An article in Slate was posted yesterday afternoon regarding the accusations against popular comedian and screenwriter/producer Louis CK that have finally been brought to light in the last few days. If you haven’t heard, numerous female comedians, supported by feminist comic Tig Notaro, have come forward with charges that Louis CK masturbated in front of them, exposing himself against their will. Netflix and FX have come out denouncing Louis CK’s actions, and his independently-funded film based off Woody Allen’s relationship with his adopted daughter, I Love You, Daddy, has been shut down.
In the Slate article, sex therapist and clinical psychologist Alexandra Katehakis explains the motivations of many male exposers, why they choose this type of sexual violence, and why it’s so important that men in positions of power fully feel the consequences of their actions. Many men expose themselves to women based on what Katehakis calls “sexual hostility,” whether that be based in women from their childhood, or women from their romantic histories. Unlike rape or other forms of sexual violence, flashing and public masturbation makes men feel like they are releasing this rage without “really” hurting anybody, and hearkens back to the age-hold trope of men and sexual power.
This accusation, along with familiar Weinstein and Spacey scandals that have come out in the past few weeks, makes me think more carefully about the roles of men in our society, the role of male sexuality as a way to impose over women, and the sense of immunity powerful men feel in regards to the law. I admittedly felt a bit of cognitive dissonance when I found out about Louis CK’s allegations – Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein I could rationalize, but Louis CK? He is arguably one of the most talented writers and comics in the public sphere today, and wow…he seems like such a good dad. Sure, he may have been divorced, and sure, looking back, his standup seemed to include some hugely misogynistic undertones. But hey, he’s just a typical single father trying to make it work.
I think that it’s important to separate a celebrity’s public persona from how they may act in their personal lives. Louis CK, although he may put forth the Average Joe vibe for his viewers in his standup and in his show, Louie, his net worth is over $25 million. The fact that he represents the typical middle-aged single father for many of his viewers makes it even more important that the allegations against him get fully investigated and kept in the public sphere. This scandal, even more than Spacey’s or Weinstein’s, is setting a precedent for how male sexuality is viewed in the media and how sexual violence is dealt with.
The crimes that Louis CK committed against these women are not only potent examples of sexual violence that are often overlooked, but are also manifestations of sexualized hostility and just one more way to assert masculine power. While female nudity, even breastfeeding, is often hyper-sexualized and seen as taboo in American culture, men flashing women and public masturbation are commonly seen as just raunchy jokes, and Louis CK even plays on this in his standup. This is a double-standard that needs to be addressed in the wider culture, and the denouncement of powerful male figures like Spacey, Weinstein, and now Louis CK is a crucial step for acknowledging the disparities existing in sexual expression of men and women, how power and sexuality conflate one another, and setting these injustices right by holding men accountable for their actions in the public eye and in their professional work.
Louis CK came out this afternoon and fessed up to the allegations in a statement, saying that “The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly.” Believe women. Believe that instances misogyny and sexual violence do not leave celebrities and public figures unaccountable. Don’t let up.
Idea for this article generated from a class discussion in Literature of Mental Health, Fall 2017.