A Return to Standards

First of all, I am sad that Al Franken had to resign. It’s unfortunate, to be sure, to lose such a progressive member in the Senate.

However, what we are seeing now is a return to demanding that anyone who represents us in government actually represent us and our standards. I’m not talking about purity; screw that. But the fact of the matter is, the vast majority of us would not do many of those things Senator Franken has been accused of. There is little doubt that Tina DuPuy, who is a progressive and very, very credible, wrote the piece that turned the tables on Franken. This is from that article, which can be found here:

Then I saw Al Franken. I only bug celebrities for pictures when it’ll make my foster mom happy. She loves Franken, so I asked to get a picture with him. We posed for the shot. He immediately put his hand on my waist, grabbing a handful of flesh. I froze. Then he squeezed. At least twice.

I’d been married for two years at the time; I don’t let my husband touch me like that in public because I believe it diminishes me as a professional woman. Al Franken’s familiarity was inappropriate and unwanted. It was also quick; he knew exactly what he was doing. 

It shrunk me. It’s like I was no longer a person, only ornamental. It said, “You don’t matter—and I do.” He wanted to cop a feel and he demonstrated he didn’t need my permission.

The article was published yesterday in The Atlantic and the episode happened in 2009, during the inauguration of President Obama, as well as Franken’s recount fight with Norm Coleman. There is no reason to question her account, and what he did was wrong. Period. There is no excuse for it. Yet, so many so-called “progressives” have excused it because Franken is a liberal and a Democrat. One person suggested it wasn’t so bad because it “wasn’t a sexual assault or a rape.” Another pulled the classic GOP “whataboutism” defense, suggesting that he need not resign because Roy Moore and Donald Trump are worse. Still another said Franken “needs to fight,” and this is another example of Democrats turning and running when challenged.

Come on, people; we either have standards or we do not. And the standard that women have value and should be treated with respect and dignity should be a minimum standard, I would think. To those “progressives” who dismissed Tina Dupuy’s account because “grabbing a handful of flesh” and “squeezing” isn’t so bad, I’ll ask a simple question; why was it necessary? How often do men put their arms around another man and squeeze the flesh around their middle? When embracing a woman for a selfie, is it really impossible to know where to put your hands? Is down by your side not an option? One guy suggested that, because she has her arm around his shoulder, there was nowhere else to put his hand. Okay, fair enough, but why squeeze? Twice?

And I will ask a simple question that I have asked before many times; Why does it seem virtually impossible for men to ask a woman, “Do you mind?” before he even touches her? Why would anyone assume it was perfectly okay to put their arm around a woman’s waist without asking permission? If a stranger has gone up to Franken’s wife or daughter and done that, would he be okay with it? I would think not, but I don’t know him; maybe he wouldn’t mind. That’s cool, but we don’t all live by that standard. And for those who claim he is “a mouth kisser” as an excuse for kissing women unwanted, all I will say is, do you have evidence that he mouth kisses men? I only ask because the issue is that he seems to feel entitled to kiss women that way. What (most) women are asking for is simple; they want to be treated equally with men in society and, especially, the workplace.

What we are seeing right now is a society that is in the process of instituting principles that align with our stated mission as a country. We want this country to be one that honors everyone’s rights equally. Women and men are citizens and rights belong to all citizens, without qualification based on sex, race or any other factor. We either believe that everyone should be treated with respect and dignity or we don’t. And if we do believe that, then we should hold everyone who represents us in government to a much higher standard than we now do. Standards of behavior, and what is and isn’t acceptable, cannot be fluid. Women deserve respect and men “just being men” and treating women like crap should not be acceptable from anyone.

What Al Franken is doing is the right thing. He has chosen to uphold a high standard of behavior for the Senate and for Democrats. That is ultimately a good thing. No one else is entitled to keep their job when they behave in such a way. Franken is setting a standard that every politician from now on will have to follow. And we’ll all be better off for it.

Also published on Medium.