You Broke My Heart, Franken
If you are a woman, and this month has not yet had you considering the merits of political lesbianism, it is possible that this latest news of Al Franken having sexually harassed radio host Leeann Tweeden has just about pushed you over the edge.
In an essay published on KABC.com, Tweeden describes her encounter with Franken during one of his many USO tours. One of the skits Franken had written for the tour included a bit in which he kissed her -- which she was not into -- and he apparently insisted they "rehearse" the kiss ahead of time.
This is what happened:
On the day of the show Franken and I were alone backstage going over our lines one last time. He said to me, “We need to rehearse the kiss.” I laughed and ignored him. Then he said it again. I said something like, ‘Relax Al, this isn’t SNL…we don’t need to rehearse the kiss.’
He continued to insist, and I was beginning to get uncomfortable.
He repeated that actors really need to rehearse everything and that we must practice the kiss. I said ‘OK’ so he would stop badgering me. We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth.
I immediately pushed him away with both of my hands against his chest and told him if he ever did that to me again I wouldn’t be so nice about it the next time.
Tweeden also asserts that after she started avoiding him, he got petty and mean. Later, she discovered this darling picture, taken while she was asleep, of Franken grabbing her breasts. (No, whether she is wearing a vest and whether or not he went for a full-palm grab or a "just kidding" finger touch is not relevant. He's humiliating her, and using her body as a grotesque prop.)
THAT IS SHITTY, AL FRANKEN. That is a shitty thing to do. It's not funny.
As a result of Franken acting like a creep, Mitch McConnell now gets the satisfaction of getting to call for an entirely warranted ethics investigation into his behavior.
Al Franken has done a lot of good over the years, both as a senator and before then. It is a goddamned shame that he could not have backed that up by being a decent person otherwise. I am mad about this. I am mad for the people he represents who trusted him and needed him to be a better person. I am mad for and at myself, because my first reaction to this was "please don't let it be true."
Franken, coincidentally, was on my list of men I would be genuinely surprised to discover were trash in this way. It was a very short list, which also included Mr. Rogers, Levar Burton, Vincent D'onofrio, Ralph Nader, Emo Phillips and Jonathan Kozol. I don't know why he was on that list. Maybe it was because it always seemed like he was in our corner, maybe because I found the Stuart Smalley book legitimately good for self-help purposes. I don't know. Maybe it was just wishful thinking.
As much as I would have loved for this not to be true, I'm glad it's come out. I'm glad all of this is coming out. Because with each incident, with each reckoning, it becomes more and more apparent to the men of this world that no one is the exception to this new rule. No one, no matter who they are, how beloved they are, is getting away with this anymore.
We have socialized men to think this kind of behavior is acceptable, even aspirational. We have taught men that with power comes not responsibility, but access to women and their bodies, like so many award show swag bags.
Franken has since issued a statement. It is a good statement, as far as these things go.
I am tired of these statements, whether they are good or not.
Let this be a lesson to all you men out there who hope to do any good in the world: We need you to not be shitty. To begin with. Not after the fact, when you release your "statement." We'd love to have you out there, with us, doing awesome things, but if you can't do that without sexually harassing or assaulting a woman, then you need to step the hell aside and make space for women and those men who can. That is the line we are drawing. So get with the program or go the hell away.
Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse