Why Al Franken should not resign

As a conservative woman who agrees with very little of what Al Franken stands for politically, and who finds his behavior off-putting, I can't believe I am saying this, but here goes: Al Franken should not resign.

These are some things I ask myself when trying to decide whether I think a person elected to public office should resign when accusations of sexual harassment arise.  Let me first specify that I am discussing situations involving two adults (not an adult and a teenager).  I am using these questions to make distinctions between different kinds of behavior when the media sometimes appear to lump all cases of sexual overstepping into a single category of sexual harassment with a zero-tolerance position.

  1. Did the behavior happen in the workplace?  Let's make a distinction between behavior in the workplace and actions taken outside it.  "Sexual harassment" was a term developed to deal with the serious problem of working women whose jobs were put in jeopardy by sexual advances from men in the workplace.  The single mother supporting her children, or any working woman, should not have to put up with sexual come-ons in order to keep her job.  Many years ago, the term "sexual harassment" was extended to educational situations to avoid having teachers and professors seeking sexual favors from female students who need an education to become more employable.  Unfortunately, we have trivialized these serious problems by loosely applying the term "sexual harassment" to casual encounters between men and women that have nothing to do with protecting the employment of women.  There is a difference between sexual boorishness and sexual harassment. 
  2. Did the man have power over the woman?  Power was for decades central to the concept of sexual harassment.  It is a serious situation when sexual advances are made by a man who can fire, demote, and write performance reviews about the woman he is harassing.  The power element was important because it made it difficult for the woman to fight back.  Power can make the difference between actual sexual harassment and crude, irritating behavior. 
  3. How long ago did the behavior occur?  I am uncomfortable with accusations from many years ago.  The facts are harder to sort out after years have passed. 
  4. Did a past allegation involve behavior that occurred before the accused person was elected to public office?  While descriptions of sexual come-ons are disturbing, the bigger question for me is this: has the accused man behaved respectfully and fairly to women in his current job?  If we are talking about removing a man from the job he holds now, shouldn't the behavior that leads to his removal (in most cases) have happened while he held the job that we want to take away?  If a man treats the women with whom he now works with respect, that should weigh in his favor. 
  5. Shouldn't the voters have a voice?  While a photo of Al Franken touching or mock-touching a sleeping woman's breasts and grinning at the camera is sophomoric and in my view disgusting, shouldn't the voters be the ones to pass judgment on this event?  It is a serious matter to undo the choice of the voters.  Let Al Franken face his constituents in the next election, where this photo is sure to appear in ads from the opposition. 
  6. Did the man back off in the face of a woman's objection?  In an imperfect world, some men will sometimes step over the line.  The important thing for me is whether the man responded to the woman's objection; backed off; apologized; and, most importantly, changed the way he treated her.  I would like to encourage women to have the strength to push back verbally.  Statements like "I'm uncomfortable when you say that"; "Take your hand off my butt, leg, etc."; "What are you doing?" while moving away; and so forth tell the man that his sexual attention is unwanted and unacceptable.  The burden of stopping men should not fall heavily in women.  However, I am concerned that the expectation of safe spaces may have sapped the strength of women to the point where some women no longer think they can, or need to, stand up for themselves.  Interactions between men and women are not always going to be ideal, and I would like to see women have the strength to object and thereby define what are acceptable encounters between men and women.  That is certainly not to say that men should feel free to make sexual advances.  However, pushing back can give some women confidence and strengthen their position if they need to take action.  In the case of a public official, I would also like to know how he responded when the woman objected. 

These questions are not meant to be a litmus test. They are meant to help sort out the issue of sexual harassment when making the grave decision to force someone from public office.

Robin Wolf holds a Ph.D from the University of California at Berkeley and is retired as professor of sociology at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California.

If you experience technical problems, please write to helpdesk@americanthinker.com