Initially rife with promise and justice, the “#MeToo” conversation has already devolved in to unhinged hysteria. And as calls for Al Franken to resign mount, I have to say a few things.
First: I’m a Trump supporter who’s long found a home in the Republican party. I’m no Al Franken supporter and I’m certainly no Democrat apologist.
Second: I’ve spent the last month enjoying the natural high of knowing that women who have been victimized are now empowered to come out and tell their stories, thus holding their abusers accountable. As awful as our societal repression of these injustices were, the sunlight that’s now disinfecting them is equally sweet. Freedom and justice!
Third: As I’ve pondered this moment in our nation’s cultural evolution, I’ve come to believe that the conversation is really more about power than sexuality. And I’ve looked forward to seeing the conversation continue down that path, because as violating and personal as the sexual component is for the victims — it’s the power, and more specifically the personal corruption that often accompanies that power, that enables it.
Fourth: I believe that we must be conscientious about recognizing that false accusations do in fact also exist. I’ve seen lives upended and destroyed by false accusations, and they too merit very serious respect, consideration and accountability.
Fifth, finally and most germane to the motivation for this post: We must not let hysteria derail what is otherwise a noble and righteous pursuit.
Al Franken’s most recent accuser claimed that he tried to kiss her. That’s the claim. (It’s also noted that he said “It’s my right as an entertainer,” but that’s just fodder. If the incident occurred as described, then that comment from Franken was undoubtedly a sheepish defense mechanism to stave off the embarrassment of being rejected.) The crux of the claim however is that he tried to kiss a girl. And in the wake of that revelation, several of his peers are calling for his resignation.
Make no mistake: Franken’s “joke” picture wherein he took advantage of a sleeping woman was wholly unacceptable for a variety of extremely serious reasons, and that by itself should’ve commanded calls from his colleagues to step down. But it didn’t. It prompted the lazy “Ethics Committee Investigation” that we all rightly mock. And the allegations of groping were also exponentially more egregious than today’s revelation about him trying to kiss a woman. (To be clear: The kiss is first base. The touching, ie “groping,” is second base. And if you try to get to second base before the umpire agrees that you safely made it to first base, then you just assaulted someone. So that too was far more damning, in terms of accusations, than today’s revelation.)
But today a woman came out and accused Franken of trying to kiss her. And when she rebuffed his advances, he stopped asserting them. As is the case with President Trump’s accusers, that particular incident sounds more like a model of appropriate sexual behavior than a crime of sexual assault.
It has to be okay for men, and women, to make the first move. It has to be okay for people to experience those natural human emotions that accompany making that first move. And because everyone reading this has at some point in their lives experienced it, then you know that “fear” is chief among those emotions.
It has to be okay for men and women to have a “moment” when their mutual attraction is audited, without needing lawyers or consent forms in order to execute that audit. It has to be okay for “chemistry” between men and women to maintain a degree of experimentation, without sterilizing the entire courting process by demanding a witness be present to document the mutual consent.
There’s a lot of eager virtue-signalling around the #MeToo movement, and that’s great. Everyone is on board with exposing sexual abuse, and holding accountable those who engage in it. It’s particularly progressive that people in power are being held to account, since as noted initially, this really is a conversation more about power than about sexuality itself. (Though again, as noted: The sexual nature of these abuses of power, for the victims, is what makes it so much more emotionally violent and destructive. And I’m not suggesting we lose sight of that.) But what I’m seeing today is our entire nation forming one single mob, complete with tiki torches and chants of “LOCK HIM UP!”, all because a woman accused a man of trying to kiss her. And when she said “Stop,” he stopped.
That’s not sexual assault. It’s not sexual harassment. It certainly isn’t rape. And if we’re really serious about intellectual honesty and moving this conversation forward in a productive, progressive way — then a few of us must demonstrate the courage to stand up and say so out loud.
You’re allowed to make the first move. And if the man or woman you’re making that first move on rebuffs your advances, then you should stop. And if you did that, then you did it right. But if you persist, or threaten them, or worse yet engage in forcible behavior, then you’ve engaged in some varying degree of sexual assault, and you should be held accountable for it. But you’re allowed to make the first move. And if you get shot down or otherwise rejected, then don’t believe the precedent being set by today’s overly-eager lynch mob: You did not just assault someone.