If there’s one thing we’ve witnessed in the weeks following Harvey Weinstein’s spectacular fall from grace it’s that too many men out there are struggling to grasp the concept of apologising – what it sounds like, why it’s needed and who it’s actually for.
In the wake of numerous sexual harassment and abuse allegations, and amid a cacophony of “Me Too”, we’ve read a lot of public apologies as men have been forced to confront their pasts and reevaluate previous behaviours. What has been particularly revealing is that most of these public mea culpas have actually failed at the first hurdle – that is, to utter the two little words women out there are actually looking for. “I’m sorry.” It really is that simple.
Which is where Elizabeth Sampat comes in. The video-game designer has actually built a tool inspired by all the – in her own words – “shitty ‘apologies’” we’ve heard lately; apologies like comedian Louis CK’s, whose 492-worded statement in response to sexual-harassment allegations earlier this month failed to use the one word that arguably defines what an apology actually is. Yes, you’ve guessed it: SORRY.
This may just be a symbolic procedural website but it serves as a powerful reminder to us all about how remorse should be expressed, post-Weinstein, and what it means
The cleverly titled “Am I Part Of The Problem?” tool echoes an existential question many men have been asking themselves in light of Hollywood’s ongoing purge – and yet, Sampat’s creation is more outward-looking than a columnist like The Times’ David Aaronovitch's attempt at headscratching last month (“Where am I on the scale of bad behaviour?”). Because, while men’s feelings can’t be completely disregarded in this process of reevaluation, it is women we should be focusing on here – their past traumas, their sabotaged careers and their futures. As Sampat writes when you click on her tool, “You're here because someone felt hurt by your actions, whether or not you intended to hurt that person.” And that’s important to remember. It’s what apologies are really all about. It’s what apologies should be all about as we all try to move forward in response to the horrifying number of harassment stories that have been shared in the last few months.
“Did you hurt someone? Are you having trouble coming to terms with it? Are you unsure what to do next?” Sampat asks. As questions are honestly answered, the user is gently walked through a simplified process that aims to help men like Louis CK recognise what responsibility really means – and what it should sound like. As I navigated my way through Sampat’s carefully constructed options as part of my research for this piece, I landed on a page that, in stark contrast to the self-serving hand-ringing we’ve witnessed of late, really makes sense.
“Here's the thing: the question of whether this makes you a bad person is irrelevant,” it reads. “I know it doesn't feel that way. But the problem with asking the question ‘Does this action make me a bad person?’ makes the situation about you, and not about the person you harmed.”
Too often in the last few weeks, I’ve read public apologies from men who have abused certain privileges and asked myself: where are the women here? And, when all is said and done, whose pain takes precedence? This may just be a symbolic procedural website, but it serves as a powerful reminder to us all about how remorse should be expressed, post-Weinstein, and what it means. Who it’s for? Surely not the comedian with a career to salvage, but the millions of women listening worldwide – weary but hopeful after so long.