In a year in which North America has seen man after famous man taken down by sexual assault and harassment allegations, it's easy to see a general unease rising in some men. After all, they seem to be wondering, if the world can come for Harvey Weinstein and Louis C.K., can't it come for me next? Many are asking where we go next — what comes after this watershed moment? — and whether there will be room in that future for those accused over the last year. But as Amber Tamblyn wrote in an op-ed about men's redemption on Thursday, that's the wrong question to be asking.
In a powerful piece for The New York Times, Tamblyn gave readers a glimpse at life in Hollywood following the takedown of several famous men in recent months. At an event, two writers sat on a couch and discussed what comes next for the high-profile men accused of harassment and assault, with the male writer asking, according to Tamblyn:
'What’s the ultimate thing you would want to happen to [Louis C.K.], for what he did? That he never works in this business again? ... Do you believe in redemption?'
Tamblyn's response, in written form, is one that deserves highlighting — and plenty of repeating.
"The idea [of redemption] appeals to the men I’ve been talking with, I believe, because they want a sense of normalcy restored," Tamblyn wrote, continuing:
They want measured discussion of consequences, not swift punishment. ... I’ve heard several male friends talk about text chains they are on with other men only; they describe it as a safe space to talk about how they feel in this moment. They feel afraid, disoriented and discounted.
And that's an understandable feeling — because the truth of the matter is, men have been able to get away with a lot up until now. Brock Turner was convicted for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster and got only three months in jail. (Any longer than half a year in jail, the judge in Turner's case argued, would have a significant impact on Turner's life.) Men have seen female victims in court asked, "Why couldn't you just keep your knees together?" rather than their assailant's being asked, "How in God's name did you think this was OK?" Men who have bragged about assaulting women have avoided prison time and instead become, ahem, president.
It's no wonder men are so interested in when this public reckoning will end. As one unattributed quote puts it: "When you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression." This year, for the first time, men have seen actions that were previously "OK," or that at least went swept under the rug, suddenly being punished. They feel uncomfortable. There is a clear shift in the air, and many men are waiting for it to disappear, for things to go back to "normal," for this unclear chapter to end.
And that is entirely where Tamblyn nails it with her op-ed. She makes it clear that there won't be — there can't be — a redemption, at least not in the way that many men are envisioning it. We can't simply return to the old ways and have men go back to a life without fear of repercussions. Actual redemption, Tamblyn writes, will require change. If accused men want to come back to their old lives, they will have to leave their old powers behind and find "a new power."
"A new power. Can there be one for men, free of humiliation, shame and violent assault against women?" Tamblyn wrote, continuing:
That's the question for men and their text chains right now, not the question of how soon they can ask about redemption. Redemption must be preceded by atonement. It is earned, not offered. ... You have to acknowledge the line in the sand. Once you do this, the next step is simple: Pick a side. Choose us.
There is no turning back. Change is hard work, and it can be uncomfortable work. But if we want to move ahead after this watershed moment, it's the only option.
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