On Thursday morning, I stood alongside my slack-jawed classmates in front of a campus television, watching Minnesota Senator, Al Franken, announce his impending resignation from the United States Senate. In his speech, Franken appeared confident in his decision but danced around allegations that landed him at the podium in the first place. “I think it was the right thing to do. I also think it gave some people the false impression that I was admitting to doing things, that, in fact, I haven’t done,” NBC quoted. The New York Times has called it “the highest-profile casualty in the growing list of lawmakers felled by charges of sexual harassment or indiscretions.”
The more stories I read, the bigger the pit in my stomach grew. I remembered shaking Senator Franken’s hand at the Minneapolis Pride parade and bragging about his fantastic policies to my out-of-state friends. Someone I once admired was crashing and burning.
But the pit in my stomach wasn’t one of sadness. It was one of guilt.
I knew I shouldn’t feel sad that he resigned. I should feel satisfied. Relieved, even. Eight women have accused him of harrassment, so wouldn’t my disappointment make me a bad feminist?
The short answer? Yes.
As sad as it is to see a revered Democratic Senator leave office (especially amidst Republican support for a known pedophile), Al Franken cannot claim to champion women’s rights if he once engaged in behavior that actively suppresses them. Yes, people can change, and yes, it happened years ago, but hasn’t the same excuse been used for Moore? For Weinstein? If I dismiss even his most minor transgressions, what else might I condone in defense of other perpetrators I respect?
As a feminist, a Democrat and a Minnesotan, the allegations against Franken have challenged my ethics since the first story broke. But the fact of the matter is, Franken did something wrong. His policy doesn’t matter, his current intentions as a lawmaker don’t matter; none of that matters if he hurt the women he claims to support. If I won’t watch Tarantino movies anymore, I can’t support Al Franken and still call myself a good feminist.
“I think resignation is important because it shows that people who commit sexual assault and other acts of violence against women will not be excused or tolerated,” my sister said.
Supporting women is not a part-time job—you can’t clock out as soon as you want to believe the allegations against your favorite senator, director or morning-show host are false. In an age in which the left and right seem to be moving further away from each other by the minute, many of us are guilty of cementing and standing by our beliefs with ox-like stubbornness. I myself have accused family members and acquaintances of refusing to hear another perspective. Was my first reaction to Franken’s resignation inappropriate? Yes. But through willingness to accept that I was wrong in my initial stance, I was able to realign my ethics.
Believe in women. Support women. Whether the victim is Rose McGowan or Megyn Kelly, women’s rights cannot move forward if we do not allow ourselves room to grow as feminists and, for that matter, as decent people.