Update: Since this post, four more women have come forward to accuse Al Franken of sexually inappropriate conduct. On December 7th, 2017, Franken announced that he would be stepping down as a senator.
During the past week, you’ve probably seen this image at least once:
The image was taken during a 2006 U.S.O tour, which then-comedian Al Franken participated in. The woman in the picture is Leeann Tweeden, who is now the anchor of a morning radio broadcast in Los Angeles. According to her story, while they were rehearsing a skit which called for a kissing scene, Franken pushed her head against his and basically forced the kiss upon her. She pushed him away and immediately told him never to do it again. Later, she says that Franken treated her poorly the rest of the tour and then had this picture taken while she was sleeping.
Franken himself has issued an apology, saying that while he does not remember the skit the same way Leeann does, we should all listen to women’s stories. He also expressed regret for the photo, saying that looking back on it now he sees it for what it is and is disgusted with himself. You can read his full statement here.
This, of course, comes after the whirlwind of sexual harassment and assault claims that have been sweeping the nation ever since the Harvey Weinstein scandal first broke out and the “#metoo” movement began trending on the internet. Now, Franken has been accused by a second person of grabbing her butt during a photo at the state fair in 2010, when he was a first-term senator. But for my part, I’m going to be focusing mostly on the first incident, as it is the one that has generated the most discussion.
First off, the obvious: no woman should have to feel uncomfortable in their body or uncomfortable telling their story. Shaming a woman for either of these things is downright despicable.
But with that being said, I’ve noticed something in the past week. It seems that people are far too willing to lump Senator Franken in with the likes of Roy Moore and Harvey Weinstein. This strikes me as unfair, because the accusations of what each man did are so different. Weinstein’s run the gamut from inappropriate touching to actual rape. And one of Roy Moore’s accusers said that when she was sixteen he offered her a ride home from work, then drove her behind the restaurant where she was a waitress and started groping her. He even tried to force her head into his crotch.
A lot more serious than kissing someone or touching their breasts or butt, wouldn’t you say?
My point with all this is that I’m worried that it has become too easy to condemn people following an accusation of sexual misconduct. There was a time when women were blamed for being raped because of the clothes that they wore and the way they acted, which I think most of us can agree is utter bullshit. But following the “#metoo” movement, it seems like people are all too willing to crucify someone when they’re accused of sexual misdeeds of any kind.
And as for the Franken case, I think it’s important to remember that back then, he was a comedian. A lot of what comedians do is push the boundaries of what we as a culture consider acceptable. Another good example of this can be seen in the allegations against actor George Takei, who most will remember as Sulu from the original “Star Trek” show. Takei denied the allegations, but then people dug up comments he made on Howard Stern’s show where he joked about touching men. And while it’s easy to look at something like this and immediately cry “he’s a sick pervert”, it’s important to note that Howard Stern is literally known as a “shock jock”, a term describing a radio broadcaster who intentionally uses humor that some people will find offensive. In that sense, Takei’s comments shouldn’t be taken as indicative of his real personality, but as those of someone playing his part in a joke.
I feel like the Franken allegation is similar. It’s far too easy to look at it like “he’s a total hypocrite…how dare he pretend to be a champion of women’s rights”. Now, does it necessarily make what he did okay? No…of course not. Taking that picture was a tasteless and stupid thing to do, especially after Leeann made her feelings on the matter clear. But context is important. And in that sense, what Franken did was far less damning than what people like Roy Moore have been accused of. I don’t think he deserves to have his career destroyed over this. Tweeden herself even accepted Franken’s apology, saying that “people make mistakes”. She also added that she didn’t necessarily think he needed to resign. So while it appears she’s moved on from the incident, others are still using it to try and nail Franken to the wall, so to speak.
The best example I can find of this is President Trump himself, who felt compelled to let everyone know his thoughts. In a tweet, he said “The Al Frankenstein picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words”. And yet, he has said very little about the accusations against Roy Moore (although yesterday he finally broke his silence on it) or even the accusations against himself. In fact, most of what he and the White House has said on the matter is comes down to “all the women are lying”. And I’ve seen some people on Facebook sharing memes condemning Franken when they’ve so readily brushed off any of the allegations against Trump.
It goes both ways too. I’m sure people who have readily condemned the actions of Republicans have remained strangely mum on accusations against their side of the aisle. What it comes down to is that we need to take politics out of the equation. It’s not about Republicans vs. Democrats, Liberals vs. Conservatives. The real issue here is that people with power and authority have a tendency to abuse it. And until we deal with the cultural ramifications of that, the situation isn’t going to get better.
Thanks for reading. Check back next Wednesday for a new post, and as always, have a wonderful week.