The Trouble with Al Franken

by Anna Tennis

I’m sad about Al Franken. I’ve been reading some heartfelt responses to the situation, varying in timbre from sad and resolute to forgiving and freshly devoted to the new and improved Al Franken, the one who will likely emerge from a self-imposed ethics investigation much the way he entered it: somewhat marred, but essentially a good man in the eyes of those who always thought he was a good man, and a liberal blowhard to those who always thought he was a liberal blowhard. His reputation in the court of public opinion is bent, but not really broken. He can still look most of America in the eye. Compared to Louis C.K. and the rest of them — Woody Allen, Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore — those roiling pots of sexual dysfunction and predation, Franken is a tepid pool.

I’ll be honest — I was sadder and more surprised by the allegations against the men in my own camp: the liberals and artists, the progressive advocates who had been using their bully pulpits and mordant wits to shame and denounce the current administration and all of its gorked trappings as archaic and hateful, relics of a time before we knew that all people are people, and that other religions are equally inexplicable and sacred to the people who they are inexplicable and sacred to. So shame on me for believing that my men would be different.

I had done the math, long before the #MeToo campaign’s explosive and resonant thunderclap revealed, in the hastag, then in the stories, then in ubiquitous social media graphics (culminating in a click-and-download “METOO” frame for your profile picture) that every woman in the world had experienced some form of harassment, abuse, or assault (many of us, the hat trick — all three). I already knew that every woman I’ve ever known indeed had this experience.

Over the years of my adult life, I have traded these stories with hundreds of women. Sometimes we exchanged rueful tales of harassment at work — a boss who gave certain assignments to men versus women, or offered promotions to women he was attracted to, or gah, sleeping with.

I remember one woman telling me, at our kids’ shared sporting event, that she had left her job of 15 years. Without prompting, she detailed the most lurid and disturbing tale of sexual harassment I had ever heard. She described unbidden and unwanted gifts of lingerie, email rundowns of her physical appearance and what it made him want to do, and eventually, disdain and recrimination for her disinterest. This was a routine that cycled over and over again throughout her tenure. She attempted to stand up for herself, to tell him to back off. She tried to inform his superior, as well, but her concerns were dismissed with a more eloquent and lofty version of, “you’re pretty, and boys will be boys.” So she ate it. For fifteen fucking years. And finally, close to a nervous breakdown, she left the job to take a dramatic pay cut and, assumedly, take a minute to examine what that experience had cost her. While she was speaking, I didn’t share with her that I was dealing with a much lesser version — sort of a startup to her full-fledged corporation — of that at my employer.

My supervisor had begun to sit in my cube, on my L-shaped desk while I was at it. He’d sit next to my keyboard, spreading his legs wide to balance. I’d have to roll my chair back as far as I could get in the cube because I was essentially chest-level with his genitals. It was extraordinarily uncomfortable. He emailed me sexual jokes and told me on several occasions that he and his wife were not intimate. If we had been friends, if we were exchanging personal or intimate stories as comrades or companions, this might have made some sense, and I had attempted to frame it that way to myself. But hearing this woman talk about her experience revealed, in crystal clarity, what was actually happening. And I knew what I had to do. The next time he came into my cube, I put my hand on my desk and said, “Hey. I got you this chair.” I pointed to a chair that was wedged in the only remaining floor space in my cube, and locked him in a very hard stare. He sat down.

I had a whole speech prepared, but never gave it. I wish I could say that was the end of it, but it really wasn’t. He continued to tell me tales of his sexual exploits as a younger man, and he started to be sort of bitter and acrimonious about the work we had to do together, making passive-aggressive comments about my interest in working with him, because he was such “an old man.” He frequently commented on my physical appearance, and called me on vacation, just to talk, because he “missed me.” I still considered myself a victor, primarily because I had survived standing up for myself, and also because he never again attempted to physically get close to me. But the truth was that I was never comfortable around him again, and I had no idea how to fix that. Maybe more relevant to today’s situation, I had no idea how he could fix that, either.

On the day Louis C.K.’s apology for his actions ran in People magazine, I read the letter he wrote with the mistaken impression that what he had done was send pictures of his junk to subordinate co-workers (“dick pics,” affectionately). I read his letter with a kind of heartfelt sympathy and profound appreciation for the depth of his understanding of the position he put those women in: he clearly elucidated the impossibility of their consent, in that power dynamic. Asking a subordinate if she wants to see a picture of your wiener is not a question. The truth is that any request issued by the person with the power is always much heavier than any response, however vigorous, from the subject person in the discussion. I couldn’t believe, reading his letter, that he both understood and copped to that. While I was in the middle of canonizing him, my husband straightened me out, detailing what C.K. had actually done. For fuck’s sake.

I was less troubled by what he’d done than by how clearly he seems to have known exactly why it was so horrible to do. Maybe this illumination only arrived in latter-day discussion of his impropriety. But it’s hard for me to imagine that he, just a few years ago, wouldn’t have known at least that what he was doing was really, really wrong, even if he wasn’t sure precisely why. For the record, I was initially baffled why I had such a vigorous reaction to the idea of gently-captive masturbation versus the dick pics. It is some order of magnitude worse, obviously, but really, how far apart on the coital-ogre continuum are they? Can I show you my dick, and can I show you my dick, live?

But then I remembered that when I was 24 I was trapped, along with my sleeping son, in my apartment by a very drunk and very mentally ill male friend of mine who had decided we should be lovers. For four hours, I carefully negotiated with him to make him leave without harming me or my son. In order to get him to leave, I had to describe our first date and first intimate interlude in enthusiastic and exacting detail, to satisfy him that I was his, and would be his forever, so he could go home. Four hours. When I finally had convinced him to leave, I called the police and blockaded myself and my son in the bedroom until they arrived. He wasn’t arrested, because he hadn’t done anything illegal. He never laid a hand on me. Almost, but not quite.

In my experience, that’s what power feels like, when it’s abused. It feels like being trapped. Like being forced to smile and worm your conversation around itself to escape a request that you both can’t say yes, and can’t say no to. And underneath all of these stories, in the squirmy darkness that fills each of these women’s tales, is that same horrible truth: they couldn’t choose. That violation — the surreptitious control and elimination of their agency — is horrible.

So, when Al Franken’s picture emerged, that’s the familiar feeling I felt in my gut. The squirm.

I know and am grateful that he’s done so much for women — legislatively, he’s been a champion, helping author or sponsor many an endeavor that directly supports women’s rights and victims of sexual assault. I wonder, with equal parts glibness and sincerity, if he was troubled by his recollections of his indiscretions during those long senatorial discussions. Did he labor or obsess over whether comparable actions had hurt women he knew? Did he feel outrage, or like so many other perpetrators, did he feel or even encourage sympathy and understanding for fellow perpetrators, because he saw himself in them?

As I said earlier, I’ve done the math. If every single woman I have ever known has been harassed, abused, or assaulted (or all three), then many of the men I know have been perpetrators. It’s heartbreaking to contemplate. But it must be true, even with explosively productive predatory behavior by a large number of real monsters (like Harvey Weinstein and Roy Moore).

I feel for Franken’s position, and feel heartbroken for all of the terrible lessons our society taught men, at the same time it ruined women with the resulting monstrous creations. But while I mourn his, and other mens’ misfortune in being indoctrinated into such a nightmare circus, I still feel like the curtain has been pulled for long enough that they should know better, and do better. I can forgive and sometimes understand them, but they can’t stay where they are.

Because in order to do that — in order to deny women’s agency, autonomy, and human right to choose whether to say yes or no, each of these men had to believe that, on some level, they were allowed to do so. They had to believe, consciously or unconsciously, they were entitled to more freedom than the women they violated.

At the end of the day, my issue with Al Franken is simple. Because of all of this, if I ever had to work with him, if I ever even met him, I would feel uncomfortable. And I have no idea how to fix that.

https://www.perfectduluthday.com/2017/11/25/the-trouble-with-al-franken/


FACiversary - the Feminist Action Collective's 1 Year Birthday Party

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November 9, 2016 marked a historic moment in the United States and beyond. For many of us, it meant crushed dreams and abrupt whiplash as the brakes were slammed and the eight-year momentum of hope, change, and progress came to crashing halt with the election of a new regime that had already violated our bodies, our very existences, and would certainly violate our democracy as well. 

We gathered to mourn; we cried in shock and anger; and we grieved for the outcome that we hoped we might have passed down to future generations with pride. Yet in our tears and in our anger, we also found the desire—the necessity—to restart the momentum of hope and progress, to push forward, starting with our own communities. 

On November 9, 2016, the Feminist Action Collective was born. Over the past year, we have grown in number, and in strength. We have discovered a passion for activism and have committed our efforts to transforming our world in real and meaningful ways. As we approach our 1-year FACiversary, we are already planning ways to expand our membership and increase our scope, and with our community’s help, find sustainable ways to keep our momentum going. 

It all starts on November 9, 2017. The Feminist Action Collective is hosting a FACiversary Party to look back on and celebrate one year of incredible activism, community engagement, friendship, and prevailing triumph over grief. Last year, we cried and mourned. This year, we’re turning those tears in laughter and love as we resignify this date, put the grief behind us, and dance it out. Join us on Thursday, November 9, 2017 as we Turn the Beat Around.

School Board Elections: Is this what passes for "honesty"?

I’m not much of a Duluth School Board aficionado. I pay closer attention during times of controversy and contention, and generally, I guess I feel grateful that anyone is willing to take on the job: it’s not just a political role with all of the barbed consequences you’d expect, it’s also an incredible time commitment (five-hour meetings!). This year I’m paying much closer attention.

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We have so much work to do; the whole world feels divided. Whatever we can do locally, we should do. That’s why I need to talk about Harry Welty. I’ve heard for years that Welty is the cause of much of the dysfunction on the Board, and is obstructive and antagonistic when his peers disagree. To better understand what of this was rumor and what was fact, I read through Welty’s blog and watched School Board meeting footage. Welty’s blog is a collection of insults, condescension (to both peers and parents), rants, and outright bullying. He assaults the character and caliber of anyone who disagrees, calling them hysterical, inconsequential, or implying they’re stupid or irrelevant. Even cursory review of School Board meetings show him literally ignoring fellow members during decision-making, talking over peers, and dismissing or completely ignoring what his fellows are saying. More than ever before, we need leaders who listen, collaborate, and compromise. Welty does not, cannot, and will not - one great thing about Welty’s lengthy track record is that we can say that much with empirical certainty. I find myself asking whether the candidates he’s bankrolled (Bogdana Krivogorsky and Kurt Kuehn) can be expected to behave any differently.

The short of it is simple: a guy that resorts to name-calling, insults, and bullying has no place in any school system. That’s exactly what we’re trying to teach our kids not to do.

 

Anna Tennis

Duluth, MN

FAC Brings Humphrey Institute to Duluth with Help of Vote, Run, Lead

Event: The Status of Women in Minnesota - Presented by Deb Fitzpatrick

Local Women are taking a first step towards gender equity in Duluth. This effort is bringing Deb Fitzpatrick, of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs' Center for Women and Public Policy, to Duluth. While she is here the Feminist Action Collective, with Liz Johnson of Vote Run Lead, is hosting a public reception and presentation on the economic status of women in Minnesota and Duluth.

Join this preliminary opportunity to hear about pay equity here in Duluth.  

This is a FREE, public event, from 5:00-6:30 located at the Dr. Robert Powless Cultural Center is located at the corner of 2nd Ave. W and 2nd St. in Duluth.

Click Here for More Information

Common Ground - Public Response from the FAC

The Feminist Action Collective participated in the Common Ground Candidate Screening Forum at the Teatro Zuccone on April 30, 2017 as a display of our good faith effort to unite with local progressive causes. While intentions may have been otherwise, we, as an organization feel that it is vital to express our concern and disappointment with several aspects of the event.  

We were mutually committed to an egalitarian and fair platform in which candidates would be questioned, each offered equal opportunity to respond to identical questions posed with equal sincerity and opportunity to speak to the most serious concerns of citizens. As a multi-group collaboration, we failed to insure such a platform, and caused considerable damage, to attendees, and to candidate participants.

The Feminist Action Collective is committed to positive growth through education and evaluation of systemic bias and oppression. Like any other grassroots organization, we are passionate about discourse, and recognize the inevitability of both disagreements and errors. We also honor and value the role of consciousness-raising and evolution from both. We move forward with this in mind, asking our partner organizations from the Common Ground event, as well as our community at large, to come together, to be called in to work to be better. We must learn from our mistakes in order to grow together as a community. 


Please join us: 
Understanding Systems of Oppression
July 23, 3:00 - 5:00
College of St. Scholastica
Email femnaction@gmail.com to rsvp and get the room number. 

We're Paying Attention

The Men As Peacemakers (MAP) & us (FAC) teamed up for a campaign with the Duluth Homegrown Music Festival. 

Abigail Mlinar (FAC), Molly Josefson (MAP), & friend Image by Clint Austin, of the DNT

Abigail Mlinar (FAC), Molly Josefson (MAP), & friend
Image by Clint Austin, of the DNT

Here is an excerpt from the Duluth News Tribune about the project: 

"

A bit of poignant bathroom reading: "Everyone has the right to get faded — Intoxication (does not equal) consent" is a poster Homegrown Music Festival-goers might find in the men's bathroom at participating venues.

It's a reminder from the Feminist Action Collective and Men As Peacemakers to keep the festival safe for all festival-goers. The other version, which hangs in the women's bathroom, shows a sample of a yellow pin that designated "safe" people — available for helping anyone out of an awkward situation — will be wearing. It also lists PAVSA's 24-hour crisis line.

 

"Sexual harassment is a problem at festivals in general," said Abigail Mlinar of the Feminist Action Collective, which formed in November 2016. "Even in good places, bad things happen. We wanted to do something to participate."

"

Read more here:

http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/features/ae/4260843-were-paying-attention-local-organizations-work-keep-homegrown-safe-everyone

A Way Forward - An Open Letter to Council Garfield of Superior WI

Dear Councilor Garfield,

 

We write this letter to you knowing you are likely in the most trying and personally challenging time of your life. Before we go any further, we want to make one thing absolutely clear: our sympathy and our concern are not mutually exclusive. We feel both for you.

 

As a progressive labor candidate, we’ve watched you stand up against bigotry, castigating the former Mayor Hagan for his anti-Muslim remarks, and asking that he be held accountable. You fight for workers rights, for jobs, and for everyday people to have a seat at the shiny mahogany table that government can be. You’ve fought to attain this leadership position, and fought for the values and rights of your constituents and vulnerable people in that role. We are grateful for what you’ve done. You sought this role, and fought these fights because you are a leader. We’re asking you to be a leader, now, too. We know this isn’t the shape you imagined your leadership taking. 

 

We’re asking you to step down. But we’re asking you to do more than that: we’re asking you to get help.

 

We’re writing this to you, because you did something unthinkable- you terrified and abused your female partner. You lost control of your temper, you acted on your rage in inexcusable ways, terrorizing the person you love, shaking your own sense of yourself, and forever changing the course of both of your lives. It’s done. You are here, now. It might seem like this is the end of the story, but it’s not. You can’t undo what you’ve done. But what you do from here will be the measure of you. There has to be a way forward- for you, and others.

 

 

You have the terrible but incredibly powerful opportunity to show all men and women watching this play out – and the attention on this is national – that you are a leader now, too

 

Domestic violence isn’t just a problem between you and your fiancé. It’s everywhere. In fact, your own situation is an example of exactly how common this issue is. Men are not innately violent, and neither are women. We are taught to behave this way, our behaviors normalized and endorsed, enabled and hidden, until finally, someone gets hurt. That someone is almost always a woman. So we are asking you to lead for everyone, to forge a new path through what is likely a field of absolute shit, visibly, vocally, and with the same transparency and accessibility you have built your leadership around.

 

You aren’t the only man sitting in these shackles. But you are the only one sitting in such a high place. Please use your terrible situation to do something transformative- for yourself, and for all of the people who trusted you to lead them, not just when things were easy or simple, but especially when they weren’t. 

 

Sincerely,

 

The Feminist Action Collective

femnaction@gmail.com

FeministActionCollective.org

 

Equal Pay Day Speech by Gay Trachsel of AAUW & League of Women Voters

We were so happy to partner with such great and historic women's organizations in the Twin Ports area for the Equal Pay Day Rally today. 

The event's founders, AAUW Duluth, had a member speak about where we're at with pay inequality. She did such an incredible job that we wanted to make sure her speech did not go unpublished. She agreed to let us feature this here. 

Here is her message to the Duluth-Superior communities: 

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In 1963, president Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act.  1963!! Here we are in 2017, 54 years later where women still have to work many months into the next year to match the earnings of men of the previous year.  

  • For White women it is this month April.
  • For African American Women, the month is August.
  • For Native American Women, the month is September.
  • For Latina Women it comes in November!

We are talking 4, 8 9 11 months into the next year before women catch up to men's earnings.

The global wage gap is the "biggest Robbery in History" declared by UN Women, the international organization focused on the elimination of discrimination against women and girls.  Also the World Economic Forum said at present rates, it will take 70 years to close the gender wage gap and 170 years to achieve economic equality among men and women.

There are real consequences to this inequality.  This becomes a family issue.   Many households have women as the primary earner.  This limits their choices to make ends meet, to buy homes, health care, nutritional choices,  education limits and in lifetime earnings-- meaning reducing retirement savings and benefits.  A 1999 study study found that nationwide, working families lose $200 billion in income annually due to the wage gap.

The American Association of University Women and the League of Women Voters has been committed to promoting equity for all women.  Their public policy supports fairness in compensation, equitable access and advancement in employment and vigorous enforcement of employment and anti discrimination statues.  Both organizations believes equal pay is a matter of simple Justice.  In Minnesota, District 8, our district, we have the largest wage gap.  Women today are working more hours for longer periods in their lives and struggling to juggle work with family.

Workplaces that provide family health insurance, quality family care options, alternative sick leave options and job training and educational opportunities not only help support individual women workers but also contribute to healthier families and more productive communities.

 Let this be our legacy to the young girls and women of the future - eliminating the wage gap.