on forgiveness and drawing lines

[please do not cross the line]

Please do not cross the line by rhinoneal

There have been so many stories in the news lately about people making choices, being faced with the consequences of their actions, and then being forgiven without having shown much if any remorse and/or suffering actual punitive consequences. On the surface, this forgiveness seems fine and maybe even noble. But there’s something about these particular stories that keeps bugging me: the ease with which we forgive and forget when the circumstances make it convenient to do so.

Just this week in my small town, a college football player took a plea deal after being charged with three felonies. And just like that, he’s back on the team. Because OF COURSE he is, because football=money and we all know that’s much more important than a person actually taking real consequences for their choices. It’s so disappointing to see my alma mater make this kind of choice. I expect better of them than I do of the NFL, for example (though I’d love to see the NFL improve on its laughably poor handling of its latest debacle).

It seems that we are especially willing to forget when the crime/poor choice was a man doing harm to a woman or any form of misogyny.

For instance, most of us remember that Chris Brown beat the crap out of Rhianna. He pled guilty and was given the equivalent of a slap on the wrist (this brings up another element of these stories – we all seem to take it for granted that, if you’re a rich guy, there’s no way you’ll be held to the same standard of consequences as someone who isn’t), and now it’s like, oh, whatever, never mind, that was awhile ago, now he’s fine. Websites that I usually respect, like the AV Club, still review his new album as if nothing ever happened. I’m not in favor of never giving anyone a second chance, but I don’t think we have to do it automatically, and I think that forgiving people for awful, criminal acts just because time has passed is really shitty. Where was his apology and amends for what he did? I don’t think it ever happened. I’m sure the AV Club wants to have a wide range of reviews, but it would be easier for me to respect them if they chose not to review works from artists who are known misogynists.

Those are just a couple of examples out of many. It’s so tiring to see this happening over and over. I don’t think it’s probably even possible to participate in contemporary culture without separating artists from their art at least a little bit, BUT I don’t think we have to completely look away from these things, either. If you love a Woody Allen movie, at least be aware of the almost-unbelievable things he’s done in his personal life and the way his actions have affected the people in his life. There’s more awesome art than you can shake a stick at being created by good people who aren’t guilty of misogyny/violence/predatory acts/etc., so why not choose to fill your life with that? Or at least more of it? If I hear a song/see a piece of art that I like, I’m likely to try to find out more about the creator(s). At least then I’ll KNOW who I’m listening to or appreciating, and I can determine whether or not that affects my appreciation for the thing they made. As ever, problematic military toy G.I. Joe’s PSA writers had it at least a little bit right when they said, “Now I know. And knowing is half the battle.”

This all leads me to a thing that is happening right now in my profession. Two women who called out a man for sexual harassment and predation are now being sued by that man. We work in a female-dominated profession, but that doesn’t stop one of the relatively few men in that profession from doing horrible things (and, worse, AT THE SAME TIME being lauded as an industry leader). And then trying to intimidate those who called him out into silence with a ludicrous lawsuit. People get away with a lot of terrible behavior – was the CMU football player’s arrest the first time he did something criminal? Had Chris Brown ever abused a woman before he was caught? I don’t know the answers, but it sure seems possible. We look away from things that are difficult to deal with, and in doing so, we enable the perpetrators to keep on doing those things and, probably, to escalate. We should all be holding one another accountable, which sometimes means doing the difficult thing. Those with less power especially need to support each other and call others out on their behavior.

As someone who works with/for the public, I try to have empathy for everyone. The person who comes in the door with a terrible attitude and shouts profanities at me because the computer isn’t cooperating is probably just having a really shit day. I don’t take it personally and I look forward to future visits when they won’t be in such a bad mood, because it usually is truly just a bad moment for them (and we all have those). I imagine that the football player at CMU was motivated by wanting more – it seems plausible that he gets his room and board covered by a scholarship but might not have much in the way of running-around money, which would totally suck when all his friends are going out to a party or for food or whatever. However, he still made the choice to commit a crime, and his possible desperation does not justify that. It’s a little more difficult for me to find empathy for a man who beats or harasses a woman, but I still try to understand where that person is coming from and hope that they get the help they need along with the punitive consequences for their actions.

I wish I had some solutions to these problems that would really make a difference in our society. Rather than feel hopeless, though, I’ll choose to continue to make good choices in my own life, to try my best to call things out when I see them, and to support those like #teamharpy.