This story reflects the views of this author, but not necessarily the editorial position of Fast Company.
This week a growing group of Democrats called for Senator Al Franken’s resignation. But there was also a large group of liberals who pleaded for him to stay put. The #Frankenstay coalition says that he was a political pawn because he stood in the way of Democratic party rallies against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore and President Donald Trump, two men who women have repeatedly accused of sexual harassment (in Moore’s case, underage women).
There are also critics who worry that the #metoo movement will only serve to punish liberal men who are already allies. The concern is that the movement will not reach men who most need to heed it (men like Moore and Trump who stubbornly deny their actions constitute harassment). But if all liberal men were indeed allies, then women would not need this reckoning.
The #metoo movement is calling into question the status quo of what is acceptable. For too long men have felt unjustly entitled to women’s bodies. Now, women are leading a national conversation about rewriting the rules. In that move toward progress, yes, some people are going to lose their jobs. Some people we like. Some people who have done many of the good things in life. That doesn’t mean that we should halt change in progress.
It is true that Franken was pressured to resign before he was given due process. It is true also that Franken supported the reproductive rights of women and other legislation that women benefited from. Various former colleagues of his also say he championed women, advocating for more female leadership in his office. His resignation will not necessarily wound either Trump or Moore politically. Republicans may continue to ignore similar accusations against members of their party. But this movement is much bigger than toppling abusive politicians.
It’s worth noting that the reason that women are suddenly speaking out in and beyond the press is in part because of fatigue with a justice system that has not supported their rights. The legal system didn’t bring justice for Anita Hill or Ellen Pao , and it hasn’t for countless other women. The law is designed in a way that makes it incredibly difficult for women to win sexual harassment lawsuits. Evidence can be difficult to provide, there are limits on how long after the harassment occurred that a person can even bring a case, and the rules vary state to state.
This social and political failure has led women to seek justice outside the normal venues. #Metoo is born out of frustration with an existing system that is not serving women.
Now some people want to use that system, the system that is in protest, to save Al Franken–a pretty hypocritical request. Men are being cast out in the court of public opinion, because the legal system wasn’t doing its job. That means, regardless of exactly how many butts he touched or forcible kisses he landed or the context in which he mimed the grabbing of a woman’s breasts, the tide of popular opinion has decided that it’s no longer acceptable to behave like that. It is certainly not acceptable for the person who represents you in Congress to behave like that.
Still, there are those critics of the #metoo movement are worried also that this calling out of men for sexual misconduct has gone too far. They cite a gray area of flirting where apparently it is acceptable to forcibly touch a woman. The problem is that a stolen kiss is not just a romantic gesture, it implies that consent is not always necessary and that is a dangerous gap. The idea that consent is nebulous is what keeps sexual harassment from being definable. There are also those who will say that Franken’s transgressions are not equivalent with the actions that Moore or Trump have been accused of. And they shouldn’t face the same consequences. Trump and Moore shouldn’t just have to leave their high profile positions, they should face far worse consequences. In her comments on Al Franken’s decision to remove himself from office, Kirstin Gillibrand said, “We should demand the highest standards, not the lowest, from our leaders, and we should fundamentally value and respect women.” The image of Franken pretending to grope a sleeping woman is illustration of an insidious belief that women’s bodies are there to be objectified–is that really our highest standard?
Progress moves incrementally. If we are lucky #metoo will lead to stronger legislation regarding sexual harassment and rape. Gillibrand is certainly calling for it. “Every workplace in America, including Congress, needs to have a strong process and accountability for sexual harassment claims, and I am working with others to address the broken and opaque system in Congress,” she writes. But do not forget that the reason those standards are not already in place is because of the foundational ways in which we value (or don’t value) women. That is why we are having this conversation.
Moments do not last, it is in the very definition of the word. Women must use this one to call out discomfort and dissatisfaction with how our country is being run because we do not yet know when we will get another one.