Sexual assault is wrong. Let me start with that. Also, what Senator Franken did is sexual assault. And he has admitted as much in his apologies. But “Franken Too?”? No, not “too”. At least not when we are talking about Moore and Weinstein and Trump and Spacey and Rattner and Wieseltier and Nassar and Toback.
We’ve got some very different degrees of sexual harassment going on here. On the one hand, as is the case in that list of names above, there is either proof, admission, or overwhelming anecdotal evidence that for some people, sexual harassment is a way of being. It is how they work. It is how they function. I didn’t know a thing about Toback before all this came out but 100s of women!? I didn’t know there was enough time in a career to be that much of a pig. To me, Weinstein is one of the worst because he is one of the most powerful and because he used his position and his employees to set up encounters specifically to aid in his depravities. These are all crimes and “treatment centers” are not sufficient. Jail seems more appropriate.
Moore is a slightly different case because for him, the problem does not appear to be current. With no women accusing him of anything recent, it seems likely that he is currently a law-abiding Christian who does not harass women. This solid Christian thing he does now could be his way of repenting for his chasing of young girls. Or it could be the way he keeps himself from chasing young girls now. Whatever the case is now, it seems clear that it was not the case then. No, Moore’s accusers are not all working in cahoots as part of a partisan effort to undermine him. (Refuting that nonsense is another post.) He sought out young girls in a predatory and criminal way. This isn’t just harassment. This is absolutely a crime. The fact that he behaves himself today should not diminish his past criminal behavior. Yes, he would need to still be tried in court before he could be found criminally guilty, but if a court case happened, a conviction seems certain. And that’s why McConnell is on the right track when he states that Moore is unfit to serve in the senate.
On the complete other end of the spectrum is Franken. He is accused of doing two things: inappropriately kissing Tweeden in a USO skit rehearsal and groping her while she was sleeping on the plane home. Franken has admitted to the latter and basically admitted to the former. But let’s evaluate more about the situation. Franken was on the USO tour to entertain troops due to his background as a comedian. Performers in the stand-up comedy business and skit show business reportedly behave in ways that would make an entire HR department resign. And if Franken was still in that environment and working with a woman comedian, it would have been in appropriate but I suspect she would have found a way to get him back and then both would have laughed about both sides of it and then used it for material in their next act. But it wasn’t a woman comedian, it was Tweeden who was on the USO tour because of her past as somebody who Hootered, modeled, was in Playboy, and had been a sports presenter. And while Tweeden is used to being objectified in her line of work and it’s why she chose to be there and what she expected on stage, she expected more of her fellow USO performers backstage. That’s a perfectly reasonable expectation and her consent to objectification is different from sexual assault. So Franken’s mistakes here were in applying his former workplace norms to a different environment and a with a person who is not a colleague in the same way and perhaps mistaking the fact that she had made a career of being objectified as an indication that she would be okay with being an unwilling object off-stage too.
Similarly with the picture, he thought it was going to be a funny thing to do with a colleague. Why? Well, pranks on sleeping people are classic. And what better way to prank somebody whose career originated in showing her breasts than by grabbing those breasts. Besides, the flak jacket was still on and if a flak jacket can stop a bullet, it can stop groping hands, right? And the picture wasn’t included to make her feel bad, it was included because it isn’t a good prank if the prankee doesn’t know they have been pranked. So including the picture for her is a way to make sure she is in on the joke. Everyone laughs. Except they didn’t. Again, Franken misread the situation and misread their relationship. She was not a colleague who wanted to be in the prank scrum but somebody who wants control of when she is presenting as an object and when she just wants to be a normal person sleeping.
In both cases, Franken misread the situation and something that might in some circles be considered funny is not at all when the people involved have different interpretations of relationships and norms. It was not Tweeden’s responsibility to make those clear to Franken and she is right to be hurt and to report it as sexual assault. But to lump Franken’s mistakes here in with the likes of what Weinstein did because they are both entertainers or to even mention it in the same breath as Moore because one is a sitting senator and the other is trying to be a senator is to completely discard nuance and draw parallels that are actually perpendiculars.
We can be certain that there are other sitting senators who have done worse than what Franken is now known to have done. The only difference is we don’t know who they are or what they did. And we may never know. But let’s not let Franken’s mistakes legitimize Moore in any way. Or be lumped in with those who are actual sexual predators like Nassar. Franken should answer for his mistakes with whatever is appropriate but he is absolutely still qualified to be a senator while Moore is most certainly not. And if McConnell can’t see a difference there, then he is the one who is turning the situation into partisan politics, not the accusers of Moore.