Donald Trump, a Republican. Harvey Weinstein, a Democrat. Roger Ailes, a Republican. Dustin Hoffman, a Democrat. Roy Moore, a Republican. And now we come to Al Franken, the Jewish liberal Democratic senator from Minnesota and former comic who over the last few days has been accused by two different women of improper sexual conduct.
We attach a party label to all these men who were outed for nonconsensual sexual behavior — ranging from various unwanted advances to rape — to make the point that what all these men have in common is not their party affiliation. It is that they are all men.
What is it about men? “Men’s harassment of and violence against women is a systemic issue, not a Democrat or Republican problem, a Hollywood problem, a sports problem or a media problem,” Kate Harding, author of “Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture — And What We Can Do About It,” wrote in The Washington Post. “Its roots lie in a patriarchal culture that trains men to believe they are entitled to control women’s bodies — for sex, for sport, for childbearing, for comedy.”
In Franken’s case, Los Angeles radio host Leeann Tweeden accused him last week of forcibly kissing and groping her during a USO tour to entertain troops in 2006, before he entered politics. On the flight home, he was photographed apparently groping the chest of a sleeping Tweeden, a boy’s mischievous smile on his face. Days after Tweeden’s accusation, Lindsay Menz said that in 2010, Franken grabbed her buttocks while posing for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair.
Franken was quick to issue apologies, and said he will cooperate with a Senate ethics investigation into his behavior. That’s a different response than we have heard from Moore, who has denied the charges that he initiated sexual relations with girls as young as 14. And the behavior Franken is accused of, while sickening and bordering on assault, is a far cry from the serial abuse Weinstein is said to have inflicted on women over a period of decades.
But nothing about the relative magnitude of offensive conduct by others serves to minimize the seriousness of Franken’s behavior, nor that of any man who forces himself on a woman, coerces her to “accept” an unwanted kiss or touch, or attempts to tie sex to professional advancement. If this means the downfall of Franken, so be it. And if his many accusers are to be believed, may it also be the downfall of Roy Moore.
We all need to denounce predatory sexual misbehavior wherever and whenever it occurs, no matter who the actor. Society needs to send a clear message of non-tolerance — and so do voters. JN