Dear Louis C.K.,
I’m writing this letter as a woman, a fellow entertainer, a feminist and a longtime fan. I’ve been a fan since I first found you on my TV screen and will continue to be one. But in the months since your inexcusable acts were revealed, and as I’ve watched your fans grapple with how they felt about you, I kept thinking that at this juncture in time, you’re in a position to act as a powerful ally to women. In significant ways you already have. And so this letter.
I’ve been a fan because you’ve made me laugh, because your comedy is personal, painful, honest and gutsy, because you do what a great artist knows to do — be yourself. But there’s more. I avoid watching most comedians because I can’t just sit there and take it while they crack jokes about fat women, “ugly” women, overbearing women, mean women, manipulative women. Trying to find entertainment that doesn’t rely on sexism for laughs relegates me to nature shows on National Geographic (most of which were created by men).
Your work, Louis, was a break from sexism, and I want you to know that. You’re not a feminist comedian (I don’t need you to be), but with you I could count on a guy who will joke about what a dumbass he is to load a dishwasher and not turn it on; who talks about men being the most dangerous thing for women; who explains that a real woman is someone who had human beings come out of her vagina and crush all her dreams. I watched you make jokes about your marriage for years without ever uttering a single disrespectful word about your ex or portraying yourself as her victim. Your comedy is outrageous without being mean, and certainly never mean to women. I’ve always appreciated you — for that especially.
So as a woman, as a feminist, and as a fan, I say thank you. And I say: more, please.
But what about your abuse of the brave victims who came forward?
I’ll be honest, I did enjoy watching you and other high-profile men pay a price. I’ve been molested and date-raped (which makes my story ordinary), and this reckoning has made me feel a little bit less like garbage. Maybe there wasn’t something wrong with me after all … ? Maybe it wasn’t my fault … ?
I’m in my forties, and this public reckoning of male domination is something I haven’t seen in my lifetime; I don’t think anyone has. This could be a historic turning point for women and all of humanity. The question is whether we’ll enjoy it for a brief moment before going back to business as usual with nothing having changed, or whether we’ll seize this moment and organize ourselves towards real and permanent change. I’m writing to ask you to take an active role in making sure the latter is what happens. Are you willing?
I promise to end this letter with fresh ideas about what you can personally do, that would be so much more effective and beneficial to women than disappearing. But before we talk shop, I’d like to clarify that while your inexcusable acts came at the expense of women, that while you did prioritize gratifying a compulsion over the women you were fortunate enough to spend time with, you are not the problem. What did that dude say a couple thousand years ago … ? Let he who never sinned cast the first stone?
You’re not the problem, Weinstein is not the problem, the other powerful men who’ve been exposed aren’t the problem. Even the accused rapist in the White House isn’t the problem. I don’t minimize the real and present danger of men in power who glorify and defend sexual violence toward women, but it’s not like women were riding high before that guy got “elected.”
The real problem is that sexism is everywhere; it’s the air we breathe. In the U.S. over the last 20 years, more than 240 women, on average, were raped each day while 99 percent of sexual assault perpetrators end up walking free. Worldwide, there are 700 million women alive today who were married off as child brides. We live in a world where women have little to no power over policies because of our gross economic disadvantages and our lack of representation in government, in every lucrative industry, and of course, in arts and entertainment. We live in a society where women are molested, assaulted, raped, objectified, demeaned, disrespected, humiliated, excluded, underestimated, trivialized, criticized, exploited, depicted as gold diggers while we provide billions of hours of unpaid labor, and then ridiculed — by some of your own colleagues — if we “complain.” #MeToo #MeToo #MeToo. A million times #MeToo.
That is our problem.
But. We will not solve this human catastrophe called sexism by hunting down the “bad boys” and sending them away to bad boy land. It’s not like if we capture enough of you sexist bastards and make you disappear, we’ll achieve our liberation at last.
It’s a futile exercise to try and pick out the good guys from the bad ones. Life and humanity is so much more complex than that. And we women are also guilty of being seduced by the illusion that this can work. Every hetero single woman I know is looking for that magic guy who won’t be sexist. That’s why the minute a guy cooks us a meal, tells us we’re smart, and follows our advice, we’re ready to marry him, only to discover three months into the relationship that our prince is as much of a clueless, self-involved, arrogant dumbass as every other guy out there.
Yes, some guys, depending on their upbringing, were fortunate enough to have received some training and they know to wash dishes without describing themselves as “helping.” There are certainly benefits to it when a guy knows how to keep the sexism he’s absorbed under wraps and hide it, at least some of the time. And yes, on the other end of the spectrum, if you’ve physically forced a woman into sex then we need to quarantine you until we can be certain that women are safe while you’re on the loose. I was reassured when you clarified in your statement that you hadn’t done that (thank you for clarifying; I actually did need to know that). I’m not saying there isn’t a spectrum. But that’s all it is: a spectrum, and every man is on it without ever having chosen to be. From the moment babies are born and get color-coded in pink or blue, they’re told they’re sweet and pretty, or they’re told they’re smart and strong — and more important.
I was pained watching Sara Silverman try to make sense of all this, since she loves you so much. She was smart about keeping the focus on the women instead. But at the end of the day, we women know that our best allies are sexist. I have a dad. I have a brother. Like every other woman, I know all about loving sexist men. What option do we have? It’s something we do daily. My husband is my greatest ally in the world and like every hetero wife, I’m driven mad by his sexism daily, most of it utterly unaware and none of it coming from bad intentions: casually starting a conversation with me while I’m writing, as if I’m doing nothing consequential; expecting me to call his mother while never calling my parents; dismissing my advice about his health even though it would save his life to follow my mind. The list is endless. And daily. And exhausting. But he’s my sexist dumbass and I claim him, and I will continue to try to figure out how to let him know what’s up without blaming him for the garbage that got put in his head. I love him. I won’t give up on him. Or you. Or men.
You’re my sexist dumbass too, Louis. You’re ours. You gave of yourself to us for years, you gave us the best of yourself, and we don’t get to throw you or any artist under the bus. We get to be mad as hell. We can even be mad at you specifically, if it looks like we need to be mad at someone. My sexist husband is the only guy I feel safe enough around to get mad at, so you should take it as a high compliment if women get mad rather than quiet around you. And — I also want to invite you to weather this storm with us and work together to right what’s wrong.
I’m certain you know that every time you “benefit” from sexism, you’re hurt by it as well because you lose a piece of your own humanity. My undying belief — and I’m prepared to be criticized for saying so — is that no man would have chosen to be born into a sexist society if he’d been given the choice. I’m confident that my dad, my brother, my husband, and you — in fact every man out there, before he had been damaged by what we call “turning someone into a man” — if he were given the option while he was still a young child and before he was ridiculed for playing with girls, would, in a heartbeat, choose to have equal and genuine relationships with women over the counterfeit version that sexism leaves us with.
Instead of disappearing because you’re “one of the bad guys,” and in addition to your sincere apology, which you know full well doesn’t cut it, you can make yourself ever more public and use your position of power to support us in getting organized.
You can use your fame to create an organization, led by a diverse group of women whom you back, that will call on an industry boycott of any film festival whose jury isn’t half female, every network and studio that doesn’t allocate half of its budget to works created by women and half of its salaries to women, every agency and management company whose clientele is not half female.
You could help organize a safe space for women to tell our stories where men listen and learn without commenting. You could help organize a safe forum for men to listen and share their stories anonymously, and heal from the early traumas and loneliness that lead to sexual compulsions rather than accept these as natural and use women as the repositories for your pain.
We can’t get out from under this rubble called sexism if we don’t work together as women and men. We are each others’ natural allies. Can we do it in the spirit of understanding that no man has chosen to be made numb and stupid in this way; that men, including you, Louis, are good at the core, under all that damage and training to become our oppressors? And can we make it safe enough for men to come together as a group, rather than distance themselves from those who get “found out,” and say as one: “what Louis did … #UsToo. Our own version of it — but yeah … #UsToo.”
It’s an ambitious ask. But as Myles Horton, a good and I’m sure utterly sexist man once said, “If your goals can be accomplished in your lifetime, your goals aren’t big enough.”
Thanks for listening,
Ela Thier is the writer-director and lead actor in the critically acclaimed Tomorrow Ever After, a sci-fi dramedy released in 2017. She’s the award-winning writer-director of Foreign Letters (2012) in which she also appeared onscreen, and of numerous short films. She is also the founder of The Independent Film School.