Comparative Misogyny

Maybe it’s because we’ve used to it.

Two of the three most influential comedians in our life are Bill Cosby and Woody Allen, which doesn’t say much for our track record. And although their falls from grace came long after we had grown creatively disappointed with each, the fact remains that our pleasure in Cosby’s early storytelling and Allen’s early movies has long since been darkly tinged.

But we can’t walk away from what shaped us. They is what they is.

And by now, we’ve also long since known the drill: When the news breaks, deal with it. You don’t want to defend the indefensible.

At least, we thought you didn’t.

In any event, the news broke again Thursday, and emergency procedures were implemented: Read the account. Await the response. Prepare for disappointment.

The account, in our reading, seemed honest: It wasn’t a newspaper story with thirty sources, but a woman was putting her name to it, putting her own credibility on the line. And the detail that caught our attention was that Al Franken wasn’t just using a bawdy USO sketch as an excuse to cop a rehearsal kiss, but putting some tongue into it. That’s where we blew the whistle and threw the flag. That was a violation.

Sorry, Al. Loved your latest book, made a point of reading one of your earlier books after that, love what you’re doing in the Senate, but you set off the alarm. You’re a dude who abused his power. You contributed to the shit that half the population deals with daily. Shame on you. We thought you were better than that. Especially that.

And, as we came to that judgment — which wasn’t difficult — we thought that’s how the rest of the day would play out. We gave no thought to consequences — we still don’t have an opinion whether he should resign — but, short of new details coming to light, we thought the fact of his transgression was settled. The only question was what to do about it.

And then we noticed the pushback.

The news came to us via a Sam Stein tweet, and the responses were embarrassing. She had agreed to the script. He wasn’t really groping her. He wasn’t like Roy Moore. Roger Stone knew in advance. She’s posed for Playboy. And why did she wait so long to bring it up? That happened years ago.

It was hard not to compare the defensiveness of Franken supporters with the defensiveness of Roy Moore supporters. It was hard not to see those responses as examples of victim-blaming and slut-shaming that are sad hallmarks of the genre. It was hard not to see Franken supporters circling the wagons because this time it was a Good Guy under attack, and let’s just throw everything about Believing the Woman out the window.

Shame on them, too.

And then we hit Facebook, where our Nice Liberal Friends hang out, and it was even worse. Groping Analysis was in full force, as if there was a substantial difference between a close hover and a meaty grab. (For our purposes, Personal Space applies when you’re sleeping. Especially when you’re sleeping.) Some folks had only seen the photo and hadn’t heard about the Deep Tongue, so disarming the evidence of the photo was even more important. And who among us hasn’t drawn a dick on the face of a sleeping dude?

Here we should mention that Al Franken was 55 at the time.

The worst of it was when folks started saying the photo was a setup, that she was in on the joke, because the photographer said so. And, were that the case, that certainly would provide some missing context. So, who was the photographer? What was the source of the account?

Nobody knew. But they had heard it.

As it turns out, the claim was a hoax — tweeted from an account with a track record of lying to support liberals. The hoax had spread quickly because it seemed to exonerate Franken, playing to the inclinations of all those nice people who were desperate to think well of him, and for whom shady sourcing wasn’t an obstacle.

Didn’t explain the tongue, however.

Even Franken’s second apology — his first was a dud — was put to defensive use. We had withheld judgment on that, after seeing how well Louis CK’s apology had played among fellow dudes, at least until women found the holes on it. And while Franken’s longform apology seemed sincere and thorough, it wasn’t until the victim accepted it that we were comfortable considering it appropriate.

Not that it settled things. For us, anyway. Others found it sufficient to move on, but this isn’t simply a private matter between two people. It’s an example of the very thing everyone’s been talking about the past month: Men who abuse their power to take sexual advantage of situations.

No, Al Franken isn’t Louis CK. He’s not Kevin Spacey. He’s not Harvey Weinstein. He’s not Roy Moore. He’s not Donald Trump. But if we’re going to use the worst transgressors to let lighter miscreants off the hook, we have a major fucking problem here:

Anyone who abuses their power to pull that shit is an asshole.

And power is relative to the context: Whether you’re the President of the United States or a Famous Comedian or a Night Manager, if you’re using your power to fuck up someone of lesser position, you’re part of the problem. And it’s a very real problem for the majority of the population.

Not just women. And not just sex. As a White Male American, we’re constantly amazed at the shit we don’t have to put up with. We can walk down the street. We can drive a car. We can step into an office. All without hassle. All without the thought of hassle. Hassle doesn’t exist in our life.

But it does for others, and from all directions. And that pisses us off. We want our fellow citizens to enjoy the same hassle-free life that we do. And while Al Franken is no Roy Moore, he violated the trust of his fellow performer. He crossed a line, even if by a few steps rather than hundreds.

She may have forgiven him, but we’re not yet ready to. And we’re not feeling all that great about folks blindly rushing to his defense, either.

17 comments:

2:51 pm • Sunday • November 19, 2017

There are two parts to this, the kiss and the photo, right?

To my mind, the kiss, as it played out, is unequivocally wrong. Unwanted sexual contact is sexual assault. He may genuinely remember the interaction differently (perhaps something along the lines of, “The kiss was in the script anyway and I just played it up for laughs”), but she says she expressed discomfort with the idea of kissing at all and it seems she was expecting a chaste peck if their mouths even made contact (which she was trying to avoid altogether and managed to do later on stage).

Then there’s the photo. I think it matters a great deal whether he mimed groping her or actually groped her. Only one of those is a crime. That doesn’t mean miming it is harmless, though. When I was 22, I drank too much at a party and curled up in an armchair to sleep it off. Later I saw that someone had taken a picture of me sleeping. I was embarrassed and a little annoyed, but ultimately I saw the humor in it.

Looking back, I can imagine all kinds of alternate scenarios. What if someone had posed next to me holding a sign saying “Drunky McDrunkface”? What if someone had taped that same sign to me, meaning they’d touched me (albeit nonsexually) while I was asleep? What if someone had mimed groping my ass for the camera? What if someone had actually groped my ass? All of those would have felt like violations, but again, only one of them would have been unlawful.

Franken did bad things, for which he apologized and Tweeden accepted. I think it’s entirely appropriate for the Senate to investigate, to show that even a sitting Senator can face professional consequences (e.g., censure) for their behavior, past or present. And I think it’s critically important that Franken be held accountable for following through on the last part of his apology:

And the truth is, what people think of me in light of this is far less important than what people think of women who continue to come forward to tell their stories. They deserve to be heard, and believed. And they deserve to know that I am their ally and supporter. I have let them down and am committed to making it up to them.

Actions speak louder than words, and I’m looking forward to seeing him walk the walk on this.

4:35 pm • Sunday • November 19, 2017

@mellbell: The problem I’ve had with Groping Analysis, as I’ve seen it, is the presentation of it as exonerating: No legal harm, no foul. He wasn’t really grabbing, so what’s the problem?

My problem is that it’s a prima facie violation of a sleeping woman. And, given the stated circumstances of discovery, if she wants to call it a grope, I’m not going to object. Were I her lawyer, I might advise otherwise.

As to the nature of the violation, well, it’s dehumanizing. It’s abusive. I’m far more troubled by the Forced Tongue, but I’m sufficiently troubled by the Faux Grope to lack interest in close analysis. It’s not whether or not Fingers Were Laid, it’s the importance being assigned. I’m not a court, I’m a fellow human sitting in judgment. And I honestly don’t see a substantial difference. Unless our shared idea of personal space is a lot more limited than I thought it was.

2:03 am • Monday • November 20, 2017

No longer have the vocabulary to talk about this stuff … it is not forgiving this mess, but it’s me not ready to confront it. Since the election, the shit comes thick and fast. I am exhausted. I have nothing to add.

1:31 pm • Monday • November 20, 2017

He’s gotta go, that’s it. And now there’s a second woman saying he grabbed her ass during a photo op? Fuck him.

8:49 pm • Monday • November 20, 2017

Charlie Rose, too. At this point I’m starting to suspect anyone with a Y chromosome. Which is a pretty uncomfortable thought to live with. And I’m starting to see, for lack of a better phrase, “victim fatigue” among men I would typically consider solid allies.

@HillRat: Now it’s a pattern. That, for me, shifts the balance in his case from “Own up to it, apologize to anyone who will listen, face the consequences, and dedicate yourself to doing better” to “There’s the door.”

10:48 pm • Monday • November 20, 2017

@mellbell: I thought the point was to get these stories out while the national moment is ripe. Or maybe that monent is already passing.

11:07 am • Wednesday • November 29, 2017

Saw the Matt Lauer headline on Google News, clicked on “Expand Story,” saw a different headline referencing the Olympics, assumed they meant Summer 2016, clicked through, realized they meant Winter 2014. I guess that’s progress, versus it taking decades for the allegations to come to light, but still.

1:10 pm • Wednesday • November 29, 2017

@mellbell: Lauer? That’s so two hours ago.

1:49 pm • Wednesday • November 29, 2017

@nojo: Thought you were joking and then saw the Garrison Keillor headlines.

2:13 pm • Wednesday • November 29, 2017

@nojo: As Tig Notaro said in an interview with Stephen Colbert*, “They’re everywhere.”

*I don’t ask for much in this world, but please let him (aka my fantasy husband) not be a creep.

2:43 pm • Wednesday • November 29, 2017

CW superhero showrunner also just got shitcanned, but nobody knows who he is.

3:39 pm • Wednesday • November 29, 2017

Welcome to Lake Jobbegon

7:20 pm • Wednesday • November 29, 2017

I have to confess that I’m officially gobsmacked. I’ve always known that sexual harrassment and sexual assault were major problems, but even I was so ridiculously naïve that I thought society had improved over the last three decades or so, if only due to litigiousness. To my female friends, I’m sorry for what you’ve silently endured for so long.

As a man that has sex with men, I just find the attitudes of abusers to be completely baffling, and my failure to recognize the absurd power imbalance between heterosexual men and heterosexual women has been my blindspot.

The only thing I can imagine is that these men get off on power, domination, and undeserved social authority. It’s twisted and sick as hell, and I hope we’re quickly approaching a new day of zero tolerance.

9:51 am • Thursday • November 30, 2017

@¡Andrew!: Honestly, once I got over the initial (pleasant?) surprise of decades worth of stories emerging in the span of several days, I was not in the least shocked. Water is wet, y’all.

10:51 am • Thursday • November 30, 2017

@mellbell: Having grown up poor and gay in Arkansas in the 80s and 90s, I never thought of myself as “privileged,” in fact in college I scoffed at the idea.

Now I realize that my ignorance of this social crisis is the definition of privilege. Simply by virtue of being able to say no with my body means that I already have an unearned advantage. I guess that men I’ve been with could have forced me to do something that I didn’t want to do, but it seems unlikely.

And I don’t mean to discount the experiences of people who’ve experienced same sex harrassment, it just seems that men’s harrassment of women is far more pervasive and permissable in our society. Christ, I just wish that there were something concrete that I could do.

11:40 am • Thursday • November 30, 2017

@¡Andrew!: Something similar — but far less dire — is how I came to it.

Simply put: I don’t have to deal with the shit I hear about. Period. That’s privilege.

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