Motives, Madness, and Male Behavior
The current cultural focus on sexual harassment and assaults is largely a good thing. Fostering an environment where (a) victims feel that reporting the crime is a viable option with an expectation of being taken seriously, and (b) exposing the prevalence with which that sort of behavior still goes on in modern America (and elsewhere, but we get into other elements with other cultures) can and should go a long way toward changing our cultural acceptances and minimizing, if not eliminating, such behavior in the future.
It's fascinating to see this all going down now; I've written two posts on the subject already, about Cosby and Spacey, and lo and behold here's a third. One of the reasons it's a fascinating topic is its inherent mystery—I really don't get it. I mean, I understand the theory and intellectual analysis of men abusing their power over people they see as lesser; it's an ego and psychology and/or pathology issue, OK. But I don't get it, intuitively. It defies easy understanding. In some cases, the public response also defies easy understanding.
Now, I'm a straight dude who hasn't ever been on the receiving end of this sort of thing, unlike basically every woman I know, so my perspective is limited. There are things I will not know from firsthand experience and things I can only grasp as intellectual concepts. So, with that established, I have a question about Al Franken's case.
I've seen a lot of reaction to Franken's situation on television and social media, heard plenty of people discuss it on podcasts and news shows. People I know and people I don't have declared with vehemence that Franken should resign his Senate seat. Others have said with equal vehemence that he absolutely should not. Some uncertainty exists as to the veracity of the accusations against him—his security escort from the USO tour maintains there was never a moment that Franken and his accuser were alone, for example—but enough of it is accurate enough for Franken to own up to, if not the exact behavior alleged, inappropriate and offensive actions that shouldn't have a place in civilized society. (And really, Franken himself has reacted quite well, showing an awareness and repentance that none of the other men accused of such during this time have shown.)
My question to those that demand his resignation, though, is this: Why?
That's not a snarky question, it's intended to be taken at face value. Why do you want him to resign? What purpose will it serve for you? What is the hoped for consequence of a resignation? I'm not advocating one position or the other here, I just want to know the reasoning.
Is it to teach him a lesson, show him that behavior like that is unacceptable and not to be repeated? Unnecessary, Franken is already there and, unlike the other high-profile culprits, has not evidenced a predatory pathology; in fact, plenty of women who have worked with him have made a point of declaring the opposite, that Franken has only been a respectful professional in this regard. He's pre-reformed.
Is it to enforce a kind of no-tolerance policy that demands ostracization of anyone to ever have such an accusation levied on them? If so, be prepared to prosecute scores of other officials and public figures, not to mention everyday men who once pledged a fraternity or made lewd jokes at a bachelor party. (I would not defend such jokes, fraternity practices, pledging fraternities, or even the traditional bachelor party, I'm just pointing out the ubiquity of these attitudes in our culture to date.)
Is it in support of the accuser? She doesn't want his resignation, she in fact seems kind of blasé about any fallout for him.
If none of these things, then what? What big-picture result of a repentant, diligent ally of women's rights and positive public policy leaving his position and abdicating his ability to help influence this and other important issues am I not seeing?
Maybe a zero-tolerance take is valid. I tend to think not, as there are degrees to this and, as Franken has shown, people can grow and learn on the issue and become champions for the cause, and men who have been guilty of one or two relatively minor offenses in years past should not be looked at in the same way as those with pathological issues (Anthony Weiner, Cosby, Spacey, C.K.) and/or who fail to acknowledge the humanity of their victims (Roy Moore, Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein).
The cultural problem is finally being addressed, and hopefully it will continue to be until such time as we look back on it as distastefully as we do "separate-but-equal" and treating abrasions with mercury. The pathological problems will need an additional vector to combat; a cultural shame/fear factor will no doubt help greatly, but some people will always be predators. It seems important to make a distinction.