Senator Franken announced his resignation publicly last Thursday, Nov 7, on the Senate floor. Here’s why his speech is significant in light of the #MeToo movement.
The unique nature of the #MeToo movement, the nationwide cultural revolution that has taken down Harvey Weinstein, James Toback, and Louis C.K. among many other big names, is that unlike most other online social movements, it did not begin as an attempt to bring about immediate action or change.
The crux of #MeToo is to spotlight the prevalence of sexual harassment in our society, to unveil a problem that has been blatantly obvious to often only half of the population for far too long.
The sheer size of this potent social revolution has prompted TIME to name “The Silence Breakers,” the thousands of people across the world who have come forward with their experiences of sexual harassment and assault, as its person of the year for 2017, nudging Donald Trump and Xi Jinping onto the shortlist for second and third place respectively.
Beginning in Hollywood and quickly making its way through the film, music, and media industries, #MeToo is currently making its mark in politics.
Senator Al Franken announces his resignation
Since mid-November, Senator Franken has faced numerous allegations of sexual misconduct, prompting at least thirty-two Democratic senators to call for his resignation.
However, though many have been disappointed and shocked at the sexual misconduct accusations against Franken, the Senator has been largely commended for his remorseful responses. Leeann Tweeden, the first of at least six women who have accused Franken of inappropriate sexual behavior, spoke highly of the public apology that Franken made to her after she came out with her story.
“I think he really came from a place of honesty there,” Tweeden said of Franken’s early statements of apology in an interview with CNN. “I think that’s really where change is going to be driven from – not from the victims coming out and talking about it; I think it’s going to come from the people who maybe do the abusing that don’t even realize they’re doing the abusing because it’s so a part of the culture.”
But Franken’s speech last Thursday seemed to forgo an ideal opportunity to contribute additionally to that change.
Dissecting Senator Franken’s speech
The speech started on a hopeful note. “A couple of months ago,” Franken began, “I felt that we had entered an important moment in the history of this country. We were finally beginning to listen to women about the ways in which men’s actions affect them. That moment was long overdue. I was excited about that conversation, and hopeful that it would result in the real change that made life better for women all across the country and in every part of our society.”
Senator Franken then touched on how the conversation “turned” to him, much to his surprise. He described his reactions to the allegations: “I was shocked. I was upset. But in responding to their claims, I also wanted to be respectful of that broader conversation, because all women deserve to be heard, and their experiences taken seriously.”
But while Franken said that listening to the women who came forward was “the right thing to do,” he stated that his doing so “gave some people the false impression that I was admitting to doing things that, in fact, I haven’t done.”
“Some of the allegations against me are simply not true,” Franken continued. “Others, I remember very differently.”
“I am proud that, during my time in the Senate, I have used my power to be a champion for women – and that I have earned a reputation as someone who respects the women I work alongside every day,” Senator Franken stated. “I know there’s been a very different picture of me painted over the last few weeks. But I know who I really am.”
But despite his confidence in his own integrity, Franken formally announced his resignation on Thursday, though not without noting a colossal irony in his resignation: that “a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party,” while he himself is leaving.
Franken claims that his decision to resign is not about him, but rather “about the people of Minnesota.”
Asserting that “Minnesotans deserve a Senator who can focus all her energy on addressing the challenges they face every day,” Franken clarified and stressed repeatedly that his resignation was not an acknowledgement, on his part, of the truth of the allegations but rather a necessary action to provide the people of Minnesota with an effective Senator who won’t have to pursue his regular duties and the Ethics Committee process at the same time.
The Necessity of the #MeToo movement
Though it would be much easier to believe that Senator Franken is lying when he dismisses the validity of the allegations against him, when he says that he knows himself to be someone who has “a reputation as someone who respects the women I work alongside every day,” it seems far more plausible, unsettling as it may be, that Franken sincerely believes what he is saying.
Most of the time, sexual harassment does not take the form of “professional meetings” that turn into forced sex, as in the case of Harvey Weinstein or drug-induced assault, as in the case of Bill Cosby. Often, it masks itself in situations in which the perpetrator does not think he is doing anything wrong because sexual jests at a subordinate woman’s expense are laughed at in the office and a mock-grope photo of a sleeping woman should be taken as a practical joke.
Often, those who believe themselves to be good and decent people do things that are wrong and appalling, because their behavior is socially accepted and even encouraged if done humorously.
But, to be clear, whether or not the perpetrator is aware of the extent of his wrongdoings is irrelevant in determining the extent of the pain of the victims. In other words, just because Franken himself believes that some of the allegations against him “are simply not true,” or different than what he may remember, it does not by any means make them untrue or inconsequential.
By casting doubt on their validity of the testimonies of the women who have accused him of sexual misconduct, and ultimately using his resignation speech as an opportunity to insist on his moral superiority, Senator Franken has unintentionally proven the necessity of the #MeToo movement.
Those (like Senator Franken) who believe themselves to be principled and decent people, who believe that they would never intentionally hurt another person, will continue to do these things because they are ignorant of the consequences of their uninformed and oblivious actions. #MeToo, at its core, attempts to eradicate that ignorance, to render it useless as a credible excuse; it attempts to show that rampant sexual harassment exists in our society, and it manifests itself in anyone from the abominable Harvey Weinstein to the self-righteous Al Franken.