Kudos to Kate Harding for her Op-Ed in the Washington Post today. Having been the senior woman at a large law firm for 15 years (thankfully, there were one or two more senior during my first 5 there), I got stuck on the firm’s original Sexual Harassment Committee. That service was not pretty. And, of course, #MeToo. But, I’m also outraged and afraid about other things in these troubled times.
Harding’s article pretty much captures my take on how we should move forward. I recommend you read the entire article, but I’m excerpting the parts that felt most salient to me. The parentheticals to the author’s text are what I would have said were I writing it:
“If you understand what it means to be a Democrat today — that is, why it makes sense to vote blue over red in this highly polarized political environment — you can understand why it might not make the most sense to demand Franken’s resignation, effective immediately.
“I am a Democrat [in part] because I am a feminist who lives under a two-party system, where one party consistently votes against the interests of women while the other sometimes does not…. I am a realist who recognizes that we get two viable choices, and Democrats are members of the only party positioned to pump the brakes on Republicans’ gleeful race toward Atwoodian dystopia. [And, of course, oligarchy, white supremacy, and the Christian version of an Islamic State.] Meanwhile, I recognize that men’s harassment of and violence against women is a systemic issue, not a Democrat or Republican problem….Its roots lie in a patriarchal culture that trains men to believe they are entitled to control women’s bodies —for sex, for sport, for childbearing, for comedy.
“When you combine these things — an awareness that the Democratic Party is no more or less than best of two, and an understanding that men in power frequently exploit women — it becomes difficult to believe that Franken is the only sitting Democrat with a history of harassment, abuse or assault.
“Sexual harassment and assault are simply too widespread for Democrats to respond to Franken’s offense with only Franken [or some other predator Democrats from the past] in mind: We need to respond in a way that helps us develop a protocol for meaningful change.
“It would feel good, momentarily, to see Franken resign and the Democratic governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, appoint a senator who has not (as far as we know) harmed women. If I believed for one second that Franken is the only Democrat in the Senate who has done something like this, I would see that as the best and most appropriate option. But in the world we actually live in, I’m betting that there will be more. And more after that. And they won’t all come from states with Democratic governors and a deep bench of progressive replacements. Some will, if ousted, have their successors chosen by Republicans.
“In other words, if we set this precedent in the interest of demonstrating our party’s solidarity with harassed and abused women, we’re only going to drain the swamp of people who, however flawed, still regularly vote to protect women’s rights and freedoms. The legislative branch will remain chockablock with old, white Republican men who regard women chiefly as sex objects and unpaid housekeepers, and we’ll show them how staunchly Democrats oppose their misogynistic attitudes by handing them more power.
“‘Isn’t that hypocritical?’ I hear you asking, ‘Because Republicans won’t do the right thing, we shouldn’t, either?’ But if the short-term ‘right thing’ leads to long-term political catastrophe for American women, I think we need to reconsider our definition of the ‘right thing.’ I am in no way suggesting that we decline to hold Franken accountable for his offenses — only that we think in terms of consequences that might actually improve women’s lives going forward.
“But in a sharply divided political climate where toxic masculinity knows no party, yet is only ever acknowledged by one, we must think about how to minimize harm to women. One more empty apology and resignation, one more head on a pike, will not make American women safer or better off. Powerful men lifting up women’s concerns and supporting progressive women candidates, however, could be a real step toward changing the culture that makes victims of so many of us.”
Harding goes on to lay out a plan — a sort of plea to Senator Franken. I hope he takes her up on it.
It’s worth noting another thoughtful piece, this from Michele Goldberg in The New York Times on November 20. Goldberg takes a much more “on the one hand, then the other” approach. I excerpt only the one hand that I agree with:
“Feminists, enraged and traumatized by Donald Trump’s election, know they can’t expect accountability from Republicans, but they’ve forced it from people who claim to share their ideals. As a result, it sometimes feels as if liberal institutions are devouring themselves over sex while conservatives, unburdened by the pretense of caring about gender equality, blithely continue their misrule.
“It’s possible that feminists, in trying to hold Democrats to standards that they
wish were universal, risk unilateral disarmament.
“It’s a strange political fiction that anyone can really separate partisanship from principle. In general, the character of the party that controls the government has a much greater impact on people’s lives than the character of individual representatives. Those who care about women’s rights shouldn’t be expected to prove it by being willing to hand power to people devoted to taking those rights away.”
It’s pretty clear that Republicans are not separating partisanship from principle: A new Quinnipiac University poll suggests that sexual harassment is less of a dealbreaker for the party’s grassroots in the Trump era than it was before.
- By a 63 percent to 29 percent margin, GOP voters say they would oppose trying to remove Trump from office even if the multiple sexual harassment allegations against him were proven true.
- Half of Republican voters nationally believe GOP senators should let Roy Moore serve in the Senate if he is elected next month.
- 43 percent of Republicans say they would “still consider voting” for a candidate who faced multiple sexual harassment allegations, so long as they agreed with them on the issues.
- In contrast, 81 percent of Democrats said they would definitely not vote for such a candidate, as did 61 percent of independent voters. Perhaps we should cautiously assess the wisdom of that 81% in light of the earlier bullet points.