I’ve found myself engaging in political discourse the past couple of days regarding the movement of #MeToo, and how it is not allowing for a spectrum of repercussion. Of course, this is has been blown up by the resignation of Al Franken, accused of what might be best described as ‘sexual misconduct’, as his actions feel more ambiguous than other more straightforward cases that have been made public recently. As many of the opinions I’ve read state, it doesn’t seem that in this case, ‘the punishment fits the crime’, or why should he be ‘ruined’ for exercising poor judgement that might have stemmed from misunderstandings. I have seen one opinion go so far as to accuse other women of not ‘dealing’ with this kind of behavior by standing up to it on their own, and then devolving into disparaging women for dressing a particular way then not wanting to accept the ‘consequences’ of such choices.
Whew. Wow. There’s a lot to unpack there. Let’s start with the gray.
Right now, the pendulum has swung. We went from a culture that allowed for the systemic, secretive exploitation and abusive of women, that often went undisclosed, to men being outed in very public arenas, practically overnight. We went from permissive, excessive abuse perpetuated by men who adopted it as a cultural norm, to what is now in the space of what I call, ‘zero tolerance policy’. There are women who were supporters of Franken who are not okay with this, and I can understand that frustration. They don’t feel that a little ass or waist grabbing should be enough to sink his ship. I contend that it’s exactly what is deserved in these times.
The question I want to pose to women who are outraged about these seemingly ‘innocuous’ infractions (usually the comparison is made to Weinstein) is WHY ARE WE STILL DEFENDING THE BEHAVIOR OF MEN THAT PROMOTES THEIR ABILITY TO ‘TAKE’ WHEN IT REINFORCES THE NEGATIVE CULTURE THEY HAVE CREATED, AND THAT WE, AS WOMEN, HAVE HAD TO ENDURE AND SUFFER IN? Yes, I’m shouting.
It doesn’t matter if a signal was misinterpreted, or a man felt an advance might have been warranted, but instead was rebuked. We are missing a huge, crucial part of this equation: men need to ASK before they touch women. They need to seek CONSENT before they go in for the kiss or grab a woman on her body. I don’t care what signals men might be misconstruing: if you didn’t ask, she’s harassed. Period. And if a man is worried that if he asks she’ll say no, well, that’s her RIGHT. Period. And he probably shouldn’t be trying to do what he’s doing in the first place.
Now, that said, I believe in redemption, and I believe in forgiveness, but that also comes with owning what you did and not playing if off as a version of an event that you ‘remember differently’. We all have our interpretations. But I will not continue to excuse men of poor choices and behavior simply because they do not see fault in their actions, because it has been our cultural NORM to allow such permissiveness, and they have owned all the power in that domain. Men have been getting away with such incidents for so long that I am not sure that they truly realize which of these actions is wrong. It’s time to learn, and sometimes, you learn the very hard, and public way, as Franken just has. If your action made someone feel threatened or unsafe, no matter what your memory tells you, then it shouldn’t have happened.
Another aspect I want to address is the continuation of questioning women’s motives, and how I have observed women commenting on women as a whole. So many women have raised questions about why these allegations against Franken have sprung up, and again, we’re falling backward into the trap of not believing our own. I’ve also seen a common thread of women stating ‘I have dealt with this, and it’s up to women to just walk away, or suck it up when it happens’, again reinforcing the cultural NORM we have all been force fed by the dominant white, male contingency for centuries: it should just be part of what we deal with. When I read one post where it discussed how if women wanted to continue to dress in braless shirts and short skirts they should learn to navigate the unwanted attention they will likely receive, I wanted to bang my head against a wall.
FUCK THAT NOISE.
Often, women are their own best oppressors. Why do women seem to constantly strive to devour their own? Judging other women gets them nowhere but landing back into the same cultural mess that we are trying gradually extricate ourselves from, one man at a time. We shouldn’t be bothered by what other women wear, because it really doesn’t matter. If it’s not your body, it’s not your place to judge, or assume her intention, which I am almost 100% sure never includes, “Well, I think I’d like to be assaulted tonight, I think the short, red skirt in my closet will do”. We have to stop tearing each other down in an effort to allow men to save themselves. Because the more we don’t believe each other, the more we call each other whores and sluts, the more we scathingly critique each other’s motives, then the more we give away any of the power dynamic shifting back towards us that might help equalize, and give breathing room for us to not have to endure such systemic acts of repetitive violence.
Cultural and systemic oppression are challenging narratives to overcome. Men have had the upper hand for so long when it comes to using sex as a method to yield power over others that it can actually make us feel uncomfortable when we see men who we hold in high esteem, those we thought we good allies, fall before us. It makes us want to search for ways to excuse behaviors, and we want to find the gray, so that we can feel okay about those people we championed who let us down. I want to say this again in a different way to let it sink in: he made some distinct choices at different points that demonstrate behavior that should not be accepted. Forgiven, possibly. But not acquitted without repudiation for what has transpired.
We need to believe women. We really, really do. Will there be times when that belief is questioned? Yes. But instead of trying to find ways to discredit the stories of women because we want to find ways to excuse the men we thought were upstanding, we need to listen. Part of why this sexual behavior has been tolerated for so long was that women didn’t feel they could have a voice without facing steep repercussions. Women, when they did speak out, lost careers and reputations for facing those who violated them. Some courageous women have finally made it possible for women to be heard, and believed, without losing everything in the process. For myself, I refuse to toss that powerful progress to the wind so that a man who chose to be photographed inappropriately groping a woman’s breasts can receive leniency.
So, maybe you feel sorry for Al, but I don’t. He’s not an innocent casualty in all of this. His actions may appear to fall in the gray when it should be clear to all of us. Ask before you assume or touch. Don’t use language that makes people uncomfortable. CONSENT, CONSENT, CONSENT, CONSENT, CONSENT. Give people the choice to say no. Give women the right to have autonomy over their bodies, and how others perceive they can treat them. And if you do wrong someone: say it, apologize, and mean it. We finally have a window of opportunity to create a paradigm shift that could initiate change that is concrete and long lasting. But if women eat each other alive first (or defend men doing the same), if women continue to tear women down because we still want to perpetuate the notion that the poor choices of men deserve our advocacy, we’ll see that window shut before we can fully air our society. Then we revert to choking on the oppression we’ve been breathing, the dark and sinister actions that have been silently violating women’s rights for so long that we didn’t realize how far the cancer had spread, how sick it has made us all, the irreversible damage it has done to so many.
Reflections of a woman spawned in a cement cocoon...