I have felt a sense of optimism from the recent wave of pronouncements against sexual harassment and in support of victims. There has long been a need for a more in-depth, broader conversation of this issue, but I realize this discussion is not forthcoming. While women have universally experienced sexually inappropriate behavior, it is also clear that women are not united in our response to this issue.
I understand the desire of politicians to assume the moral high ground concerning allegations against Senator Franken, but I also understand the practical dilemma of failing to engage in the tough discussion and press for meaningful structural change in our political process and society. It is insufficient to define the issue as one of moral indignation. The circumstance surrounding Senator Franken offered us an opportunity to advance the broader discussion around gender discrimination, sexual violence, and domestic abuse. More fundamentally, it offered us an opportunity to advance the dialogue about the relationship between men and women.
In its original statement of purpose, the National Organization of Women declared their intent to “…take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American Society now, exercising all the privileges and responsibilities thereof, in truly equal partnership with men.” Since then feminism has been undermined - at least perceptually - by an aggressive narrative of a man-hate rebellion. Feminism has become a conflict among women over divergent ideologies, competing with men for positions of power and influence while maintaining traditional social values around childcare, education, healthcare and social organizing. By demanding consequences without meaningful discourse around the relationship of men and women, I fear we have done little but reinforce that division, inviting a backlash that only serves to undermine the value of women’s social contribution.
I am dismayed by Al Franken’s resignation because I believe the ethics investigation would have placed a greater obligation on men to assess their relationship to the broader social narratives of women. I am disappointed that our most influential women leadership, Amy Klobuchar and Betty McCollum, have failed to take any public position on this issue. I do believe the ethics investigation should still continue.