This morning Al Franken will be making an announcement regarding the allegations against him. Many believe he will be stepping down, many believe he should step down. Maybe this post will be up before he does so, but know it was written prior. I hear/see a lot of people saying this is a watershed moment in American history for women and women’s rights. Time Magazine’s person of the year 2017 isn’t one person, it’s the #metoo movement, the “silence breakers.”
I don’t have answers in regards to Franken, and I’ve been finding it impossible to read every detail coming to light about all of these men. It’s all so, so much. Not just so much in terms of the volume of accusations against the ever-growing number of men, but so much when looking at the many, many terrors happening on a daily basis. There isn’t one area of our society that isn’t under attack from within right now. All this said, I have thoughts. I’ve been speaking up and out about women, sexual harassment, and assault for a long time, and I’ve used Mrs Fringe as a vehicle to do so for the past five years. I’m not so sure this is a watershed moment.
Yes, there is much awareness and many important, necessary conversations happening. Yes, we are seeing repercussions for men who abuse/have abused women and positions of power in a way we haven’t seen before. I just don’t know that we can see this as a definitive turning point. Do I want it to be? Yes! But can it be, and why not? Because we’re only seeing this in very limited arenas. I understand that any/every movement has to begin somewhere, and the highly visible and well documented eyes of Congress and Hollywood are excellent places to start. But nothing happens or exists in a vacuum, and while the Left is celebrating, the Right is working. (I’d say the Right Extremists, but at this point it’s safe to say those who were considered extremists on the fringe right twenty years ago are now mainstream.) Our current President is a man credibly accused of both sexual harassment and assault by multiple women over the course of many years. Accounts of him wandering into the dressing room backstage of the Miss America contest–with underaged contestants–are also documented. This was all well known and well documented long before the 2016 election, an audio tape of him bragging about groping women released, and millions voted for him anyway. You could and should argue that the current movement is a well deserved backlash because of this.
But these formerly extremist Right Wing politicians have all the power right now, and they’re using it to harm women for generations to come, regardless of who’s on the cover of Time Magazine this month or how many Democrats are called to task for inappropriate, immoral, and sometimes illegal behavior. Mitch McConnell and the GOP stole a pivotal Supreme Court seat after Scalia died by refusing to hold hearings and vote on President Obama’s pick for nominee. Do we think this won’t have repercussions for women’s rights, for Roe vs Wade? The current monstrosity of an administration is also busy stacking the federal courts with more extremist, right wing, appointed for life individuals. In another time in our history…say, 10 years ago, this might sound hysterical. They’re judges, they have to be impartial and qualified no matter who they vote for, the GOP cares about women and sexual predators, right? No. No they do not. Not anymore. This is how qualified you now have to be to qualify for a federal judgeship appointment, and this is how much the GOP cares about women. I’m sorry, did I say women? I should say women and girls, because those credibly accusing Roy Moore were most definitely not adult women at the time of these incidents. I cannot say this loudly or frequently enough, the damage being done right now is generational.
And that’s not all. Yesterday the House–and by the House, I mean the GOP members, since they are in control–voted to pass a bill allowing concealed carry holders to legally bring their guns into states where they wouldn’t otherwise be allowed these concealed carry permits. Like, say, from states where domestic abusers are allowed to purchase and concealed carry guns into states that care about protecting their citizens. Oh yeah, this is going to be awesome for victims of domestic violence. So much caring about women and children.
Should the Hollywood and media men who have been fired/suspended/called out and shamed lost their careers? Absolutely. But given our quickly disappearing legal recourse and support from the government, I don’t see this helping Suzy Q Torres working in middle management, or Mary-Sue Regular Gal after she’s cornered by her sweating, piggish boss in the after-hours kitchen of the local fast food restaurant. So I don’t see how we can say, at this moment, that this is a turning point for women’s rights and safety in America. Celebrity cases often bring light and awareness to issues, a starting point. Without follow through for all, they stop there.
There are other aspects to this. Due process–I’ll leave that exploration to those more versed in the legal system, though I question some of these cases. Not because I don’t believe women, not because I don’t want everyone to believe women, but because the stakes are high. Higher than they’ve ever been, in light of all recently discovered about the manipulability (is that a word?) of public opinion through the use of social media.
And then there’s the distinctions I see too many glossing over. A lot of men are assholes. They make unwanted comments, gestures, use a beer and a crowded bar as an excuse to make unwanted advances. Some men are predators. Some men prey on children. Some men are pushy, refusing to accept no thanks when asking for a phone number. Some men are stalkers. There are assholes, there are sexual harassers, there are predators, there are rapists. These categories are all morally wrong, an affront to women’s intelligence, autonomy, and safety. But they aren’t equal.
I’m fairly safely invisible now, but let’s pretend I’m twenty years younger for a few subway scenarios. If a man on the subway asks for my phone number and tells me I should smile, I can tell him to fuck off and he can call me a feminazi bitch, I get off at the next stop. It’s yet another unpleasant incident that I shouldn’t have to deal with, and I do dream of a day when women won’t have to. If a man on the subway uses rush hour as an excuse to rub against me, or uses the longer time between stops when going through a tunnel to take out his junk and masturbate, I can get loud, tell him to fuck off, try to move away, stomp on his foot/offer a sharply placed elbow, get off and report him at the next stop. (I can’t, apparently, expect other passengers to help me, since the current PSAs on the subway tell people not to get directly involved with these types of incidents unless they’re certain it’s safe to do so, they should report it to the appropriate authorities when they can). I’m disgusted, I’m shaky, I’m pissed off that this is the world I live in. If a man on the subway traps me on an otherwise empty car when the train is moving through a tunnel, or follows me off the train and drags me to an unpopulated stairwell and assaults me, well, now we’re in completely different territory, with lifelong physical and emotional repercussions shaping every single choice I make for the rest of my life.
The fact that men like those in the second scenario exist doesn’t negate the wrongness of men in the first scenario, and those in the third don’t make those in the second acceptable in any way, shape, or form.
These were “easy” scenes, clearcut. They didn’t involve people who were known to the victim, dates, boyfriends, spouses, relatives, child predators, gang rapes, positions of financial power and employment repercussions, drugs/alcohol, or any of the million and three ways women find themselves being negated and disrespected, abused, assaulted. They are all unacceptable, and should all be addressed by our society with repercussions. But they aren’t all the same. If we on the Left are in fact taking the moral high ground, that has to include looking at each case individually, or we run the risk of becoming the twenty-first century version of the 1980s false moral majority. While many of these scenarios grow from the same root problem, if we on the Left insist they are all the same, we make it that much easier for those on the Right to ignore these very real, pervasive, and damaging issues women deal with every day, the systemic degradation of women; paving the way for legal and sanctioned support of predators.