In light of recent headlines, all men need to think hard about their actions

Informed Dissent

In light of recent headlines, all men need to think hard about their actions

There are, as recent headlines have made clear, an abundance of terrible men in the world – or, at least, men who've behaved terribly: Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK, Kevin Spacey, and that's barely the tip of the iceberg.

It's pervasive, this culture of power and abuse and sexual misdeeds. It belongs not to a party or demographic, but to the country as a whole. It's the nature of patriarchy; this is a part of us, and it's something we all need to reckon with, no matter how enlightened we imagine ourselves to be.

This is the backdrop I've been thinking about when I think of Roy Moore, the former judge turned Alabama Senate candidate who has been accused of groping and sexually assaulting and creepily bothering numerous young women, mostly teenagers, when he was in his 30s.

That Moore is, or at least was, a lecherous cretin is at this point only deniable if you choose to deny it. The evidence is manifest. Multiple women who don't know each other, most of whom were prodded by reporters to come forward, have all recounted similar accounts of Moore's behavior. He, of course, denies it, saying this is all a big political farce, that the "forces of evil" have conspired against him. (I'm on his email fundraising list, by the way, and it's a fucking hoot.) The truth is, he's just a creep, a man who tried to wield his power and influence to "court" young girls.

That Moore is a creep only adds to the bevy of reasons he's unqualified to be a U.S. senator, from his outright hatred of LGBTQ citizens to his reactionary theocratic politics to his defying of the U.S. Supreme Court, which twice caused him to be removed from the bench. But it will be the only one that sinks his ship, which is a sad commentary on American politics in itself, but that's a matter for another column.

Moore's actions have taken on another lurid layer because his victims were so young, and there's also no small amount of schadenfreude involved in watching a bigot get his comeuppance. But his sins, rooted in a culture that has for so long given powerful men permission to do as they please, are widespread and far-flung.

As I was writing this column last Thursday morning, news broke that a woman had accused U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, of forcibly kissing her backstage at a USO event in 2006 and then appearing to fondle or mimicking fondling her breasts in a photo taken while she was asleep. (It's hard to tell from the picture whether there was actual contact, not that that makes it any better.) Franken, in a statement, said he remembered the former differently, and the latter was a bad joke. As much as I've admired Franken – from his days on SNL to his work in the Senate – that's not good enough. Nor is it an excuse that this sort of behavior is commonplace in the comedic circles from whence Franken came.

There are, of course, several big differences between Franken and Moore. First, the nature of volume of the accusations against Moore; second, that when the picture went viral, no Democratic politician or pundit, at least that I've seen, rushed to defend Franken. He fucked up, and now he has to own it. By Thursday afternoon, he had called for an ethics investigation into himself.

That hasn't been the case with Moore, who has denied his alleged misdeeds and cast his accusers as liars. His most ardent supporters still have his back, even though the establishment wing of the GOP wants nothing to do with him. In fact, last week, after seven or eight different women (I've lost count) had leveled accusations against the judge, the Alabama Republican Party decided to stick with him. Steve Bannon and Breitbart are sticking with him. Trump, who himself has been credibly accused of (and has boasted about!) sexual misconduct by multiple women and became president anyway, has been assiduously silent.

As shameful as that is, it again cuts both ways. After all, numerous women made credible allegations against President Bill Clinton in the '90s, including a rape allegation. But Clinton was popular and the Republicans overreached in their quest to impeach him, so those things were airbrushed away in Democratic Party circles – probably to the detriment of Clinton's wife, who had to watch all these allegations resurface during her presidential bid.

All of this isn't to draw a false equivalence. The Democratic Party of 1997 is worlds apart from the Democratic Party of 2017. It's more progressive and diverse than it was when Bill was king, and its base has less tolerance for this sort of bullshit. (Its politicians are racing to catch up.) That's a good thing.

Rather, the point is that the last few months have exposed something malign in our societal fabric, and we all need to take stock. Looking back, as a man, I've been largely oblivious to it and probably benefited from systemic privilege without even realizing it. This isn't a confessional. I've never sexually harassed and never assaulted a woman, though I certainly made comments that, in retrospect, were caustic or degrading or otherwise untoward, especially in my 20s.

Somewhat ironically, Franken, in his statement apologizing for his behavior, said it pretty well: "Over the last few months, all of us – including and especially men who respect women – have been forced to take a good, hard look at our own actions and think (perhaps, shamefully, for the first time) about how those actions have affected women."

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