Is there a difference between Trump’s sins and those of an Al Franken?
Where is the #MeToo movement headed, ultimately? Are we women really going to feel satisfied if we end up with a culture full of righteous victims and banished perpetrators?
I have my own #MeToo story, involving an icky forced kiss from a shop teacher at school, when I was about 12. I was lucky, that was the worst that ever happened to me — a loss of innocence all the same. But I have friends and relatives whose lives were forever changed because of a violation, even decades ago. How to think about an appropriate retribution?
I have no doubt that the reason our time is now is because millions of us around the globe led the biggest mass protest in world history after Trump’s election. Wearing pink pussy hats, because of his notorious and shameful Hollywood tape.
Yes, we have Trump to thank for raising our collective conscience to the boiling point.
A brief moment to say that Trump, unrepentant, remains in a category by himself in this discussion. A criminal, still propped up by money and the necessity to use his craven hunger for power and attention to further the workings of the Republican machine — we can only hope he gets his due, and soon.
That said, here’s my problem with a number of the other men who have gone down in flames with a label of sexual harassment: I think there’s a difference between behavior that is criminal and behavior that is arrogant and inappropriate.
If someone like Roy Moore committed statutory rape 40 years ago, he should still pay a price today. Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby — their behavior was criminal. But what about men who were basically thoughtless, disrespectful and inappropriate? I think there is retribution owed — even more than an apology. But I get uncomfortable when I think about how the seeds of that behavior have been nurtured on both sides.
In the 1960s, our heroes John Kennedy and Martin Luther King were cheating on their wives and sleeping around. Women were taught to use their sexuality to snag a wealthy man for a husband. Popular culture was saturated with jokes and stories about the playful battle between the sexes. Really, by today’s standards, the entire cultural environment was inappropriate. So if a man thought he could pinch a woman on her butt or brush his arm against her breast, it was either considered rude — or flirtatious, depending on his charm, her motives, and their mutual intentions.
Because let’s admit, many women played that game too.
Then, we went through women’s liberation and the sexual revolution. So many social structures were breaking down. The concept of equality between the sexes was mind-blowing. We’re still trying to figure what it looks like in our relationships.
The German psychotherapist Bert Hellinger (1925–2019) counseled that when a relationship is violated — through a husband, for example, cheating on his wife, it is essential that the power balance be restored. Not through forgiveness, however, because then the relationship remains unequal, with the wife eternally the “better person.” Hellinger suggests that there be retribution: the man should give something to his wife — tangible or intangible, so that she feels they are back on equal ground again. Her choice.
This feels right to me — and healing. Let someone like Al Franken, or Garrison Keillor, or any other arrogant, thoughtless man abusing his power, donate a pile of money to Planned Parenthood and spend time working in a shelter for battered women. Let them give back to women and restore the balance. Make peace and be done with it.
But for those whose behavior was criminal, unacknowledged and without remorse: put them in a corner — or prison — with a dunce cap on and keep them there.