Caitlin Flynn is a Seattle-based freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared on Refinery29, Teen Vogue, POPSUGAR, and HelloGiggles. The views expressed here are her own.
Along with millions of other women and men, I shared my painful #MeToo stories (most of us have more than one) in October. The Me Too movement has done an enormous amount of good, but it's worth noting that hashtags like #HimThough, which urged men to take responsibility for their transgressions, never took off.
Per usual, it's been up to survivors to ring the alarm and raise awareness. Despite the fact that there's strength in numbers, I've been waiting for perpetrators and bystanders to speak out and own up to the pain they've caused. Sexual violence is, after all, a men's issue — it's just that the majority of men have the luxury of ignoring it.
Today, documentarian Morgan Spurlock came forward to share his stories of sexual misconduct. In a lengthy Twitter post, Spurlock detailed two deeply disturbing incidents. He shared that, after learning a college friend had accused him of rape, his best defense was that he didn't view it as rape at the time. "That’s why I’m part of the problem," Spurlock wrote.
On one hand, this is exactly what people like me have been asking men to do: To own up to the role they've played in perpetuating a toxic culture that has nearly every woman saying “Me Too.” On the other, I expected to hear from men who admitted to standing by while friends sexually harassed and degraded women and now understand that they participated in rape culture. What Spurlock describes is not only extreme — it's an incident that amounts to rape in my book because the word “no” followed by silence does not equal consent.
Spurlock also shared that he sexually harassed his assistant eight years ago, and she demanded a settlement in exchange for her silence. "Being who I was, it was the last thing I wanted, so of course, I paid. I paid for peace of mind. I paid for her silence and cooperation. Most of all, I paid so I could remain who I was," Spurlock recalled. "I am part of the problem."
Although some may argue that Spurlock’s admission is brave, I’m skeptical of his motivation for coming forward. There’s the very real possibility that Spurlock feared he would soon be “outed” as a sexual predator and therefore opted to jump in front of the situation in order to control the narrative. (He even admits in his post that, “I wonder, ‘when will they come for me?’” ) After all, it’s far easier to paint oneself as a contrite person who wants to be an ally if the admission comes directly and voluntarily from the perpetrator. As much as I’d like to give Spurlock the benefit of the doubt and believe that men like him are capable of changing, I’m wary.
Then there’s the problematic tone of the post itself. Spurlock spent a great deal of time reflecting on his difficult past and how he believes it may have contributed to his predation of women. He should certainly be doing a whole lot of introspection right now — but that’s best left for therapy, not Twitter posts that are supposed to be about victims. The fact that he harped on his own abusive past, broken home, and depression came across as an effort to make excuses for inexcusable behavior. Furthermore, it perpetuated the damaging myth that mentally ill individuals are dangerous and violent.
Spurlock’s post also devoted a lot of space to talking about himself, and he failed to reflect on how his actions may have impacted his victims. Does he lie awake at night wondering about the long-term effects his actions have had on these women? Is he haunted by the fact that they, like so many other survivors, may very well be suffering from PTSD, anxiety, and trust issues with men? If he’s truly contrite, Spurlock certainly would be thinking about these things. It’s disturbing that — aside from his descriptions of the two incidents — he doesn’t reference these women at all.
Although the refrain throughout his post is "I am part of the problem," Spurlock concludes on the note that he now plans to be part of the solution. "By recognizing and openly admitting what I’ve done to further this terrible situation, I hope to empower the change within myself. We should all find the courage to admit we’re at fault," he wrote.
It’s all well and good that Spurlock is ready to listen, and listening should absolutely be part of his “new and improved” self. But listening alone does not go far enough after the egregious acts he has committed. If he truly wants to be “part of the solution” as he professes, it’s time for Spurlock to step up and actively fight rape culture. Now would be a swell time for him to donate money to nonprofit organizations like RAINN and PAVE, which help victims in crisis and send educational speakers to colleges and high schools to lead workshops about “Yes Means Yes” consent. But Spurlock made no mention of concrete plans to take action.
To me, Spurlock’s post came across as self-serving and disingenuous. But it’s worth pointing out that there have (rightfully) been professional ramifications: As a result of his admission, Spurlock has been dropped from his current and upcoming projects and stepped down from his production company. This is arguably the most important takeaway from Spurlock’s confession. Coming forward rather than waiting for an accuser to do it for him doesn’t exempt Spurlock from repercussions, nor should it.
So now I say, “your move” to the countless other men out there who have walked free after sexually assaulting, harassing, and raping women. If any of these men are truly contrite about their past actions, they will come forward, admit their crimes, and accept the professional and social repercussions.
Spurlock missed the mark in his post, but if he truly plans to be an ally, he’ll take the negative feedback he received to heart. (After all, he said he’s ready to listen.) As painful and uncomfortable as this is, I hope men continue to come forward and publicly own up to their transgressions. This is exactly what so many of us asked for in October when we tried to get #HimThough trending. Survivors shouldn’t be the only ones opening up about our pasts and tearing open old wounds. Although I wouldn’t recommend using Spurlock’s post as a template, I hope that “reformed” perpetrators will continue to come forward and accept the consequences of their confessions. It’s long overdue.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call theRAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).