We Need Better Apologies, Guys. Guest Blog

Apologies or apologists? I am sharing a blog post written by an animal activist woman who is responding to some of the apologies we are suddenly hearing from men in the animal rights movement. I agree: we need a higher standard for what an apology looks like, means, and accomplishes. Carol J. Adams

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It’s been a tough couple weeks for many women in the animal rights movement, hasn’t it? Well, actually, it’s been a tough couple decades for many women.

Women in the animal rights movement have been harassed, discriminated against, sexually exploited and assaulted by men. Under the guise of helping animals, men have pressured women to be uncomfortable, compliant, unsafe, and silent. Women have been hit on by the very men who sign their paychecks and conduct their annual reviews. Their careers have been affected, and animals have suffered because of that. Our movement has suffered.

Even if animals and animal rights somehow hadn’t suffered, we should still be upset because, hello, the women suffered. Our circle of compassion is supposed to include human women too, right? Can someone ask one of the male movement leaders for me? I’m afraid of them now.

Men’s abuse of power has been going on far too long, and it’s finally come to the surface and is being addressed and shut down. Men who have harmed women and shielded themselves with their popularity, prestige, and positions in organizations, are having those shields taken away. And it’s about time.

But what about the people standing next to these guys? In a movement largely made up of women, men who hurt women don’t rise to the level of power that the men who have been publicly named by the news media did unless other men let them, or even help them.

If you’ve been an abuser’s wingman, sidekick, or brother from another mother, this post is for you.

Maybe you have also abused or harassed women. Maybe you haven’t done anything abusive but you’ve witnessed abuse and were silent or defensive (newsflash: then you did do something abusive.) Maybe you helped create a hostile workplace climate by laughing at their jokes, retelling them, or nodding in agreement. Maybe you were the “go to” person who handled the complaints and did nothing when you heard them, or even “reminded” the person reporting that “this man is so important to the movement.” Maybe sometimes you spoke up to oppose abuse but other times you didn’t. I’m writing to all of you.

I’m glad you feel weird about it. I’m glad you feel guilty. You’re starting to identify some errors. That’s good! That’s step one.

Step two is apologizing and that’s what I want to discuss. Most of you haven’t gotten to this step yet and actually that’s probably a good thing. It’s clear none of you are ready. A few men have written vague, self-congratulatory, mansplaining posts sometimes incorporating the word “sorry,” but I assure you that’s not one of the steps. I’d ask them to apologize to you for not being good role models but oh my god do they suck at it.

Luckily I’m here for you. I want to save you from following in the footsteps of bad apologizers. I want to help you write a real apology.

I’m providing this advice free to you. Wait. What’s that? You know women do a lot of unpaid work including emotional labor helping men understand and rectify sexism? And you just have to do something? Okay! Making a donation to a woman-led organization would be a really nice gesture. Thanks for offering!

Here are my best tips for how to write a better apology:

Tell us what you’re sorry for, specifically. Tell us what you did, guys! You can’t own up if nobody knows what you’re owning up to. Do you even know? If you don’t, then make like a Monopoly thimble and Go Back To Start.

Tell us who you’re apologizing to. Who did you hurt? Did you apologize directly to them? If not, you should have. Do it now. I’m not forgiving you until she does, or they do.

Don’t waste our time to tell us, basically, that you’re a human being. “I’ve made some mistakes in my life and I’m trying to do better as I learn more” is not an apology. That’s a pretty common human behavior. Did you also used to be physically smaller when you were an infant? Would you post ten paragraphs on Facebook about that and make us look at them? If you plan to do this, please spare us. Post a photo of your dinner instead. And it better have been cooked by you, not your wife. You owe them.

Do not mansplain. Don’t explain what sexism is. Or bro culture or harassment. Don’t share articles. If you’re apologizing, it means *you* need to read those articles, and more. Maybe even a book. Maybe even a book written by a woman. Instead of sharing articles with your friends, ask your friends to share articles with you. Finding them yourself is even better. Also, this is not the time to tell us about all the amazing women in the movement you admire. We already know these women are admirable, and you don't get applause for finally kinda-sorta catching up.

Don’t be self-congratulatory. I can’t believe I have to say this. An apology is not about you. It’s not a chance to tell people how hard you’ve tried, what you have done right, or even what you learned in the past week that instantly made you totally woke. It’s a chance to own up to your mistakes and make the person or people you hurt feel better. Here are some specific phrases to avoid:

* “I’ve done some amazing things in the past. Just not quite as many as I could have.”

* “Here are the things I did right.”

* “Here are the things other men did that I never did.”

* “Women admire me.”

* “I’m charming.”

People in the movement are so hungry for something that appears to be moving forward, you will get lots of likes, especially if you say, “Well, I did make mistakes but I am trying to do better.” That is a form of self-congratulation, too. Just stop.

Tell us what you’re doing in reference to the abusive men you know in the movement.  Just because some of them have been outed, does not mean everything is “settled” and we are able to return to a safer and healthier workplace. Have you spoken directly to any of the men publicly named or those yet to be named? Have you said, “I failed to hold you accountable; I chose my friendship over justice?” Have you asked them to stop denying the (many) accusations? If they are twisting them into “revenge” by women who couldn’t have them, or by the animal ag industry, have you told them how uncool, irresponsible, and victim-blaming that is? Are you on the side of the victims yet? If not, don’t apologize.

Here’s an idea: change your Facebook profile to “I believe the women.”

This should give you a good start and you can find more info on a previous post titled What We Expect From Abusive Men. Now that you have some guidelines, men, go forth and apologize well!

And don’t forget that donation you promised me.