t illegal, but he wasn’t fucking like a feminist. And I’m, if you’re offended by the F word too bad. But in this case I think it kind of applies. Right? But what it forced people to do, and I had talks with male friends of mine who were bothered by the Aziz Anzari story, most of all because it applied to them more than Harvey Weinstein actually raping Hollywood starlets right? This was that they had done and they were like, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that is Dan Harmon said, you know, you have to think about Dan Harmon’s apology. He said, and if she meaning Megan Gantz hadn’t mentioned something on Twitter, I would have continued to not have to think about it. Although I did walk around with my stomach in knots about it, but I wouldn’t have to talk about it or think about how I could be different. And I think that these, these Anzari stories is more illustrative. And he did come out with an apology recently, like he’s talked about it with his friends. He, it was along the lines still of, ‘I’m sorry, she felt that way. ‘
Benita: Yeah, it comes back to men don’t have the same standards for what is acceptable behavior. They just feel like they shouldn’t have to have any consequences for their actions.
Debby: Louis C K is a perfect example of that. Louis C K has studiously avoided discussing the actual damage he caused to multiple female comics in their careers.
Benita: All the while saying that he was a feminist.
Debby: So guys, if you’re listening and you want to call yourself a feminist, please don’t do it around me. I’m going to look at you like you’re a potential predator. I think it’s just creepy. And what’s interesting is Louis C k especially exemplifies the, I’m a victim thing. When he did his standup routine and the one woman heckled him and he’s like, you know, I’ve lost everything. I lost millions of dollars in contracts and all this other stuff. I’m like, dude, you’re still on stage. Your specials are still on Netflix. I’m not crying for you. Right.
Benita: And what about the women that he hurt their careers? How much did they lose out on what could they have become?
Debby: And it’s never going to happen for them. No, at all. And I don’t even, I mean, I could go look up their names, but I don’t know their names. I know Megan Gantz. You know why? Because Dan Harmon centered her in his apology. Right? So another crappy apology, as long as we’re talking about, um, Neil Degrasse Tyson. And this one makes me sad.
Benita: I’m so sad. It breaks my heart because I really looked up to him and admired him and I saw him when he came to Houston, we shelled out our 75 bucks a ticket and went to Jones Hall and had a wonderful time, enjoyed his talk. And now I don’t even, I feel dirty watching Cosmo’s. It’s just ruined it for me.
Debby: And that’s an interesting topic we’ll talk about probably in our next show about redemption, forgiveness and how do you treat that person’s work and so on. Because I think especially for those of us in the secular community, Neil degrasse Tyson was as close to a leader as our very chaotic secular community can get it right and his was a long, it’s very interesting. Tyson never disputed any of the details with the production assistant, I think was her title from Cosmos that made the allegations. What happened in his apartment? It was he disputed the meaning,
Benita: right? It was her fault because she misinterpreted
Debby: and he closed with the, ‘I’m a victim thing’, which he says, this brings us back to the value of an independent investigation which Fox National Geographic announced they will conduct. “I will welcome this. Accusations can damage our reputation and a marriage sometimes irreversibly. I see myself as a loving husband and as a public servant, a scientist and educator who serves at the will of the public. I am grateful for the support I’ve received from those who continue to respect and value me. And my work.” Clearly, he doesn’t respect and value the people that are saying, hey dude, that was creepy.
Benita:Right when you said that, hey dude, that was creepy. My brain immediately went back to Rebecca Watson.
Benita: In Elevator-gate in her crime that she has not come back from is accusing a guy in an elevator who asked her out as being creepy. It was late at night in an enclosed space. She was trapped and he’s coming onto her and later she said, hey, that wasn’t okay. That’s not a comfortable situation. You shouldn’t do that, and all hell broke loose on this woman. And they even named it elevator gate.
Debby: Like how dare she set a boundary for how people treat her. How dare she, she should be flattered. Who was the one that did that? Was it Schermer?
Benita: Oh, Schermer is a sexual predator, but I think it was Richard Dawkins.
Debby: Richard Dawkins who defended the person in the elevator. Yeah. I don’t remember who the person in the elevator with her was, but Richard Dawkins said, basically, you should be flattered.
Benita: And they were all jumping on how this poor guy was socially awkward and these Geeky guys just don’t know how to talk to women. Like it’s our responsibility to educate them.
Benita: Oh No, it’s worse than that, Benita. It’s that we owe them sex. Oh, that’s the whole foundation of the incel movement. And the incel movement didn’t happen in a fricking vacuum. It happened because this is some of the institutionalized misogyny that guys grow up with, that they are owed women’s bodies and it goes to reproductive rights. It goes to birth control abortion. Because up until fairly recently, there was no such thing as marital rape.
Debby: That was what offended me the most about what Richard Dawkins said and all these guys saying, you know, poor guy, he was just trying to ask a hot girl out, can’t blame a guy. Yeah, yeah I can. And she can say no and she can say, don’t do that again.
Benita: Yeah. And she has a right to stand up for her self in self defense. Yes. It does come back to this whole thing that guys have a different of behavior. They don’t think that they’re doing things wrong when they really are.
Benita: I don’t want to generalize to all men. I do. I do want to make that, oh, I want to make that clear that we’re not total man. Haters get the overwhelming examples in the public that we hear about though. Are Men behaving badly?
Debby: Well, and of course we’ll probably get, someone said, well, what about this woman? Well, you know what? In institutionalized misogyny women have learned to get ahead and to get what they want and to have power is to behave by the prevailing standards which are set by men. And so when you say not all men, I, yeah, but I, I have to say, watching my son grow up in this hyper masculine male oriented society, Western society, I really have to watch him and check him because misogyny is the air we breathe. He learns these lessons of subtle variety of ways. And so even my husband who I’ve been with forever, I’ll say something sometimes I’m like, hey, you need to watch that because that’s what institutionalized misogyny looks like. And so these are the lessons that all men need to hear.
Benita: That’s true. And I think that this whole male apology and the criteria that we were discussing earlier, it makes them uncomfortable to think that they have to actually start policing themselves in their behavior in this same way that women have been policing themselves since the dawn of time. It’s your responsibility to think, how could this be misconstrued? It isn’t the woman’s responsibility to read your mind and think how you’re trying to mean it. It’s your responsibility to make sure that you behave in a way that is unambiguous.
Debby: Yes. And it’s so funny because I talked with a female person who’s probably gonna listen to this podcast and yes, I mean you whose initial response was, what was that girl doing in Neil’s apartment alone with him? And I’m like, Whoa, Whoa, whoa. Flip that. What was Neil doing in his apartment alone with that young woman?
Benita: He was her boss in a position of power could certainly buy your occur. Yes, yes, yes. She has to go along to get along because her livelihood is at stake.
Debby: Yes. Why wouldn’t she be? There would be my question, but I just wanted that person to think about specifically why her internalized misogyny. It didn’t even occur to her. That may be Neil degrasse Tyson should have taken some care himself instead. So when these guys say, well fine, I just won’t say anything. I just won’t ask any girl out at work. Yay, Hooray. That’s what you should do. You should think about your situation. I’m never going to talk to a girl again if only that were true, but let’s be,
Benita: yeah, you’re right. There are those people and, and it’s not just men, but it’s men and women too that say, oh, there’s so manyvnegative consequences for the men that are accused. Their careers are ruined. They’re never going to be able to come back. And no matter what they say, the Liberals or the other women aren’t going to be satisfied. And that is patently not true.
Debby: It is so, so not true. Dan Harmon, the gold standard apology, which I would have tweaked a little bit, but still compared to every other single one, he owned it. He does Rick and Morty. Now it’s an animated show. Extremely popular, especially with younger people. His career has left forward since he did this and Megan Gantz’s career has to, so when you do it right, no one’s raking Dan Harmon over the coals at all. His life just went on,
Benita: right? I don’t think we’re asking too much of an apology. The minute you start promoting your own self in your supposed apology it’s not going to work. But let’s talk about how to apologize. And the first thing this is pretty obvious is to say you’re sorry.
Benita: How often do we hear the word? Sorry.
Debby: Well, I’ve heard a lot of, I’m sorry, she felt that way and that stuff coming from anybody just makes me feel stabby they’d have been better off keeping their mouth shut.
Benita: Right. If it’s not going to be a sincere, keep your mouth shut. That’s the other thing. Don’t say you’re sorry if you don’t think you have anything to apologize for. And I really do think that it’s important to actually use the words I am sorry. And the key thing is for what I have done,
Debby: I am sorry, but I don’t really think I did anything wrong.
Benita: Right. It is important also to acknowledge if it’s a pattern of wrongdoing.
Benita: You know, like Dan Harmon didn’t say, Oh, I’m sorry for the one time. He was like, I recognize that this was a pattern of behavior and when it’s time to make amends, apologize to everyone. You’ve hurt, not just the single person who called you out on it. Yeah.
Debby: Dan Harmon did that specifically apologize to his ex-girlfriend. He apologized to everybody that worked on community saying that his behavior helped ruin that show and that shows lifespan. He apologized to Megan of course too, but he apologized to everyone and Liam Neeson certainly didn’t,
Benita: and Neil degrasse Tyson certainly didn’t. Yeah. The other thing is, you know, don’t make excuses. Yes, we are responsible for the way we treat other people. We’re responsible for our own behavior, and when you make an apology, you need to acknowledge that. And the other thing that you need to do is ask for forgiveness.
Benita: When Mario Batali put in that recipe for cinnamon rolls that wasn’t, you know, he should have been thinking, I’m sorry not, you know, buy my books and my recipes. It’s just ridiculous. True. Also, a true apology needs to be backed up by corrective action. Saying your story isn’t enough on its own. You have to make reparations if it’s at all possible.
Debby: And these are apology rules that I think we should all be using, but especially these two apologies and these grand public apologies that the corrective action component is crucial and it isn’t in a, well, I guess I just won’t be alone with a woman ever again. That’s not a corrective action. But saying like Dan Harmon did, he realized he had to think about his behavior moving forward and as these, I’m sorry, he said he had to rethink how he dates and what consent looks like. That’s important.
Benita: Yeah. And the other piece of that is doing your best to avoid it happening again in the future. And when you recognize and articulate what it was that you did wrong, that’s a first step in being able to avoid repeating that behavior. It isn’t an apology if you go out and do it again. Yes. The other issue about a apology is keeping the focus on you and your actions and not on how the other person responded. Oh, yes. Well, I didn’t intend for it to come across that way. Let’s step that back and say, I did a shitty thing
Debby: When people have had to apologize to me and when I’ve had to apologize to people. That is the hardest thing to do because especially if you try to do it too soon before you’ve stopped yourself and thought about it, you’re still going to be focused on why you did what you did and Dan Harmon, again, the gold standard stepped back and focused on his own actions and how unacceptable they were. It didn’t say, well, Megan, word a tight sweater that day. She wanted me to look at her. Right? He never did any of that. But you see that a lot in a lot of apologies, even among friends. Well, I was having a bad day and I did that, but focusing on, sorry, I yelled at you. That was unacceptable and the next time I’m just going to take myself out of the situation if I get that emotional. But I think that’s something that has been missing from all these public apologies. Like Liam Neeson is focusing on this mythical black rapist is somehow as an excuse for him wandering around, looking to beat up any black guy.
Benita: And I, I don’t think that he recognizes how much harder he’s making life for your average black person. Yes. He’s negating their right to exist, regardless of how they behave by virtue of their skin color, they’re guilty.
Debby: I think his whole apology can be summarized as, I’m sorry, but I was really emotional I don’t care. Being emotional doesn’t give you the right to go out and beat up black people. What the hell?
Benita: And if you would’ve asked his friend that got raped, do you think she would have said, Oh yes. What I want you to do is go out and randomly attack any black person you see on the street. No, he can’t say that he was doing it for her.
Debby: Right. Well, we can get into the whole white men own white women. And that’s a whole nother topic. Like even when you get into Emmett Till and his murderers, it was allegedly because I met till hit on a white woman and her husband was one of the people who murdered Emmett till. But the fact is this guy beat the crap out of his wife on a fairly regular basis, was abusive as hell. But how dare a black man look at his property and with Liam Neeson, how dare a black man touch a white woman, right? Oh, that Liam Neeson stuff’s just chapping my ass, so bad.
Benita: I agree. But the other thing that I really struggle with is this issue of forgiveness. Yes. And I think that next time we’ll talk about forgiveness. What do you do when you can’t forgive? Can I never watch a movie with Liam Neeson in it again? Do I really have to quit watching Cosmo’s? We’ll explore that in depth. The next episode. We really hope that you will join us for that.
Debby: My action item for myself this week. You can join me in. This is two things. One, I’m not going to apologize if I don’t mean it. I’m not going to say I’m sorry but I need to tell you how I feel.none of that. I’m not de-valuing the word sorry and two, I’m going to say it when I really need to. So that’s my action item today is to mean it when I say I’m sorry and to say I’m sorry less all at the same time.
Benita: I grew up in a house with my dad saying it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission and unfortunately I find myself doing that and sometimes my husband calls me out on it. So case in point example, and this is embarrassing girlfriend’s birthday party. We met at a venue, I brought the cake and I brought the knife and Aki has a knife that I bought for him for Christmas. That is very cool. It’s a Sushi knife. It has its own case and it’s a hard case and it’s got the molded foam. It was so easy for me to pull and bring that knife because it was already in a case. I knew it was sharp. I brought the knife to cut my girlfriend’s cake and I got back and I’m unpacking what I brought and he’s like, took my Sushi knife to cut the cake.
Debby: You didn’t even ask.
Benita: I did not ask.
Benita: Easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. And I did ask for forgiveness. So my action item is to do that thinking before I act, the thought crossed my mind. I should probably take a different knife, but it was quick and easy and I can explain my behavior, but it is wrong. So I need to get out of that. It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission because when you are saying that, then you’re negating the apology bs. You don’t really mean it because you knew it was wrong before you started. So that’s my action item.
Debby: Well, there’s all sorts of action items you can pick and choose depending on what you need to work on. Isn’t that awesome?
Benita: Yeah. Here’s another action item. How about checking out our email@example.com and you can follow us on Twitter and support the show by telling your friends about us.
Debby: Yes, and thank you so much for joining us and I look forward to discussing forgiveness with you in Benita next week. Thank you so much.
Benita: Thank you.