So Louis C.K. has finally been unveiled as a serial harasser of women; Hollywood's answer to the creepy mac-clad flasher in your local park. On Thursday the New York Times broke the story, which has been bubbling furiously beneath the surface of the Harvey Weinstein allegations for weeks. Five brave women came forward to tell the Times that C.K. had masturbated, or had asked to masturbate, in front of them. And guess what - no one in comedy is shocked, because everyone in the industry knew about it. Articles have been dripping out about C.K. at a rate of a couple a week for months, but a lack of named sources prevented the story from becoming an official accusation; the allegations were, until now, not allegations, more just rumours that dogged him like a swarm of flies around a cow pat. C.K. played it as masterfully as a politician - refusing to comment on 'rumours'. On Friday, he released a reluctant apology - a statement detailing his 'remorse' at the pain he had caused his victims. It is too little, too late.
I shared one of the earlier articles on Facebook - this one, by Emma Healey. I was met with disgust by some of the men on my friends list. Because Louis C.K. was not convicted, had not even been officially accused. And more importantly, Louis C.K. is a comic genius, alright? He's one of the funniest guys of a generation. His body of work is unparalleled. And there's the reason I shared the article. I am a woman - a woman who has experienced sexual assault and harassment, and a woman who has very much enjoyed C.K.'s stand up and sitcom. The fact that I was reading an article accusing someone who I had developed respect for of harassment, intimidation and assault repulsed me - and not only was I revolted at Louis C.K.: I was revolted at myself.
I wondered why I hadn't taken C.K.'s comedy at face value; why I found his jokes funny, rather than examining them and realising they weren't jokes at all; they were just the truth, said in a deadpan way, making eye contact with members of the front row, telling them what he'd done. C.K. put it all out there for us to see; we just weren't looking hard enough. His affable shoulder shrugs, his hand wiping sweat from his balding brow - he was a nice guy, a funny guy, a father of daughters for goodness' sake. Why would we question any of that?
We didn't question it. And C.K.'s body of work grew; C.K. maintained his position as one of the greatest comedians of his generation, and with that came great power; the power to silence women, and the ability to exploit them because of that. And now we are left with the body of work, and the knowledge about the person behind it, and the question: what do we do? Is it still possible to enjoy C.K.'s work?
If you can still enjoy his comedy, by all means, I'm not going to tell you to stop watching his shows. But for me - my respect for him stopped when I began to read the steady trickle of stories about him. I will always believe women. One of the first rules when I began to volunteer for Rape Crisis was exactly that: to believe women. But I grew up in a culture where sexual assault is acceptable and rape apology is taught, and if they are believed, women are at least blamed, so that policy seemed revolutionary to me. Nowadays, it is simply terrifying to me that the default is to believe men.
So, no. I can't watch Woody Allen films, or Polanski, or listen to Bowie. There will always be someone there to tell you that these men are 'deeply flawed', yet fantastic in their field. And I'm here to tell you that leaving the toilet seat up is a flaw. Sexual assault is a crime. The two are definitively different.
After telling you these men are flawed, these people begin to list their enormous and influential output, to remind you of their achievements. But as women, we are constantly undermined, attacked and silenced, and we do not need reminding of the great contributions to the Arts by abusive men. All this reminds us of is the fact that they are still allowed to make art; that the lived experiences of hundreds of women silenced is still not enough to silence their abusers.
If I won't tell you what to do, then I think I can make a gentle suggestion, and it is this: stop listening to the blaring silence orchestrated by men. And start believing women.