The Al Franken controversy is hard for me. I’d like to think I’m above things like Confirmation Bias and Cognitive Dissonance. But to be truly open minded is to be aware of your shortcomings and biases. I like Al Franken. He’s my favorite Senator by far and was well before I read his excellent book Giant of the Senate a few months back.
I love that he just goes and stands up for his constituents without seeking glory. He grills committee witnesses, but not for the camera. He doesn’t seem to be doing all this to climb the ladder for the next highest office. And he’s one of only a couple of politicians that don’t strike me as steeped in the power structure of the party. Even politicians I like have this slimy feel, like they’ve had to just play the game so they could please the right people, the powerful people, and get money and backing from the party powers that be. I don’t get that feel from Al. I’m sure he is steeped in it more than it seems, but he really seems to want to just do this because he wants to make a positive difference.
So when news first broke on this, I didn’t want to believe it. I hoped that it wasn’t true. It only took about 20 minutes before Al himself confirmed it. Man, that stung. Talk about disappointment, even if he probably said about the best thing you could have said in hindsight, it doesn’t take away his terrible actions. I think I’m not the only liberal struggling.
How can we say that powerful men that have abused their positions must be removed if we can’t do the same ourselves? How can we defend against accusations of double standards with Trump and Roy Moore if we can’t clean our own house?
But those are political questions. What we need to really understand is where this movement is going. I have so many women I care about that have been subject to discrimination and inappropriate behavior. This can’t go on, but I don’t know how we get there. I do, however, know a couple of things:
- We can’t fire every single man in America, or even every single famous and powerful man, who has acted inappropriately.
- And if we try to, there will be a massive backlash against the movement.
Now, I’m not sure where either path leads us. With Trump in office, this issue isn’t going away soon. Funny how winning an election often motivates the opposition into creating real change sometimes. But sometimes being riled up just leads to a million people proposing a thousand things and none of it comes through. The movement needs to have an end.
So off the cuff (literally I’m thinking this up as I type it) here’s what I propose:
First, this isn’t just about sexual predation. Just as insidious are the bosses who say that “you can’t do that because you’re a woman” or worse yet never even say that but still hold them back. Obviously trading sexual favors for advancement is despicable, but the general holding back of women in the workplace is an everyday occurrence for a huge number of women. This movement needs to send a message that discriminating against women will not be tolerated, and that even very powerful men can be brought down.
Second, we need to clean our own house first. Possibly the worst of this is in government. itself. The reports coming out of statehouses and legislating bodies are terrible, and you probably could have guessed it even without those reports. And I have talked with a woman in federal law enforcement that has had to endure systemic sexism that would practically bring down the CEO of a private company if it happened on his watch. Democrats need to crack the whip on government Cabinet heads.
Third, we need a legislative agenda. I think something which makes it easier for women who have been discriminated against to seek justice in courts would be a potential start.
Fourth, we need a way to figure out how to listen to women and respect their stories without calling for the hanging of any man accused of harassment before the facts can come out.
For example, is this common behavior from Franken or is it out of character? What was the context? Did he have power over this woman (women)? How serious was the transgression? Yes, he should be censured. Yes, he should face consequences. Yes, he has fallen off his pedestal, probably permanently. But dare I say it, if there is any gray area, then we at least need to consider the whole of the good of the man. Heaven forbid I be judged on the single worst thing I’ve ever done in my life.
Context matters. Bill Clinton was a horndog who had no self control when a young intern threw herself at him. It’s disgusting and he is forever disgraced by it, and it still followed Hillary to the end. But he also didn’t use his power over her for sexual favors. And he didn’t hit on high school girls who didn’t welcome his advances like Roy Moore. There are degrees of evil.
Kevin Space is apparently a drunken lecher who will shamelessly and aggressively hit on any young hunk of meat that crosses his path. And yet, in none of the reports about him does any accuser say that he refused to stop when they said no, or that he exercised his power over them to control their careers, at least that I’ve read. It’s terrible behavior, but compare that to Weinstein, who systematically (over decades) used young actresses — over which he wielded almost judge-like power — to ruin or build their careers for sexual favors. It’s probably the creepiest kind of sexism I can think of.
Neither is acceptable, but should both get the same punishment of permanent banishment from Hollywood? They probably will, but as more accusations come out against more actors and producers, each with their own unique circumstances and nuances, it will get harder and harder to instantly evict them all, and we’ll have to ask ourselves: how do we listen and respect accusers without a knee jerk lynch mob?
And let Al Franken know, because he’s wondering the same thing. Is he an immature horndog like Bill Clinton? A serial aggressor like Kevin Spacey? A comedian who didn’t know where to draw the line? And will it matter, or will he get the banished just the same?