Writing shortly after the accusations of sexual harassment against Senator Al Franken, New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg said Franken should step down. Though she is a liberal Democrat who admires him, she wrote that “if Franken doesn’t step down, Republicans will always point to his behavior when they are accused (as Trump has already done in a tweet).”
Though she had second thoughts within a few days, Goldberg felt pretty strongly directly after the charges were made against Franken. She ends her piece with these words: “The question isn’t about what’s fair to Franken, but what’s fair to the rest of us. I would mourn Franken’s departure from the Senate, but I think he should go, and the governor should appoint a woman to fill his seat. The message to men in power about sexual degradation has to be clear: We will replace you.”
While the very last sentence is a bit ambiguous, a not unreasonable interpretation (given what precedes it) is that we, women, will replace you, men. And she was not the only Times writer saying that the governor (a Democrat) should take that action in the Franken case, were he to relinquish his seat.
Lately, it is becoming more and more apparent that men are imperfect. And while I haven’t done a careful study of this, it seems to me that many men who have made major contributions to society are often far less than perfect in the area of sex. There are at very least rumors about many highly accomplished men, and in some cases, such as President Kennedy, the evidence is overwhelming that he had sex with numerous women outside of marriage.
But in the case of John F. Kennedy, thus far it appears that the sexual activity was legal and consensual. Such is not the case with Anthony Weiner (who appeared to be a rising star, until his predilection for sexting ultimately involved a minor), Harvey Weinstein, Franken, Louis CK, and Charlie Rose. But each of these men has given us much, often in ways that have been beneficial to women, and it may be a real loss to our culture if they can no longer contribute in a substantial way.
Have women also contributed substantially? Of course. And we should welcome more and more of their contributions. But simply replacing flawed but often brilliant men with women may cost us dearly in the future. And ultimately it would be discriminatory.
I have long been troubled by EMILY’s List, which raises money only “for pro-choice Democratic female candidates” for election.
For me, the candidate who should be endorsed by progressives should be the one most likely to win and then best serve the cause. But if a female is running against one or more men, say in a primary, even if she is less likely to win in the general election than one of the males, only she can possibly get the endorsement, and the money from EMILY’s List (EMILY stands for “early money is like yeast”). There is at least one case where this may have occurred. This was in 2010 when, in a special election in Massachusetts, for U.S. Senator following Sen. Ted Kennedy’s death, EMILY’s list supported Martha Coakley against her male rivals. She won the primary (though without getting a majority of the vote), and then lost to Republican Scott Brown in the general election. Many felt that she was by no means an ideal candidate.
Sometimes it’s just a comment from a well-known woman that indicates a feeling that we’d better off with women in office. In 2011, after revelations about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “love child,” former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm said, in a tweet, that we should elect more women governors. She wrote, “Another guy guv admits 2 cheating on his wife. Maybe we need more women governors. Guys: keep ur pants zipped, for Pete's sake."
And then there is the workplace. After a number of well-publicized sexual harassment and assault allegations, including those against Harvey Weinstein, New York Times journalist Claire Cain Miller wrote about how in work situations, (heterosexual) men were becoming – understandably – reluctant to meet one-on-one with female employees or colleagues. One possible solution she mentioned was to “have more people at the top of companies who are not straight white men. In interviews, women in companies with many female or gay executives were more likely to say one-on-one relationships had never been an issue for them.”
Yes, men’s sex drive can be a problem, but do we throw out the baby with the bathwater? Do we work hard to replace men with women in order to avoid potential problems around male sexuality? And talking about babies, one of the reasons our world has produced many billions of babies over the centuries is because of the powerful male sex drive.
Women should not have to be the victims of harassment or sexual assault. Men do have to learn to control what is a very powerful urge. But to argue that because men – often brilliant, productive, and progressive men – should simply take a back seat because of their sexuality will not serve our future well.