How does a person achieve redemption after a series of serious offenses? At what point is the process deemed to be complete? What does a person have to do to be judged appropriately sorry and allowed to stop atoning? What should we feel about a person while they’re pursuing the process? What does it say about us when we can’t or won’t let it go?
(Short answer: Don’t care.)
We saw these questions come up four years ago, during Chris Brown’s seriously ballsy return to the spotlight after brutally beating then-girlfriend Rihanna and appearing to give few if any fucks. And we’re seeing it now with Hugo Schwyzer, who continues making public appearances to recount detail after lurid, gratuitous detail about his own abuses of women — sleeping with students, cheating on his wife repeatedly, trying to murder an ex-girlfriend — and provide skimming admissions of his abuses, insults, and concerted efforts to dismantle the personal and professional lives of Flavia Dzodan, Brownfemipower, Blackamazon, Amadi, and countless other radical WOC bloggers. And there’s always the complaint whenever Brown or Schwyzer runs up against a person who is unmoved by his professions of penitence: I’m doing my time. What more do you want from me?
Guys. It doesn’t work that way. Since you’ve obviously never truly atoned for anything in your life, nor given two shits about anyone you’ve hurt, here are some tips to get you started.
You need to sit the fuck down now. We, as a society, have determined that the penalty for some offenses is the removal of the offender from the public presence. So go the fuck away. When you swing on a woman, literally or metaphorically, you cede the right to decide whether or not you get to be in her presence. Maybe that means you move out. Maybe it means you take a break from your shared industry. Maybe it means you remove yourself from the very platform that you campaigned to take over, that you used to abuse and try to ruin women and from which you continue to gain attention even as you purport to decry it. And that doesn’t mean changing your politics and moving to a different part of the Internet — it means removing yourself from the public eye. The career that made you famous was built on the unwilling backs of women you’ve abused; you no longer get to prosper from those ill-gotten gains. No more posts. No more tweets. No self-serving memoir. Proofread books, cover high school sports under a pen name, become a sandwich artist, whatever — but sit. The fuck. Down.
Learn the difference between an explanation and an excuse. The free time you gain in your solitude is an opportunity for introspection that may well uncover some clue to the genesis of your offenses. This is good; that consciousness is a crucial factor in helping you not abuse again. But it doesn’t make it okay. “My father hit me” or “I have a mental illness and also white male privilege” may help to explain your actions to a degree, but they sure as hell don’t to any degree make what you did okay or absolve you of the consequences of it.
You don’t get to decide when it’s over. You didn’t tag the side of a building, and now you have to do community service until you’ve worked off the cost of repainting the wall and then everything’s square. You damaged a person. And a society. There is no fixed amount of jail time, community service, or purported penitence allotted to make that whole again. Feel you’ve done your time? Congratulations. But it’s not up to you. Your time is done when the women you threatened, insulted, dismissed, belittled say it is. Feel that in her place, you’d be quicker to forgive? That’s very generous of you; don’t care. And if you think that’s unfair, I hate it for you, but again, it’s not your decision to make. That’s the price of abusing. Don’t like it? Do better.
Examine why people are still mad at you. And chances are, it’s not because haters are going to hate. It may be, for instance, that your attitude has reflected no self-awareness or acknowledgement of the gravity of your offenses. It could be that your repeated promises to change and your repeated public self-flagellation are inevitably followed, as night follows day, by the repeated victimization of the victims of your abuse by repeatedly inserting yourself into their presence and centering your damn self. People don’t continue to hate you because they’re haters; they hate you because you’re a sack of shit and refuse to take responsibility for it or do anything about it.
There is no mathematical formula for redemption. There’s no X years served plus Y hours of community service plus Z amount of being really, really sorry, times A probation. No one owes you anything, least of all forgiveness. And if that’s something that truly matters to you — if you truly want to make amends, and you’re not just trying to burn time until you’re able to resume your previous life and hope that the people who know you’re a sack of shit won’t say anything — you’ll not just accept the difficult path to atonement but embrace it, because you respect and care enough about the people you’ve abused to want to make them whole again, to the extent that such a thing is possible. In the meantime, engage in introspection, try to dig up a measure of empathy and humility, and above all, sit. The fuck. Down.