2017 has given me a forcible eye twitch and the constant feeling that at any moment my head could explode off of my body. This is most true when I listen to 45 “speak”, watch the news, continue finding out every man I assumed was decent isn’t, and when the local news station New York 1 plays on loop the assaults of women caught on street cameras or an incident of police brutality. I wish they would stop looping these horrific videos. Seeing something as brutal as the murder of Eric Gardner once in order to better understand the whole story and gain a true sense of unnecessary police violence is powerful, but seeing this video constantly is semi-traumatizing at best and desensitizing at worst.
Recently I was scrolling through Facebook, another place in which eye twitching frequently occurs, when I saw that a best friend of mine posted her personal thoughts about the Al Franken accusations. Halfway through reading the post I realized my friend’s point of view sounded more pro Franken than pro women bravely coming forward to be heard. By the time I read the last sentence, I again felt the familiar sensation that my brain was surely about to disintegrate and start dripping out of my ears. This friend of mine is smart, kind, and has a forearm emblazoned with the feminist symbol. She is strong, funny, and I love her which made my feelings that much more powerful. I added my thoughts to her comment thread noting that as a society we can’t let the “good” stuff of a person in office outweigh the bad stuff. We then went back and forth in a respectful exchange of ideas.
By the time our exchange ended a few other people joined in the conversation. Most others also thought that Franken’s history of supporting women should outweigh his most recent accusations. I felt deflated and exhausted not because my friend didn’t hear me (she did hear me and understood my point of view), but exhausted at the idea that even women have a hard time just believing and valuing each other’s experiences when it comes to harassment and violence.
Our job when listening to any of these women who have been harmed at the hands of powerful men should mostly be that of simply hearing them.
I didn’t agree with my friend’s diagnosis of the Al Franken situation, but I felt more overwhelmed at the idea that if someone as liberal and feminist as herself was thinking this way, then what were the thoughts of everyone else?
There’s an immeasurable amount of ideas to unpack when it comes the #MeToo movement and our current reckoning with the behavior of men in power in the workplace throughout all American industries. However, in terms of Al Franken specially, I am sick of hearing people defend his action by saying that he is a “champion of women.” I agree he has a solid liberal voting record that includes progressive legislation like access to safe, legal abortion without restrictions (Jan 2015), reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (Feb 2013), he sponsored bill for easier access to rape kits & analysis (Nov 2009), and he voted to provide comprehensive sex education for sexually-active adolescents. (Feb 2013).
While these are solid pieces of legislation to vote for if you’re a left leaning senator, I’m not sold on the idea that casting a vote in and of itself denotes that a person is a champion for women. At most it makes someone a consistent liberal senator. Voting for pro-women legislation should be the minimum requirement of what makes a democratic senator respectable at his job, not the zenith. A voting record should not be the bar in which by clearing it excludes a person from all other duties, primarily the duty of being a decent human and keeping your hands and your mouth to yourself. I assume the Democratic party wants all of our politicians to be champions of women and vote for laws that make healthcare more comprehensive and accessible for women, make workplaces more inclusive, etc. Voting is essential, and this year we have seen the power of the people’s collective voice through voting (see: Danica Roem, Kathy Tran, Andrea Jenkins, et all the other incredible people grass root efforts have voted into office this year.), but you know who is on the ground every day making impactful changes for women? Women! Women occupy the majority of jobs in the field of education, nursing, human resources, and make up most of our financial specialists. Women account for significantly more than half of our psychologists, social workers, and accountants.
Women are friends, sisters, and colleagues to one another. Female CEOs are working to bring more females up the corporate ladder, and since Hillary Clinton’s defeat more women are registered to run for public office in 2017 than in the history of our country. New York Magazine predicts staggering 13,000 women are planning on running for local, state, or national office in the upcoming election term. We as women are acting as champions for one another in more meaningful ways than any one person in Washington. I’ve heard people use the phrase the end justifies the means to explain why we should have left Franken in office, but historically it seems like people only use this phrase when trying to engage in something obviously unjust instead of doing something that may be more difficult but more morally sound. We quickly found someone else to continue casting impactful votes for women with governor Tina Smith. The ease of this replacement should show us that not only does the end not justify the means, but that no one person in any type of office is needed more than our need to make workplaces safe and more secure for everyone.
When discussing Al Franken, or any of the other men related to the conversations that are taking up so much space today, I try to remain pro-women coming forward, but personally neutral by keeping my own story out of these exchanges. At times I’ve felt like my experiences have made others perceive me as too emotional to discuss this topic objectively. It has seemed liked my own history has made my opinion less valuable to others even though in no other scenario does having personal experience make you less knowledgeable on a subject. This in of itself is enough to make my brain burst.
Culturally we have to stop deciding what is impactful to other people’s lives with ideas like she was only groped, only forcibly kissed, et all other acts of sexual harassments and assault. If harassment, assault, and violence committed against women were merely about the physical actions then these “only” interpretations might be true, but actions of harassment and assault are hardly ever just about a physical interaction. As someone who has never been raped I can attest to the challenges of overcoming a more “simple” assault. Harassments and assaults are mentally difficult to work through because they have the ability to make you feel unsafe within yourself.
They act as vehicles of violence and power. These actions can make you feel like your body isn’t scared and doesn’t belong to you wholly.
Over time these actions can sink into you and take away your self-worth. If Selma Hayak, one of the most beautiful and successful women in show business, can be made to feel like a nobody from merely not being raped imagine how the rest of us mortals feel.
These violating actions committed by powerful men create a space of perceived violence and instability. The effects of this can be far reaching and we will never know the true and lasting impact that the women and men of the #MeToo movement have endured, especially if we don’t listen to them and their stories.
The ripple of harassment and assault reaches beyond what we can comprehend. I’ve personally been fortunate in that I can afford the bill of assault, but the physical numbers from therapy and general self-care are staggering. This does not count the cost of things I can’t put a price tag on such as missing days of work, spending countless hours being unfocused and unproductive, and not being emotionally available to those around me. Many women don’t have both the monetary means and social network needed to readily overcome a violation. This is why I don’t care about Al Franken, Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, et all the others. These are not stories discussing young men on the cusp of their lives who have made a minor infraction. We are exposing extremely powerful men who have shaped the landscape of our culture, and many of which have also made an exuberant amount of money in the process of silencing the voices and careers of women.
Let’s talk less about these men and hear from the survivors, so we can begin digesting the true and enormous impact of the culture we have all been secretly living in.
Historically, women have had nothing to gain and everything to lose from speaking up about men in power (see Anita Hill, Monica Lewinksy, Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy, Andrea Mackris, et all the ones not mentioned and ones whose accounts we will never hear). It’s overwhelmingly dismissive and hurtful when someone’s first response is to worry about an offender’s job security. Men so often get to leave the interaction of assault and harassment with their jobs, mental health, and finances intact while victims are left with a mess of all of the above. If we want to continue moving in the direction of eliminating violence against women and change our culture the first thing we have to do is just listen. Let people tell their stories, and more importantly believe them.