Well, he didn’t do anything to me.
That, in so many words, is what three dozen women who worked on “Saturday Night Live” said in a letter supporting Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) on Tuesday.
“What Al did was stupid and foolish, and we think it was appropriate for him to apologize to Ms Tweeden, and to the public,” the women wrote. And later, “We would like to acknowledge that not one of us ever experienced any inappropriate behavior; and mention our sincere appreciation that he treated each of us with the utmost respect and regard.”
Good, I guess? Franken has been accused of unwanted sexual contact by two women, including radio host Leeann Tweeden, but apparently he refrained from groping at least 36. Though this character testimony may at first seem relevant to any accounting of Franken’s misdeeds, look closer and it’s not the least bit helpful.
It’s unclear what the letter seeks to prove. (The writers, at least, acknowledge that Franken mistreated Tweeden.) The number of women a man didn’t assault does not matter if there are others he did. There are plenty of people the Zodiac Killer did not murder.
Refocusing attention on what Franken did right just distracts from what he did wrong. It also assumes a harasser abusing everyone he comes into contact with is the norm. That paints an inaccurate picture of workplace harassment, and it lowers the bar for behavior by suggesting that a bad man isn’t so bad after all if he’s only bad to some people.
“Sincere appreciation”? “Gratitude”? The letter-writers are thanking Franken for not groping them, instead of insisting that women should be able to take a grope-free atmosphere for granted.
The Franken letter isn’t the first time we’ve seen women speak up not to support women but to stand behind a man accused of harming women. Lena Dunham got hit hard over the weekend after she and a “Girls” co-writer mounted a similar defense of one of their colleagues accused of assault.
Dunham’s defense was worse; she claimed the accusation against her friend was “one of the 3 percent of assault cases that are misreported every year.” But she based that claim on “having worked closely with him for more than a decade.” Dunham, in other words, thought her friend was a good guy, just as Franken’s defenders from “SNL” see him as “a devoted and dedicated family man” and “an honorable public servant.”
The problem is, men who do the right thing sometimes can do the very, very wrong thing at other times. That’s why in the face of assault allegations it’s important to remember it’s not about the man – who the world thinks he is or who he has been. It’s about his victim and what he did to her. The Franken support letter reminds us of a matching reality: It’s not about who didn’t get hurt. It’s about who did.