Sexual harassment on the run? Brace yourself for a backlash
As we chatted about Sen. Al Franken's embarrassing photo, a male friend acknowledged being unsettled by it.
"I wouldn't want to be remembered forever," he said, "for the worst 20 seconds of my life."
Right. Who would? Yet, that may well be the fate of the Minnesota Democratic senator and former "Saturday Night Live" cast member's fate. Leeann Tweeden, a Los Angeles radio anchor, released the photo to back up her allegation that Franken kissed and groped her without her consent during a USO tour to entertain troops in the Middle East before he ran for the Senate.
A tsunami of sexual misconduct allegations by the rich, famous and powerful has shaken the sensibilities of people in both genders, as we try to recall anything we might have said or done in the past that would violate the stricter standards of today.
Unfortunately for Franken, the few seconds that it took to photograph his acting out moves he now deeply regrets have been joined by another controversial moment. He has been hit with a second charge this week by Lindsay Menz, 33, who says Franken grabbed her buttocks while taking a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010, after he became a senator.
Add to that CBS' suspension of Charlie Rose, co-host of "CBS This Morning," after eight women accused him of sexual harassment, and The New York Times' suspension of White House correspondent Glenn Thrush over allegations of sexual misconduct involving younger, female journalists.
Plus, there was Buzzfeed's Monday report that Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, privately settled a former staffer's complaint that he, too, had made unwanted sexual advances.
And all of this occurs while national Republican leaders try to persuade Roy Moore, Alabama's Republican Senate nominee, to drop out amid charges that he had improper relations with teenaged girls. Even allegations by several women of sexual assault by former President Bill Clinton have been resurrected by Democrats who want to be consistent with their calls for accountability by President Donald Trump for charges other women have made against him.
There is a "reckoning" going on, as various commentators have called it. Touched off by the Harvey Weinstein scandal, bizarre and astonishing even by Hollywood's standards, and enflamed by the "#MeToo" social network movement and various websites, the Great Reckoning has rolled like an earthquake from Hollywood to Washington and beyond.
Polls show how serious the problem of sexual harassment has been for women, compared to us guys. More than a third of American women -- 35 percent -- and 9 percent of American men say they have been sexually harassed or abused in the workplace, according to a new poll released Tuesday by "PBS NewsHour," NPR and Marist Poll.
But a number of feminist writers also warn of an inevitable backlash. Like the civil rights movement and other periods of great social change, big feminist uprisings tend to be followed by big counter-movements urging a slowdown or reversal in the change.
Think of the presidential rise of Donald Trump following that of Barack Obama and you'll have an idea of what I'm talking about. Remember how "political correctness" kept rising as an issue in Republican campaigns? Pushback against liberal social rules sounds more appealing when the rules appear to be too strict, misguided or unfair.
For that reason, as a self-described feminist, I think there are at least three new rules that feminists and allies should remember in a period like this:
One, calibrate. Remember that every crime does not call for capital punishment. There's a big difference between Franken's bone-headed horseplay, for example, and Moore's alleged improprieties with of teenaged girls. We should express those differences in deciding what penalties or ostracism is appropriate.
Two, don't try to be more outraged than the victim is. While some call for Franken to resign immediately, Tweeden said she thought that would be excessive. We should at least listen to those who have been offended before deciding what to do about their offenders.
And, finally, we all need to learn more about how the other side thinks. Men and women live in very different worlds, judging by the polls and numerous conversations. We guys need to keep those conversations going before we start mansplaining. Women, we need your help, even when some of us don't seem to want it.
(E-mail Clarence Page at email@example.com.)(c) 2017 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.