“I’m a creep,” wrote Dave McClure on Medium on July 2. “I’m sorry.”
The founder of the influential Silicon Valley incubator 500 Startups officially resigned from the company he created the following day, after a female entrepreneur accused him of unwanted sexual advances.
Something must be in the air. This is the third public apology in recent days from a prominent man acknowledging he acted offensively toward women. On June 30, star investor Chris Sacca wrote on Medium that he took some personal responsibility for “the unrelenting, day-to-day culture of dismissiveness that creates a continually bleak environment for women and other underrepresented groups” in Silicon Valley (shortly before allegations of his own sexual misconduct emerged in the same piece that broke the story about McClure). And of course there’s the rapper JAY-Z’s blockbuster album, 4:44, in which he plainly admits to infidelity and hurtful behavior toward his wife, the pop superstar Beyoncé.
For all three men, the admissions of guilt have been met with praise: ”Dave has taken the hard step to correct it through apology, confession, and commitment,” writes one reader of McClure’s apology on Medium. “It took […] a lot of ‘balls’ for Dave to write an apology like this,” says another. “Thanks Chris for taking responsibility where you feel like you’ve been at fault,” wrote a commenter to Sacca. “That’s not an easy thing to do. Thank you for using your voice and your resources to make a dent in this issue.” Meanwhile JAY-Z’s album was called “a masterclass on the value of apology,” and held up as proof that he should now be lauded as ”a grown-ass man.”
These men’s apologies may well have been sincere and signal a commitment to change, but the responses to them—all that back-slapping and praise—had the effect of diminishing the gravity of their actions, reducing them to forgivable, forgettable episodes on the trajectory of their personal growth.
In his Medium post, so far “hearted” by more than 1,000 readers, McClure admits to the modest sin of “inappropriate behavior in a setting I thought was social, but in hindsight was clearly not.” The post reads as just a half-apology: He frames his actions as being perceived as offensive, rather than objectively being so (“while I’d like to believe that I’m not a bad or evil person, regardless it’s clear that some of my past actions have hurt or offended several women”) and he apologizes “for being a clueless, selfish, unapologetic and defensive ass”—a rather euphemistic way to refer to sexual harassment.
Since then, a female entrepreneur and former collaborator took issue with his self-characterization, and described McClure aggressively propositioning her in 2014. “It definitely didn’t address the severity of his sexual advances towards me and potentially others,” wrote Cheryl Yeoh of McClure’s post. Several other women say they have been victims of his boorish behavior, too.
For his part, McClure seems to approach the whole thing as an opportunity for self-improvement. He says he “started regular counseling sessions about a month ago to address my shitty behavior and poor judgement”—adding humbly “I don’t expect anyone to believe I will change, but I’m working on it.” He closes the post, as he might a writeup about a startup’s new iteration after a design misstep, soliciting “suggestions or feedback or criticism.”
Many of his readers were quick to heap admiration on him. And some went a step further, crossing the line from villain-praising to victim-blaming: ”I am waiting for all the women who used their accentuated femininity and sexuality to get deals (and better deals) to come forward and out themselves,” wrote one commenter.
Sacca, in his contrite Medium post, similarly frames the issue primarily as one of how women felt, rather than what he did: “By stupidly perpetuating a culture rife with busting chops, teasing, and peer pressure to go out drinking, I made some women feel self-conscious, anxious, and fear they might not be taken seriously.” For this, he says, “I am sorry.”
Admitting hurtful behavior doesn’t cancel the hurt, but it can seem that way when looking at the reception of JAY-Z’s 4:44. In it, the star rapper and entrepreneur admits that he would “often womanize” and needed a daughter to see that women should be treated fairly—even as he seems to blame the other women, too (“Let me alone, Becky”).
The Beyhive responded with revulsion to his admissions of having a ménage à trois while married to their beloved Beyoncé, but ultimately this lousy conduct didn’t seem to detract from an album many hailed as brilliant, or taint the shine of JAY-Z’s star. Arguably, acknowledging his mistakes makes it all the brighter. That’s not fair to the women he hurt, and frankly it isn’t fair to men, who should be held to much higher expectations, and not treated like perennial children, to be congratulated for simple displays of decency.
McClure, Sacca, and JAY-Z don’t deserve praise. What they did isn’t particularly brave. At best, it’s some better-late-than-never growing up.
Brave is speaking up against assault. It’s talking publicly about being hurt. It’s demanding a voice, and continuing to pursue success and power in a world where men are still the gatekeepers, and are still celebrated for being “bad boys”—before they’re praised for apologizing for their misbehavior.