When the news of sexual assault allegations against former SNL comedian and current Minnesota Democratic Senator Al Franken broke, initially there seemed to be a collective understanding among liberals that they were not going to make excuses for him. Now, there’s a growing contingent of pundits on the left who don’t feel Franken’s alleged antics with news anchor Leean Tweeden should be met with the same consequences that are facing Roy Moore.
This week, Tweeden published an article on her station’s website where she accused Franken touching her breasts while she was asleep and forcibly sticking his tongue down her throat while “rehearsing” a kissing scene back in 2006.
I want to apologize to Leeann Tweeden, to everyone who was part of the USO tour, to all who've worked for me, to all I represent, & to all who've considered me an ally & supporter & champion of women. I am sorry. https://t.co/vrLCIcggg6
— Sen. Al Franken (@SenFranken) November 16, 2017
In an op-ed for The Washington Post, feminist author Kate Harding argues that although Franken’s actions were detestable and she firmly believes he should “suffer social and professional consequences for it,” she doesn’t think he should resign his position as a U.S. senator.
In the piece, Harding acknowledges that people will undoubtedly think she’s giving Franken a pass because she’s a liberal. “In the most superficial sense, this is true. But it’s meaningless to say it’s because I am a Democrat without asking why I am a Democrat,” she writes.
“If you understand what it means to be a Democrat today,” she continues. “…that is, why it makes sense to vote blue over red in this highly polarized political environment — you can understand why it might not make the most sense to demand Franken’s resignation, effective immediately.”
I am a Democrat because I am a feminist who lives under a two-party system, where one party consistently votes against the interests of women while the other sometimes does not. I am not a true believer in the party itself nor in any politician. I am a realist who recognizes that we get two viable choices, and Democrats are members of the only party positioned to pump the brakes on Republicans’ gleeful race toward Atwoodian dystopia. Meanwhile, I recognize that 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. 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.
According to Harding, sexual harassment and assault are too widespread a problem for an excommunication of Franken to matter. “We need to respond in a way that helps us develop a protocol for meaningful change.”
For all those calling for Al Franken to resign, have you also called for President Trump and Justice Thomas to resign? Franken blames himself, Trump and Thomas blame the women. Huge difference.
— Matthew Dowd (@matthewjdowd) November 16, 2017
She then makes a curious argument: Franken likely isn’t the only Democrat politician who’s done something like this. If we were to oust every progressive senator who may have been inappropriate with women in the past, there’s no guarantee they won’t be replaced by Republicans, and that could be a disaster for progress on women’s rights.
In other words, if we set this precedent in the interest of demonstrating our party’s solidarity with harassed and abused women, we’re only going to drain the swamp of people who, however flawed, still regularly vote to protect women’s rights and freedoms. The legislative branch will remain chockablock with old, white Republican men who regard women chiefly as sex objects and unpaid housekeepers, and we’ll show them how staunchly Democrats oppose their misogynistic attitudes by handing them more power.
Leeann Tweeden reads letter from Sen. Al Franken after she accused him of sexual misconduct: "I am so sorry. Sincerely, Al Franken." pic.twitter.com/EgurLzQcOC
— The View (@TheView) November 17, 2017
What Harding is arguing here is essentially the same rationale Roy Moore’s more cynical defenders among the GOP are using — the allegations are not worth giving up a crucial seat in the Senate. Nevertheless, she acknowledges the double-standard she’s proposing: “…if the short-term ‘right thing’ leads to long-term political catastrophe for American women, I think we need to reconsider our definition of the right thing.”
“One more empty apology and resignation, one more head on a pike, will not make American women safer or better off.”
Harding is the co-editor of Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America and co-hosts the podcast Feminasty. She’s also the author of Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture—And What We Can Do About It. You can read her full op-ed at WaPo here.
Featured image via Lorie Shaull (Flickr)