Compared to the aggressive defenses that we have seen from other powerful men recently accused of sexual misconduct, Kevin Spacey’s tweet apologising to actor Anthony Rapp, on the surface, seemed surprisingly sincere.
Rapp accused Spacey of approaching him when he was just a 14-year-old boy (Spacey was 26) and drunkenly forcing him into a sexually compromising position, from which Rapp only just escaped. Spacey’s response included the statement: “…if I did behave the way he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior, and I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all these years.”
This statement, however, was not as problematic as that which followed: a paragraph disclosing that Spacey “has had relationships with both men and women…and choose[s] now to live as a gay man.”
The apology was criticised by the LGBT+ community for its deeply problematic implication that there is a correlation between being gay and being a sexual predator. This is, in fact, one of the many problematic aspects of Spacey’s apology.
Some have claimed that, in light of the accusations, Spacey was simply clarifying the long-standing rumours about his sexual preference to the public. But it certainly was not as simple as this either. Why now? Why make his sexual orientation a part of his defence at all?
The answer can only be found in a larger context. In bringing up his belonging to a historically oppressed minority, Spacey was trying to remove himself from a notoriously despised category: that of the hegemonic man who abuses his power. It was as if Spacey was claiming that in being gay, he couldn’t possibly be the same kind of man as Harvey Weinstein or Bill O’Reilly. Being gay puts him on the side of the oppressed, not of the oppressor.
Spacey’s reaction blatantly exemplifies the biggest hurdle that we face in changing the culture of sexual harassment. The problem is that the very people who participate in this culture are psychologically unable to acknowledge their belonging to it.
The way we have sensationalised the actions of the men who have been accused makes them seem like they form part of some horrid and secret club. It paints sexual deviants as a rare breed of people who, in the moment of misconduct, fully recognise themselves as the monsters they are. But the truth is that ‘regular’ men like Spacey who commit these atrocities don’t actually believe they are doing anything wrong. The misogynistic entitlement runs deep in their blood. They are blind to their crimes because their abuse of power has, time and time again, been sanctioned or ignored by the entire world around them.
When will it become clear that sexual harassment is not a back-alley crime? How many men have to be accused for us to understand that this is not just a matter of a few bad apples? Spacey came up with his excuse because he couldn’t possibly conceive of himself as a member of the ‘Harvey Weinstein Club’. It is about time for us to acknowledge that there is no secret club.
Our ability to change requires that we recognise the painful truth of sexual harassment culture. We have to look honestly at the way it thrives in, dominates, and influences every single moment of every single one of our lives. Only then can we start to transform. Only then will our healing begin.
Image: vagueonthehow via Flickr