Go ahead. Call me biased. Say that I’m supporting Al Franken even though the revelation that came on Thursday goes against everything I believe as a feminist and an advocate for survivors of sexual assault simply because he’s a liberal and agrees with my own personal beliefs. You know what? You’re really not all that wrong.
For those of us who have actually paid attention since 1991 when Anita Hill gave the country a definable term for sexual harassment in the workplace, the recent floodgate that has been opened by the #MeToo campaign was not really a surprise.
While that campaign included the voices of survivors who disclosed every type of sexual abuse by every type of perpetrator imaginable, the news has of course focused on famous politicians and Hollywood stars, recognizable names that are the most shocking to the largest numbers of viewers possible. If one didn’t know better, they would start to believe that the sexual objectification and dehumanization women face is only in the workplace and only among those in certain high-profile professions.
It isn’t, and it never has been, a Hollywood or a politics problem. Sexual abuse, which includes sexual harassment, is a problem everywhere.
While the outpouring of survivor’s stories and the accountability their abusers have faced makes me hopeful for a future in which more people will begin to understand the issue and support victims, I do not feel that Al Franken should resign as so many have now called for. Before you point fingers and say this contradicts everything I’ve said so far, there are reasons why I feel this way.
There are many arguments online about why Franken should and should not resign. The most disheartening are those that pull the same “what-about-isms” so popular among Trump and his supporters. Why should Franken have to resign and not Donald Trump? Why should we lose a Democratic senator while an alleged child molester is poised to join the Senate? The acts committed by Trump and Moore do not, however, excuse Al Franken’s, and it isn’t a argument that I can support in this discussion.
What I do know is that Al Franken, along with his Democratic colleagues, have more consistently supported laws that empower women and make their particular political concerns central. It is almost exclusively a Democratic belief that single mothers should be able to receive financial support in order to see their children fed, housed, and receiving medical care, regardless of their ability to earn. It is Democrats who have stood behind one of the largest resources for impoverished women in access to reproductive health, Planned Parenthood. It is Democrats who are fighting for equal access to healthcare of all kinds, and for equal pay for women in the workplace, and for LGBTQ citizens of all genders to have the same rights as everyone else.
Those views are supported by his former female co-workers.
‘Many of us spent years working for Senator Franken in Minnesota and Washington. In our time working for the senator, he treated us with the utmost respect.
‘He valued our work and our opinions and was a champion for women in both the legislation he supported and in promoting women to leadership roles in our offices.’
Stripping away the sexual assault allegations from Donald Trump’s and Roy Moore’s pasts makes neither of them any better political candidates on women’s rights. Trump’s promises to stand for the LGBTQ community were broken even before he started, but his ban on transgender service members in the military is a policy that will hurt trans women and their families. He called during his presidential campaign for women who have abortions to be punished legally and has consistently chosen cabinet appointees and a U.S. Supreme Court justice who is anti-choice.
Roy Moore’s xenophobic stance against Muslims serving in Congress and his stance that same-sex relationships should be illegal are not just controversial, they are harmful to wide swaths of women across the country. His core beliefs, evident in his platform, make clear that his policy decisions should he be elected to the Senate will harm women everywhere.
Al Franken’s actions cannot be excused. They cannot be tolerated or dismissed. His commitment to fight for women’s rights as a congressman, however, is an important piece of the debate. While they may be hypocritical in light of the new revelations about his past, he has consistently backed legislation that has advanced the policies crucial to women: healthcare, equal rights, equal pay, and the right to make decisions about their own bodies.
The actions by Franken, shown in a picture that nearly every woman can see herself in at different and yet similar moments in their own lives, do not exist in a bubble. Sexual abuse is an issue everywhere, at every level of employment, in every field, by far more perpetrators than can ever be counted.
If the alternative to Franken in the Senate has even the slightest chance of being a Republican politician who supports policies that harm women, Republicans who will gladly dismiss and refuse to denounce entirely the actions by Trump or Moore, I’ll choose Franken over that alternative every time.
There is no guarantee that anyone elected to fill his seat hasn’t had a history of abusing those over whom he or she has power. There is a guarantee, however, because of a base that consists so much more largely of those most vulnerable among us who can and will vote Democrats out of office should they ignore the issues faced by women and other minority groups, that a progressive, Democratic senator will champion the policies we care about.
And at the end of the day, those policies benefit more women, while Republican policies have the potential to harm so many more, and that is the most important consideration for me in choosing how to move forward in this debate.
Featured image via Getty/Craig Barritt