al franken

About Al Franken: There’s No Such Thing As A “Better” Sexual Predator

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Kate Earley

Killjoy, PR lover, politico, and I run on caffeine.

In the last few months of 2017, we saw an almost unparalleled disclosure of sexual abuse come to the forefront of national discussion. That discussion, which has since morphed from #MeToo to #TimesUp, captivated the world. The powerful cultural moment challenged preconceptions about assault and harassment, creating a current that rightfully toppled several powerful abusers – Weinstein, Spacey, Melanie Martinez, the list goes on and on.

However, amidst this impactful discourse, a troubling trend began to emerge – one that has served to protect the more subtle, insidious parts of rape culture.

When #MeToo began toppling giants, there was an underlying inevitability that eventually, people’s own political aspirations would get in the way of believing survivors – that eventually, an accusation would be leveled against somebody much harder to hate.

And that inevitability came full circle when Al Franken was accused of sexual misconduct. His last day in the senate was this past Tuesday.

Franken being accused of harassment and assault shook people’s convictions about #MeToo in an ugly way. Many people – including progressive women who had been totally unwavering in their belief that the accused should apologize and step down – suddenly started searching for excuses, justifications. “But all of the work he’s done! He’s such a progressive! He’s done so much to help women’s rights!” Or, the comparison: “He shouldn’t step down when Donald Trump hasn’t. We can’t play fair with the GOP.”

When I first heard comments like that, I brushed them off as fringe discussions, the complaints of people who weren’t thinking about the bigger picture. And then Kate Harding’s controversial op-ed in The Washington Post ran, boldly declaring “I’m a feminist, I study rape culture, and I don’t want Al Franken to resign.”

And that’s when that discussion became mainstream.

For the record, I adore Kate Harding’s work. She’s the author of Asking For It, a scathing and comprehensive takedown of modern rape culture. And her Post article isn’t uneducated or offensive. Her criticism of calls for Franken’s resignation is mostly rooted in the “We can’t play fair with the GOP” camp.

That argument goes mostly like this – If Democrats (who do fundamentally support more gender-equality-friendly policies than Republicans) resign for assault scandals in a world where Republicans are resistant to do so, the end result will be more Republicans in power, which will allow for more misogynistic, racist, classist, transphobic etc. policies to be implemented.

The most ironic part of that argument is that it could totally be true. It is possible that, given the current political makeup of our country, that the power imbalance could further shift towards the GOP’s destructive agenda.

But that truth doesn’t make the argument right.

Harding’s own work, Asking For It, repeatedly references the fact that a majority of sexual misconduct is perpetuated by a relatively small group of people who recommit offenses over and over again. That’s why it’s not at all uncommon to see dozens of women eventually come forward, even if at first, the incident appears isolated.

Which is why there is no such thing as “not so bad” or “good” types of sexual misconduct. Downplaying Al Franken’s behavior as “in bad taste” or “not as bad as Trump” is counterproductive and ignores the basic reality that abuse is so rarely an isolated incident. It is the product of a pattern of beliefs and behaviors that designate consent as irrelevant or power as intoxicating. Whether we first hear about misconduct as a disturbing proposition, a forced kiss or rape, it’s born from the same place of rape culture, misogyny, and hate.

We got into the position we’re in today, where dozens of women (and other victims!) were forced and shamed into silence, by being willing to turn an ignorant eye to the “smaller” abuses of power (committed by people like Weinstein). We put half measures in place then, and that led to the suffering of dozens – even hundreds – more people.

I understand the fear that Franken’s resignation has given undue leverage to the GOP. But I also know that throwing victims of assault and harassment under the bus in favor of keeping political power shouldn’t be an acceptable cost to any political party – and that it’s about damn time to stop downplaying certain kinds of assault or harassment just to justify supporting an abuser’s politics or profession.

Because that’s how Frankens turn into Weinsteins.

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