Frankly, It Isn’t My Feminism
Reflections on Al Franken
I haven’t weighed in publicly on the Al Franken sexual harassment debate. I don’t have the time to engage in internet debates and I don’t want to alienate allies in the Democratic party, who feel very personally hurt and confused by his resignation. At the end of the day, all feminists must work together to end sexual harassment/assault. Further, as a Marxist feminist, I am in the extreme margins of feminism. I feel that my opinion means little to most people or that my opinion is a quaint anachronism that is tolerable so long as I do my best to work well with others. Still, I do want to share my opinion, as I feel very frustrated by some of the ways this debate has been framed. Thus the following is a laundry list of my Marxist feminist “pet peeves.”
1: Al Franken was a feminist/ally to women
Many people have expressed a sense of grief, loss, disappointment, anger, etc. because of the argument that Al Franken was an ally to women. I fundamentally disagree with this statement. He supported the Iraq war in 2003, he has supported airstrikes in Syria, voted for increased sanctions against Iran, approved the national defense budget, voted in favor of PROMESA, he supported Israel’s 2014 attacks on Gaza, against closing Guantanamo Bay, etc. I have said this many times, but internationalism is central to my feminist beliefs. US foreign policy is based upon promoting US interests in the world. The US has violently exerted its power in the interest of profit making. This has been done through countless coups and wars. What benefits the continuation violent US hegemony does not benefit women, does not benefit working people, does not benefit oppressed nationalities, does not benefit people of color, does not benefit the environment, and does not benefit the vast majority of the world that lives in poverty. It does not benefit our own people, who fight in these wars and who pay for these wars (at the expense of social spending towards education, health, jobs, environment, etc.). Supporting Palestinians is a feminist issue. Supporting Puerto Rican independence is a feminist issue. Supporting the end to US wars is a feminist issue. Politicians who support the status quo of US foreign policy- that is, those who do not question our right to play world police or the assumed moral superiority that nationalism grants us the right to starve, bomb, or destabilize other countries… is not in my opinion a feminist. Women happen to live ALL over the world. American women are no more important than women in Syria, Palestine, Pakistan, Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan, North Korea, or Iraq.
This woman in Gaza matters, along with thousands of other people who were killed/injured in Gaza in 2014. (Image from International Business Times).
2. It isn’t Fair that He Stepped Down
The “it isn’t fair” that he stepped down while worse Republicans remain in office is weakest, least morally courageous argument I have heard. If someone does something bad…something that has hurt women…isn’t the morally responsible thing to do …is take accountability, step back from public life, and quietly work to rebuild trust through atonement? It doesn’t matter if someone is worse, has done more, or others are not taking accountability. The “grown up” thing to do when a mistake is made is admit it, apologize, bravely face the consequences, reflect on what happened and how to prevent it again, and work towards remedying the offense. Yes, it certainly stinks to get in trouble for something when others are evading the consequences of their actions- but if a person truly believes that what they did was wrong, then the punishment of others should be of little concern. This could have been an opportunity to set an example of how to gracefully, genuinely handle the serious issue sexual harassment. Instead, Al Franken’s unapologetic resignation made him look like a petulant child- the same sort of behavior one would expect from Donald Trump.
3. Victim Blaming
One of the grossest things throughout this ordeal is the amount of victim blaming. Despite photographic evidence of Al Franken groping Leann Tweeden, her credibility was attacked because of the bawdy nature of comedy, her conservative interests, her history with Playboy, etc. Victims who have not identified themselves have even been blamed for not having the courage to reveal themselves- which implies perhaps they are not credible. Worse, some people bemoan the fact that Al Franken was SUCH a good politician. Why, he might have had a chance at becoming president some day! Oh my! Well, Brock Turner was SUCH a good swimmer! That pesky sexual assault got in the way of such a promising athletic career. When people bemoan “what could have been” it blames victims for ruining the careers and futures of offenders. It is true that groping a sleeping woman is not the same as raping an unconscious woman. However, there has been a great deal of minimizing Al Franken’s behaviors. Eight accusations of unwanted touching and kissing IS a big deal. And yes, Trump’s pussy grabbing and Roy Moore’s grabbing, dating underage women, forcing an underage woman’s head to his crotch, and other allegations of nastiness also matter. ALL of this matters. Everyone should resign. Everyone sucks. But please, believe victims!!
4. Get a Woman into Office!
Another pet peeve has been that the solution to all of this should be the appointment or election of more women into office. Indeed, the socialization and social position of women in society has not lent itself to the same kinds of oppressive behaviors. Women are more often the victims of sexual harassment and assault because women it is a method of social control of all women, this keeps women in their place, men feel entitled to women and have historically been entitled to women, women are not socialized to be sexually aggressive or exert control over men in this manner, victims historically and currently are not often believed, this behavior often goes on without consequence, etc. However, this argument is troubling for a variety of reasons. For one, it reifies gender. That is, men and women are different, women are naturally better or less violent/gross/terrible, and the solution must be to include more women in power. I think that this oversimplifies the problem while reinforcing the gender binary. It assumes that there is some evil kernel within all men that makes them sexually harass/assault people. This also ignores transgender, gender queer, gender fluid, or the many other ways to express gender and that these individuals are ALSO often the victims of sexual assault. It also makes the issue a matter of who is in power rather than a matter of power itself. Returning to the first point, women in power can be just as terrible- if they are promoting capitalist interests. The world does not need more Condoleeza Rices, Madeline Albrights, Angela Merkels, Margaret Thatchers, and Hilary Clintons. Yes, these are women, but they all promoted policies that have hurt women. While it is less common, men can also be victims of sexual assault and harassment. Women can sexually harass and assault each other in same sex relationships. So…this argument is very base to me. It does not tackle some fundamental issues of power or broader issues of feminism beyond sexual harassment.
Beyond this critique, this is a disempowering message to feminists. This message says that the best thing we can do is hope for a female politician to save us! Gross. We should be out in the streets. Every night should be Take Back the Night. We should be blocking roads and walking out of our work places in protest of sexual harassment/assault. We should make power FEAR US. We should not accept that power should be replaced by a female face. We should take back power. We should become power. Politicians of both parties should fall over themselves to resign, because they fear the rage of millions of mobilized men, women, gender non-conforming, queer, trans, etc. people in the streets demanding not only accountability….but the destruction of patriarchy itself. This is a great opportunity for building a mass movement against the machinery of sexist oppression. A woman will not save us. We must save ourselves….and this planet. The politicians will scramble to follow our lead. If we are smart, we won’t give them the luxury of promises.
I am sure I could go on, but these are some of the main “peeves” that have angered my socialist sensibilities. I know that everyone is struggling with these issues. I know that activism is a path- there is always room to grow and change. I don’t wish to shame my fellow feminists. I just…feel like I am alone in the wilderness sometimes. I am not a Republican or a Democrat. I don’t have any skin in that game. I want a new game, with new rules, and new players, and a lot more winning for everyone. I’m tired of playing Monopoly or Risk. We are ALL losing. We will ALL keep losing if we can’t change the discourse and step out of the realm of elections and politicians and into the realm of building the power of mass movements…and labor movement.