We have no good way to talk about this and we never have.
As a good friend and feminist scholar told me when the Weinstein scandal broke, “This isn’t about sex. It’s about power. That’s why we can’t talk about it.”
And yet it is the sex that draws the attention as we discuss the imbalance of power, so the two remain inextricably linked, creating problems as we continue to have these revelations of misconduct come to light.
The latest name added to the list of groping, rubbing, jerking, fondling, grabbing and forcing is Sen. Al Franken. Leeann Tweeden came forth on Thursday with allegations of Franken groping and sexually abusing her during a USO stint. Photographic evidence and Franken’s own apology clearly supported those charges of misconduct, leading to some of the most awkward public arguments on a subject like this since Todd Akin introduced us all to the concept of “legitimate rape.”
To clarify and codify the general issue, we should consider two questions and their unequivocal answers:
Were all of the victims of Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Louis C.K., Al Franken and others diminished and violated by people of power?
Have we, as a society and in many cases individuals, for too long engaged in victim blaming and illegitimate parsing of disgusting behavior like this?
Taking these two answers as clear and definitive, we now lock this discussion into an awkward position for people who will have to answer for these actions and the people who support them.
The questions will come in droves:
“Is what Moore or Franken did rape or sexual assault or sexual misconduct or what?”
“Does the “law and order” morality of Moore make it somehow worse than what Weinstein or Franken did because, hey, they’re liberal hedonists anyway?”
“Is it worse what Spacey did to young boys or what Moore did to young girls?”
“Should Franken be forced out for one incident while Moore’s accusers are multiplying like tribbles?”
What so many people are awkwardly groping for is some sort of “sex crime conversion chart” in which one boob-grab equals two ass-pats or one photo equals three teen accusers and one signed yearbook or something. We have finally started coming to the necessary conclusion that shitty behavior is shitty behavior, but people with myriad agendas want to create a hierarchy out of these behaviors, as if hierarchy itself weren’t the reason these messes exist in the first place.
It doesn’t work that way because it’s not about sex. It’s about power.
The only demarcation reasonable people could draw is the one between adults and children. There’s a reason you can peruse 10,000 nude photos of people age 18 and older without a legal problem, but your ass will be in the joint if you own one such image of someone under that age. Society and law have dictated a bright line for most conduct involving children and to cross that line is to engage in the unforgivable.
To that end, and only that end, could a few of these acts be viewed as somehow worse than some of the others. Regardless, each and every case involved a man with power over someone he perceived as lesser and he used that to his advantage to demean and diminish that person.
Why can’t we see this? For two simple reasons:
- We are seeing a wide swath of accusations that range from things that “everybody” could agree are horrible and evil to well… what? If the Al Franken “grope” photo is as bad as Roy Moore trying to bone the “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” demographic, how many men might have to look really hard at themselves? That time they got handsy at the company party? That time they catcalled a co-worker? That time they tried to “impress” the intern? How much of that happened and how does it feel to be lumped in with the Roy Moores, Anthony Weiners, Louis C.K.s and Harvey Weinsteins? The “I would never do something that despicable” becomes, “Actually you already did.”
- To see it, we have to talk about it and we have no good way to talk about this and we never have.