The revelations about Al Franken, erstwhile progressive hero, are beyond disappointing. But what surprises me most is that I’m not even a little bit surprised. Because Al Franken is a man. I’ve known a lot of men. And most, even those I’ve known only casually or professionally, have eventually tipped their privileged and entitled hand, if not their outright gross, predatory, and misogynistic one. Men I despised and men I liked, both, and men I didn’t even know well enough to form an opinion. The mental gymnastics it would take one to continue, at this point, to believe it’s just a few bad apples, are dizzying; this is a rotten tree growing from a rotten root going back 300,000 years.
Just Tuesday, a male employee at Home Depot touched me unnecessarily (in that I hadn’t stumbled, or gone unconscious,) at least 4 times on arm and leg while we discussed the relative merits of Ryobi and DeWalt cordless screwdrivers. And the sad part is, I don’t even think he was actively trying to be creepy. It just didn’t even occur to him that he shouldn’t touch a strange woman. Which is why I didn’t knock his block off. Most women have reasonably strong creep radar, and we have been trained to make allowances for the oblivious creep-adjacent types because, Christ, if we didn’t, if we had to spend our days cataloging and coping with every microaggression, every crossed boundary, every juvenile sexual innuendo, we’d do nothing else, and we’d slit our wrists. Among the male menaces we might have to deal with on a given day, a man touching my arm while he talks to me about screwdrivers in a public place is barely a blip on my fear radar.
And yet, it bothered me all the way home. That I, as a woman, and previously a girl, have to spend so much of my brain power, every day of my life, to keep myself safe in a rape culture, to protect myself from liberties taken, when men can go around blithely not having to think for one second about what they do, and whether or not they should touch a stranger in the tool corral. Because they’ve been taught, in word and deed, for generations, that women and their bodies are public property belonging to everyone BUT the women themselves.
The answer is no, not without invitation or pressing medical emergency, in case anyone was still wondering.
This is what women have been talking about for ages: the casual misogyny and entitlement that runs the gamut from puerile jokes, to lack of professional opportunity, to rape and murder, to the ridiculously light sentencing for those who rape and/or murder women (especially as compared to sentencing for property crimes). It’s all the same thing: a fundamental lack of respect for, or hell, even the most basic acknowledgement of, the basic humanity, dignity, and agency of 51% of the human race. It permeates everything, including the consciousness of every last one of us. And it bears noting that to extricate yourself from that kind of cultural group-think is a difficult and revolutionary act that takes a lot of thoughtful effort. Men of milder offenses might be somewhat understood for not realizing that their actions were actual psychological violence (sometimes paired with physical), but many women are unwilling to make allowances anymore, because men have been told. Again, and again, and again, and again, and more loudly every time.
It is not a question of not knowing what’s okay and what’s not. It never was. The fact is, we’ve all grown up in a culture that has allowed, encouraged, and barely consequenced even the most egregious offenses perpetrated by men against women, and even as story after story rolls out on the news ticker, there will be many men and women making excuses for the perpetrators, or blaming the victims thereof. It’s not that we never knew before Franken, Weinstein, and the rest that men frequently behaved badly. I can tell you that those of us raised girls were also raised to expect it. It’s not a secret.
What’s new is that victims of that bad behavior are starting to refuse to make the traditional allowances, and the bravery of some has conferred more bravery on others. Al Franken’s outing as a man who engineered situations to take stupid, gross liberties and violate a woman doesn’t make him particularly unusual, as men go. That’s the sad, bad not-news that’s been going on for ages. But he does symbolize the reality of, yes, goddamnit, pretty much all men–even pretty decent, admirable men–it’s really only a question of degree. The remaining question is, are men ready to evolve? Are they ready to end toxic masculinity and misogyny? Are they ready to step up? Are they ready to not just be good men, but better men? They need to. Because “good” has always been graded on a generous curve for men, and merely “good” compared to the worst men isn’t good enough anymore. Because our society has, maybe inadvertently, raised generations of warrior women who walk with their keys splayed in one hand and a can of Mace in the other. And we are done being fucked with.