Accept Shame

When the allegations of sexual assault came out against Harvey Weinstein, I wasn’t personally affected. I didn’t have a deep, personal connection to Hollywood culture. Of course, I stand by the right for women to speak out against treatment, and I am glad that Weinstein is facing real consequences to his actions, but I don’t feel that it made a tremendous effect in my life.

As more allegations flooded in accusing many men of power of inappropriate behavior, I began to realize that we are in the midst of a historical moment. As evidenced by campaigns such as #YesAllWomen and, more recently, #MeToo, the majority, if not all, women are placed in uncomfortable positions or subjected to unfair treatment on a daily basis. However, up to this point, there have been few successful attempts to force men in power to face their own actions, besides perhaps recognize that women experience difficulties in our lives.

Women are now demanding change in non-quantifiable ways – not just basic rights of property and voting, not just changes in the wage gap (not that these areas of women’s lives don’t also need to be changed). We are demanding change in how we are perceived and treated – a lesson that is more difficult to calculate and even more difficult to define. The questions that all of us are facing right now – the reports of men now refusing to meet women individually in a professional environment especially – are questions that we all need to grapple to improve our society and culture. We need to answer these questions strongly – NO, it is not acceptable to ask sexual favors of women or use sexual innuendos in a professional environment. But YES, it is acceptable and necessary to meet with women individually – we need mentors, too. We are moving and changing and will hopefully come out of the other side of this flood of allegations as a nation more aware of how we treat women.

It is in the midst of our nation grappling with these questions, and my confidence in the direction we are going, that the most shocking (to me) allegation has appeared. Today, Al Franken was accused of kissing and groping a woman he was working with, without consent.

It sounds ridiculous, I know – of course there are Senators and Representatives that commit sexual harassment. It is likely the largest source of “men in power” we could find in our nation. Additionally, Sen. Al Franken was an SNL comedian, known for making the occasional off-color remark.

He is, however, somebody I intensely admire. I voted for him in my first election in 2014. He, alongside Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, decorate my bookshelf at home. I eagerly share videos of him roasting fellow Senators and members of the Trump Administration that have committed wrongdoing. In times of bad news in our nation, I oftentimes seek out his comments, as they contain words of healing and wisdom, while other Senators oftentimes resort to generic responses defending their party’s ideology. He has been a man of great integrity to me.

It was a struggle for me to believe, in that context, the allegations against him. I wanted to doubt Ms. Tweeden. I wanted to defend the man I recognized – the man who was in a position of power. I knew objectively that I needed to doubt Franken, not Tweeden, but it was emotionally difficult to overcome that hurdle. I am ashamed to admit that it took me reading her entire story to view it as something to be believed, understood, and not scrutinized.

Shame – that is the key word to the pitch of today. Most of us need to take a moment (or several) to feel ashamed – roll in it, feel it, and think about it. Whether it’s shame in your own actions of the past, shame in your perception of others who are vulnerable, or shame in not standing up for somebody when you could have. Accept that shame and you will learn why we are all a part of changing our ways. If we all let shame enter our emotional dictionary, we can all work together to change the way our entire society thinks about women and sexual harassment.

I don’t have an answer on how to think about Sen. Al Franken after this. He should undergo an ethics investigation, as he accepts, and he should face the consequences of his actions. Whether he will be the Giant I saw him as before, I do not know. But I do recognize Ms. Tweeden as the teacher and brave victim of the situation. She is the person we should admire here.

This brief essay has also been very binary – and I do believe in the importance of intersectional feminism. Although (disclaimer) a large part of that may be due to my own position as a white, hetero, cis female, I hope it may be at least partly due to the nature of shame. It is the people in power – white men and women predominantly – that need to experience shame in order to change their ways. LGBTQ folks and POC have already experienced shame – placed upon themselves by others who don’t believe in their value. I don’t want to even pretend that I know what that experience is like, but I think we could all take a moment to be ashamed today – not just for women, but for all people who are just fighting to be treated equally.

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