I will add my #metoo, but don’t feel like going into details. I will just say that in light of my past experience and Al Franken’s statement of apology, I’m realizing why some of us don’t tell at an even deeper level.
This is Al Franken’s statement:
“I’ve met tens of thousands of people and taken thousands of photographs, often in crowded and chaotic situations. I’m a warm person; I hug people. I’ve learned from recent stories that in some of those encounters, I crossed a line for some women — and I know that any number is too many. Some women have found my greetings or embraces for a hug or photo inappropriate, and I respect their feelings about that. I’ve thought a lot in recent days about how that could happen, and recognize that I need to be much more careful and sensitive in these situations,” according to his statement. I feel terribly that I’ve made some women feel badly and for that I am so sorry, and I want to make sure that never happens again.”
Summary: It’s super hard to be a guy in this society.
When I had my own experience, I felt confused and disappointed . . . in myself. I guess I didn’t say “no” assertively enough. He must have not really heard me, noticed my emotional state. I don’t tell because I feel stupid, as if I allowed it to happen. And that embarrasses me. I don’t want to admit I’m weak, that I don’t effectively stand up for myself. Whose responsibility is it? I, the woman, am the eternal gatekeeper of responsibility and consent. I can’t expect men to pick up on cues, to have basic human skills like noticing or being aware. Like Al Franken, it must have been all good intentions. My perpetrator was “a warm person” too, and that was the most confusing part. I’m sure if I were to contact him today, he would echo Franken’s words: I feel TERRIBLY that YOU feel BAD. I’m sorry for YOUR feelings about what you have (subjectively) perceived.
Gaslighting is a form a manipulation that evokes doubt and confusion in other persons, making them question their perception of reality. The gaslighter uses persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, blaming and lying to destabilize and delegitimize the victim.
What are the subtle manipulations potentially contained in Franken’s statement?
1.) Feigning innocence. He’s met TENS of THOUSANDS of people and taken THOUSANDS of photographs. Read: Surely, in that mass number of instances, there might be one or two slip of hands or misunderstandings. Furthermore, the situations were CROWDED and CHAOTIC. I know chaos places my hand on other people’s asses and causes it to contract. The crowds bump my tongue into other people’s mouths as well. All the people, all the chaos. How could we expect anything else? Quite a nicely crafted set-up for an “apology.”
2.) Feigning ignorance. He had to LEARN from stories. There was nothing in the situation itself that could help him decipher at the time any misalignment of comfort. I am very familiar with his statement of obliviousness. I often have wondered why I seem so adequately intuitive about a grimace or expression of discomfort on another human’s face or sense the holding of breath or tightening of muscles, but so many men I meet in these situations of unwanted affection are just like Al: oblivious. Can’t they catch the cues or hear our “no’s” or do they just not want to?
3.) Bolstering of the self. He’s “a WARM person.” He just likes to HUG. Gee, that sounds like a really nice human being. It sounds like a sweet teddy bear, and teddy bears don’t sexually harass (I haven’t seen the movie Ted, so. . . ). Warm people who like to hug don’t do bad things. Is that the implication? He’s even a sympathizer, an almost-advocate for women, mirroring the “one is too many” phrase.
4.) Misdirecting blame to the woman’s subjectivity. It’s not all women who have a problem. It’s SOME women. “Some” is a very popular word carefully reiterated in this apology. When I tell someone I feel bad for making them feel bad, I’m re-directing the focus from what I actually did. I’m not telling a person that yes, I treated her disdainfully and said some mean things. I don’t mention that at all. I’m saying that SHE feels bad, so let’s focus on that. Furthermore, the lesson that I’ve learned, if I’m utilizing the language of this apology, is not to not be an asshole. It’s to be more sensitive because SOME women need that. Good lesson.
5.) The Miseducation of Al Franken. This has just been mentioned in #1 and #4, but it bears mentioning in its own category. What do men need to learn, according to Franken? That they can’t be free and affectionate and hug because of SENSITIVITY. Not because these women who are speaking up demand to be treated as human beings instead of cattle showcased and prodded. Not because of basic human decency or ethics. Not because of mutual responsibility to do no harm. No, because they are unlike MOST women (because they are only some); because they are sensitive. The definition of ‘sensitive’? Easily hurt or damaged. Excessively or abnormally susceptible. Franken, thus, is apologizing for rare and fragile sentimentality, it would seem.
My take-away is that I need to be even more fiercely protective of my body in all cases and that men like Franken need to stop bull-shitting with a tickle-me-elmoesque I didn’t know tee hee. I just don’t want anyone reading Franken’s apology and thinking it is a good one to model. . . or that it is an apology.
This has nothing to do with religion explicitly some might say. Except maybe for the verse that keeps coming up in my mind: “Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them underfoot and turn and maul you” (Matt. 7:6). Fuck our politeness in crowds when we are getting groped physically or emotionally.
Let’s go ahead and raise hell exactly at that time and place, reserving our polite pearls for . . . well, I’m not sure how to finish this thought yet. But I have a flash of thought to swallow them and then shit them out on this apology.
Edited note: Frankenstein, in Mary Shelly’s novel, is not the “monster”/Creature. He is the scientist who creates the Creature and sort of escapes responsibility. I hope that clarifies my intent here and the analogy.
LaChelle Schilling, Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a book project titled Minimalism, Mindfulness, and the Middle Way, incorporating guidance from sacred wisdom literatures. She is also working on certification as a yoga instructor.
Categories: abuse, Abuse of Power, authority, Body, Breaking News, Consent, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Gender and Power, General, Herstory, Media, microaggressions, Rape Culture, Sexism, Sexual Violence