In America an accused murderer is considered innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and convicted by a jury of his peers. That is our system of justice, and it may not be perfect, but it's the best there is. Most of the time, it works pretty well.
Unless you're a powerful man accused of sexual harassment. Then the media jumps all over you, your peers condemn you, your employer fires you or you're forced to resign, your family abandons you, your friends turn away from you, and your life will never be the same again. All of this can happen without a single piece of actual evidence. We're watching it play out before our eyes right now.
Personally, I have zero tolerance for sexual harassment. The problem is, I don't know where the line is. I know what I consider to be sexual harassment, but people are different and women are not the same as men. According to the law, sexual harassment could be an inappropriate joke that someone finds hostile or intimidating. The problem is that what might be hostile and intimidating to one person may not be to another person. How are we to know who might be offended? And if we do say or do something inappropriate, shouldn’t we at least get a warning not to do it again?
Not if you're Al Franken. I don't like Al Franken. I didn't think he was funny as a comedian and I agree with almost nothing he stands for as a senator. This time, however, I'm on his side.
In case you're living in a cave somewhere, Al Franken was accused of sexual harassment by Leeann Tweeden. According to Ms. Tweeden, Franken “put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth.” At the time they were rehearsing a skit that called for them to kiss. I've been in plays that have called for me to kiss a woman and let me tell you that you absolutely do want to rehearse the kiss so it’s not awkward during the show. Rehearsing the kiss was perfectly appropriate.
Now let's keep in mind that Franken was a comedian, and they were rehearsing for a comedy tour. I've acted in comedies, and when you're in rehearsal you try different things to find out what's funny and what's not, what gets a reaction and what doesn't. I think its at least possible that he thought the surprise of sticking his tongue in her mouth would be funny. Turns out that it wasn't funny at all to Ms. Tweeden, but here's the surprising part to me: She didn't say anything. She didn't tell him to never do that again. She didn't slap him. She claims she pushed him away, but that's all. She didn't say anything until more than ten years later, when she said that this incident has angered her for over a decade. She has also stated that she did the tour with Franken with never a repeat of the “offensive” behavior. Also, if you read her story, she tells it differently depending upon what source you’re reading.
Ms. Tweeden's other claim of harassment has to do with a photo taken while she was apparently asleep. In the photo, Franken can be seen appearing to fondle her breasts while mugging for the camera. Again, I would remind you that Franken was a comedian at the time and trying to be funny. When I look at the picture its clear to me that his left hand was not touching her. His right hand may have been, but you can see shadow under his hand so its possible he didn't touch her with either hand. I think its clear that he thought that pretending to fondle her breasts would be funny, which is why he's mugging for the camera. I think the photo was in poor taste and not funny, but do I think that it was sexual harassment? No, I don't. I think it was juvenile and stupid, but for crying out loud, we have women being raped and in the greater scheme of things, this was not much of anything.
What was the response to these accusations? Well, no surprise that Elizabeth Warren condemned him. The Democrats are calling for his head, and Mitch McConnell is demanding an investigation. I'll investigate it for them right now: “Okay, let's see here. Show me the picture. Nope, no harm, no foul.” Case closed. Now if more women accuse him of something, it should be investigated, but let's not kill the guy until we know for sure that he's guilty.
The problem that I have with the Franken accusation is this: it deflects attention from true harassment. There are men in power who will use that power to harass women, and they need to be stopped. By focusing on the stupid antics of Al Franken, we lose focus on Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK, and Anthony Weiner and many others who all clearly have a more serious problem. No one, man or woman, should have to feel harassed or intimated in the workplace. We must all start demanding better behavior from everyone, and we need to do it now.
Of more concern to me is that many women, when they experience genuine harassment, are afraid to speak out. This is an enormous problem, and we have to figure out how to reassure women that their complaints will be fairly investigated and dealt with—while at the same time protecting the men who are accused until the accusations can be proven.
I'm concerned about posts I see from women asking if this behavior is typical of all men. Of course it’s not, and I can't believe that question is even being asked. There are over 150,000,000 men in America, and so far about thirty-five have been publicly accused … and some of them are probably innocent. The truth is that very few men are sexual harassers, so let's please stop the hysterics and just get on with fixing the problem.
I'll admit that I don't know how to do that, but do it we must.