Bryan Cranston on the red carpet
Bryan Cranston (Photo: Getty Images)


Should an apology be enough to give serial sexual harassers a second chance?

The Breaking Bad actor, Bryan Cranston, has said there should be room for forgiveness. But our anger needs to be acknowledged and prioritised first, says Daisy Buchanan

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By Daisy Buchanan on

Over the last month, I have heard stories and testimonies from women whose confidence has been crushed, whose career paths have been irrevocably altered and who have been forced to spend a portion of their lives feeling small, quiet and scared, all because they have been exploited by men who are prepared to abuse their power. It seems as though all of these stories are rushing to the surface, right now, but this is an extended tale of endemic sexism that has been going on for decades. 70 years ago, actress Maureen O’Hara spoke out about being called “a cold potato with no sex appeal” after she turned down the advances of her directors. Finally, after years of screaming into the void, people are starting to listen to what women have to say. We’re being believed. We’re being taken seriously

However, some men, unaccustomed to not being the ones with the loudest, most compelling voices, are adding their voices to the narrative, and it is usually unwelcome. Woody Allen, who is no stranger to allegations of inappropriate behaviour, referred to the events as a “witch hunt”. A number of high profile men have rushed to volubly defend Roy Moore, the Republican standing for senator, even though four women have gone on record to say that he pursued inappropriate relationships with them during their teens. Now actor Bryan Cranston has joined the merry band of Noisy Men With Unpopular Opinions That They Do Not Want You To Ignore, positing that the way to deal with powerful sexual predators is to forgive them.

In an interview with the BBC, Cranston commented “If they were to show us that they put the work in and were truly sorry and making amends and not defending their actions but asking for forgiveness then maybe down the road there is room for that…We shouldn’t close it off and say, ‘To hell with him, rot, and go away from us for the rest of your life.’ Let’s not do that. Let’s be bigger than that.” On one level, I’m furious. When women have been hurt repeatedly, and in some cases had their career prospects crushed, how can it fall to a man to say, “Let’s think about forgiving men!” At best, he’s speaking out of turn, and at worst, he’s telling us how to feel. Has Cranston ever been on the receiving end of the behaviour he wants us to forgive? How can he expect us to be empathetic towards our abusers when he can’t empathise with us for long enough to realise we don’t want to turn the other cheek, we want to flip a table?

However, it’s complicated. There’s a kernel of truth in Cranston’s words that I can’t quite ignore. Growing up, I was taught to believe that people are complicated, life is difficult, and if someone hurts you, it’s probably because they have been hurt. You’re not helping the wider world if you lash out again.

An apology, no matter how sincere, isn’t going to restore our confidence, replenish our missing earnings or compensate for what has been taken from us

Like many women, I have spent the last few weeks feeling overwhelmed by my own anger. It spreads through my chest and wakes me up in the night, my heart pounding at double time. I’m snow blind with rage, consumed with corrosive feelings of hatred, because every single one of the women I love - and the women they love - has been hurt, at some point, by a man who thought that his need to feel powerful was greater than her right to safety. The worst thing about the anger is that it makes me feel enormously guilty. Throughout my life, I’ve avoided that feeling, or at least tried to express it usefully, politely, or at least in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone else. Anger is not an emotion that women are permitted, and I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve been told my feelings are wrong. I’m overreacting. My period is due. I can catch more flies with honey. Cranston’s words are part of a chorus I’ve been hearing all my life. Women’s anger isn’t ‘nice’. It’s always up to us to be the “bigger” person. Who is he to tell women to make themselves big in order to deal with the men who have made them feel small?

However, anger contains urgency, and we need urgent change. Perhaps we are missing the bigger picture if we focus our rage on condemning individuals without also addressing the culture that has permitted, encouraged and enabled their shameful behaviour. Making accused men the targets of our untrammelled rage is satisfying, and I think justifiable too. Yet it’s not fixing anything. When Cranston says “It would be up to us to determine whether or not this person deserves a second chance”, I hope he knows that “us” needs to be a jury of the vulnerable and the exploited - not wealthy, powerful men calling for mercy for other wealthy, powerful men.

I haven’t finished feeling angry yet. I won’t be finished for a long time. Our anger is part of our humanity, and I believe that needs to be acknowledged, addressed and prioritised before we begin to consider the feelings of the men who have hurt us. An apology, no matter how sincere – and let’s be honest, Weinstein’s isn’t scoring that high on the sincerity stakes – isn’t going to restore our confidence, replenish our missing earnings or compensate for what has been taken from us. We are entitled to hear every single guilty man say sorry, and mean it. They are not necessarily entitled to our forgiveness.



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Bryan Cranston (Photo: Getty Images)
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harvey weinstein
sexual harassment

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