The other day Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner sat down for one of the many, many interviews they’ve done on the mammoth press tour for The Avengers: Age Of Ultron.
As we’ve likely all done before, they made some off-color jokes. When asked about the fact that Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow seems to have so many potential love interests, Renner jokes, “She’s a slut.” Then Evans adds “a complete whore" and "[she's] leading everybody on."
On the scale of bad things a person can do, this one was pretty minor. However, it's a shame that these otherwise cool dudes were unintentionally adding to a misogynistic cultural that often unfairly criticizes women for their behavior. Some people pointed that out, and Evans and Renner both issued apologies.
In my mind, this is exactly how our more culturally/politically sensitive culture should operate. We’re all going to mess up from time to time, but the important thing is that we listen to those we unintentionally offended, take the opportunity to learn from the mistake, and educate others in the process.
Similarly, I think the juxtaposition of Evans’ and Renner’s apologies is another great learning opportunity for all of us:
Evans’ apology read:
“Yesterday we were asked about the rumors that Black Widow wanted to be in a relationship with both Hawkeye and Captain America. We answered in a very juvenile and offensive way that rightfully angered some fans. I regret it and sincerely apologize.”
He does just about everything right. He acknowledges his remarks were offensive, he notes that people were right to call him out, he takes responsibility for his actions, and he apologizes for them. Assuming Evans makes every effort not to repeat the mistake in the future, this is pretty much the definition of a perfect apology.
Renner, however, issued this statement:
“I am sorry that this tasteless joke about a fictional character offended anyone. It was not meant to be serious in any way. Just poking fun during an exhausting and tedious press tour.”
Unlike Evans, Renner’s apology doesn’t really acknowledge that his comment was inappropriate, he merely apologizes that others were offended. His word choice is also telling. While Evans notes that people were “rightfully angered,” Renner’s apology emphasizes that he was making a “joke” and “just poking fun” while talking about a “fictional character.” His subtext is that this whole thing got blown out of proportion and people shouldn’t take jokes about fictional women so seriously.
But fictional stories are a big part of our culture. It’s just a small step from insulting a female character for her romantic interests to insulting a real woman for hers. As beloved celebrities, Evans and Renner are modeling behavior for their fans. When they get away with misogynistic jokes, it’s a cue that the rest of us can make them too.
In fact, calling out celebrities for this kind of stuff is especially useful because it’s an efficient way to educate a whole bunch of people at once. We can’t seek out every dude who jokingly insults women, but by discussing the mistakes of two famous guys, we bring more attention to the issue and hopefully dissuade others from making the same sexist jokes.
But for future reference, when you do get called out for something you did wrong, go for the Evans approach: admit your mistake, don’t belittle those who called you out on it, apologize, and move forward as a more educated person. After all, it’s the Captain America way.