The Franken firestorm and what it says about our politics, our society and sexual norms.
The uproar caused by the accusation lodged against Al Franken by LeeAnn Tweeden has overtaken the airwaves and the Internet. There have been calls (even by liberals) for Franken to resign, accusations that Tweeden is a right wing shill, tweets from the Tweeter-in-Chief (who has no right to weigh in about anything regarding sexual misconduct), and a mountain of misinformation and disinformation that just keeps on coming. The only thing lacking is sanity.
We have to take every allegation of sexual abuse seriously. This is not to say we have to believe every accusation made. We must look at the preponderance of evidence before deciding what is true and what is not. To do anything else is to invite political hit jobs (on both sides of the aisle), and god knows we don’t need any more of those.
Now another accuser has come forward. This time, it isn’t a woman with a radio show; it’s a Texas woman, Lindsay Menz, who claims Franken, who was in the Senate at that time, groped her at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010 while her husband snapped the pic during a photo op. According to the article in New York Magazine, although the photo only shows the two from the shoulders up, Mrs. Menz recounted the groping on her Facebook page following the incident. Not being a Facebook friend of Mrs. Menz, I can’t speak to the veracity of her claim. Nor can I understand why her husband didn’t confront Franken at the time, or why neither of them lodged a complaint against a sitting senator. But I am not calling either of them liars. Neither am I calling Franken a sexual predator. Because I just don’t know.
This is the sort of firestorm that makes Trump’s day. It deflects attention from his myriad of problems and takes the focus off of Judge Roy Moore – who at last count had 9 accusers, not to mention the dubious distinction of being banned from the local mall. It mutes the conversation about the 16 women who came forward to accuse Trump and generally muddies the waters in a very important national conversation that is long overdue.
That conversation has become a back and forth of angry accusations from men and women alike. Men feel they are being attacked. Women feel they are being marginalized. Everyone is shouting, and no one is listening. Like with any sensitive and complicated issue, there are nuances and layers. It’s not all black or all white.
It seems the ability to distinguish the differences between sexual harassment, groping, and assault has disappeared. Now everything is lumped into the category of sexual assault. We can’t have a real conversation until we are able to differentiate one from the others. While all are predatory behaviors and all are wrong, assault is a far cry from harassment. Harassment is annoying, disrespectful, and sometimes a career obstacle. Having been the target of sexual harassment on more occasions than I care to remember, I can attest to how uncomfortable it made me – it’s an abuse of power. Groping is a step up from that. While harassment doesn’t necessarily include physical contact, groping does, and that makes it more than annoying. It sends a message that “I can touch you because I’m bigger, stronger, more powerful, and more important than you will ever be; and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Been there, too. Sexual assault, however, is a whole other ball of wax. According to Merriam-Webster, the term assault is defined as a violent physical or verbal attack. I am sad to say I have been there as well and it was terrifying. There is a big difference between harassment and groping. In neither of those circumstances was I terrified. I was really pissed off, but not terrified. If we can’t talk honestly about what these actions entail, how can we come to any kind of solution?
Tweeden’s sexuality has nothing to do with her being truthful. It is grossly unfair to label Tweeden as a slut because she posed for a Playboy shoot. Nor is it fair to say she can’t be trusted because she was on The Howard Stern Show. Neither is it fair to slut-shame her antics in the video of the USO show that has been released. Is she a hypocrite? Maybe. But not a slut. It was, after all, a show designed to appeal to a bunch of predominantly young men deployed to Afghanistan. And, as much as no one wants to talk about it, those young men have libidos on overdrive, and USO shows have always appealed to that. Whether it was Marilyn Monroe entertaining the troops in Korea while wearing a sexy dress and shaking her booty up on stage, or LeeAnn Tweeden playing grab-ass with a guitar player or with Robin Williams on stage, sexual antics have always been a part of USO shows. What does that say? That’s another conversation for another time.
With all of the news swirling around us these days, it’s hard to catch hold of a thread of sanity and keep a firm grip on it. But that is what we must do if we are to find our way out of this wilderness in which we find ourselves.
If Al Franken is found to be a serial sexual predator, then he should resign. But, by the same token, Roy Moore should not be allowed to be seated in the Senate. Donald Trump should be driven from the White House – and for a lot more than his implausible denials of harassing and groping (and perhaps even raping) women.
We know about Donald Trump. We heard him on the Access Hollywood video. We know about Roy Moore. A person doesn’t get banned from the mall for dropping a hot dog on the floor of the food court. We don’t know about Al. All we have at this point are rumors and allegations. We have Franken’s apology, and we have Tweeden’s acceptance. Now what we need is an investigation into whether or not Franken has crossed a line that cannot be overlooked. But it can’t just be Franken we look at. We have to look at all accusations equally and not let one outweigh the other on political grounds. Most of all, we have to look at our society as a whole: at our ingrained acceptance and defense of bad behavior on the part of young men by dismissing it as “boys will be boys.” We have to stop lumping all inappropriate sexual behavior into the context of the worst sexual behavior and decide what the remedies are for all of those behaviors. We have to stop slut-shaming women who come forward with accusations of sexual assault/abuse by citing their occupations, mode of dress, language or any other “reason” to question the veracity of their accusations. A prostitute can be raped. Just because she sells her body doesn’t mean she can’t be the victim of unwanted advances. A woman who posed for Playboy, as Tweeden has done, is not inviting any Tom, Dick or Harry to grab her. Likewise, a woman wearing a bikini isn’t inviting every man on the beach to come get a piece of her. Allowing or refusing sexual contact is ALWAYS a woman’s choice, and anyone who ignores a woman when she says NO is a sexual predator. But not all of the accused are guilty. That is what is forgotten in the pissing match (I can’t call it a conversation) we are now having.
Until we all step back, calm down and act rationally, we will be playing into a narrative that serves Trump just fine but is not in our best interests.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons