Suffragette City

Ten years from now, do you think we’ll be talking about where we were when Al Franken announced he was resigning from the Senate?

You never can tell.

It was a historic moment that had virtually nothing to do with Franken himself. In the grand cavalcade of sexual assault charges we’ve been hearing lately, his list—from fanny-gropes to tongue-thrusts—is appalling but pretty minor league. And the picture of Franken feeling up the well-protected breasts of a sleeping colleague on a tour could have been subtitled “Portrait of a Comedian Who Does Not Suspect He’ll Ever Run for Senator.”

Franken was a good politician, and many Democrats hoped he might grow into a presidential candidate. But it was his destiny to serve history in a different way. He was caught up in a rebellion of epic proportion, one that was not just about unwanted groping but a whole new stage in the movement of women into the center of public life.

For most of the long span of Western civilization, they were consigned to the home. (Back in the 1860s, the A. T. Stewart Dry Goods Store in New York City installed a ladies’ restroom in what was possibly the first acknowledgment that respectable women might be outside their homes long enough to need to go to the bathroom.) A century ago they won the right to vote, but it didn’t come attached to the right to walk down the sidewalk alone.

Over the last 50 years or so, the rules about a woman’s place were shattered. It’s still hard to appreciate how vast the change was. It began at a time when, in many states, jury duty was regarded as an inappropriate task for women since it would take them away from their housework. They almost never worked in the outside world unless they were too poor and desperate to stay in their proper place.

Now we live in a world where men who were hoping to hand over their business to the next generation, or maybe have a doctor in the family, look at their new baby girl without a shred of disappointment. I saw all this happen, and it knocks me out whenever I think about it.

But it’s a revolution still in the making. The struggle for equal opportunity is far from over, and men haven’t all adapted to the presence of women at the next desk, in the conference room or driving together to the big meeting in Dayton.

Some are lecherous bosses who think their power gives them a version of the right of the old lords to sample the favors of every girl in the neighborhood. Some are otherwise nice people under the deeply mistaken impression they’re so attractive no woman would mind a surprise hand up her skirt.

It was inevitable that sooner or later, we’d need to go through a huge social trauma that would firmly establish the new rules. And here we are. We’ve had three resignations from Congress this week. (One involved a lawmaker asking female staff members if they’d act as a surrogate mother. Try to imagine a female representative inquiring whether men in the office want to be sperm donors.) There are sexual harassment crises in state legislatures from Alaska to Florida. The entertainment and communications worlds are rocking.

The moment won’t really have arrived until the same thing is happening everywhere from Wall Street to Silicon Valley to fast-food franchises. But it’s a start.

Franken thought he was one of the leaders of the revolution. And he was, on a political level. But he’s an excellent example of why the uprising had to be extreme and dramatic. As the accusations mounted, he often claimed not to have remembered the incidents. It’s been a pretty common response in the recent uproar.

But we have to have elected officials—and movie stars, and journalists, and professors, and choreographers—who, when confronted with charges of feeling up a constituent or forcing a wet kiss on a co-worker, can honestly and instantly say: “Good Lord, no. I’d never do that.” Just as they would if they were charged with stealing cash from the register or kicking a puppy.

We haven’t had many opportunities lately to contemplate the world moving in exactly the right direction. But here we are. I’m sorry about Al Franken, but still—savor the moment.

Gail Collins


22 Responses to “Suffragette City”

  1. 1 janis December 10, 2017 at 2:06 am

    Thanks for the Gail Collins piece. I haven’t read her opinion pieces in a long time.

    Is the American public so drugged or so deluded that few remember their own actions? Do most even possess a small sense of credibility? I’m getting ready to tune out all of the incessant chatter, because ultimately it goes nowhere.

    • 2 bluenred December 10, 2017 at 6:51 pm

      If you are a human, and you do something Wrong or Embarrassing, you try to paper over the memory, so that it does not plague you. And if you believe what you did was Normal, you don’t give much thought to it all. Thus, a brutal rapist and violent serial sexual predator like Mongo, he probably has no recollection at all of the most recent accusation, that he tried to press his filthy blowfish Mongo lips upon a Fox woman in an elevator. If reminded, he would think: what is the big deal? It is my Divine Right. But he will not be reminded, because of the bizarre magical fireproofing Mongo enjoys on this issue: no one is Caring about the Fox woman. Just as the Alabamaniacs are not Caring that they are preparing to send to Washington a man who hits up newborns in the hospital.

      Collins these days writes mostly jokey, but this column was not that. I linked to it because her point is Real. This is, indeed, a moment. Boring old white men forever pounding the table for “revolution” are so fossilized in their atavistic amber-arrested visions of marching on the Winter Palace, that they do not understand that geniune, real, positive, cultural revolutions are occurring all around them, and all the time. This is one of them. And, as in all revolutions, in this one there will be excesses; elsewhere in the enemies of the people, Dowd quotes a female Dem who admits the steamroller is leaving behind roadkill that maybe should have been saved like that bunny in the fire.

      What the boring old white men with their ceaseless noxious farting about the necessity of an economic revolution do not understand, while Ellen Willis did, is that these sorts of revolutions are far more important than any nonsense involving money—which, after all, doesn’t really exist; but a figment group agreement kept alive in deluded human minds. What surely does definitely exist is the individual human being, and this revolution is about recognizing that a woman’s right to choose is not cabined to abortion, but also encompasses the right to decide who places his hand on her thigh, cups her breast, or sticks his tongue in her mouth. That right is now being very publicly asserted, and there is no going back. It may be now most prevalent among such as actresses and political interns, but in the end it will reach all women, include fry cooks, maids, janitors. Even as it spreads to other nations.

      The other night I watched a West Wing and was reminded of two other recent revolutions ignored or denigrated by those ceaselessly blubbering about the monies. In this episode, from circa 2000, gay Hollywood donors wanted the president to publicly oppose a bill introduced by some throwback that would ban gays in the military. The president had to explain that such a stance would be too politically toxic and so the gay people would just have to continue giving him their money while he stood mute and waited for the culture to change. As, of course, it since has. Only Americans whose knuckles literally drag on the ground now have a problem with “the gay”; that is all over now, and evolution has won. Elsewhere in the episode the president’s pollster was pressing him to come out in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning; the numbers showed the people wanted it. It is hard to remember it now, but back then that insanity was indeed all the rage. Yet here, just a few years later, when Mongo in the early days of his administration tried to call down the same jihad in his twitlers and his stump-spewings, everybody laughed and called him names. That thing is over. Just as the more and longer he shrieks and shouts in the twitlers about the Kneeling Negroes, the more the support for those men grows. A majority of the country is now on their side, and knows what they’re about. Just as for decades black people pushed to remove Confederate flags and monuments, and they were ignored; and then, after Dylann Roof went into the church, those flags and monuments were over; the governor herself brought them down. Mongo can slip on the sheet and chunder all he wants about the glorious slaver struggle, but he, and it, are finished.  

      I know the world is Good, and I know it is getting Gooder; I know that this is True, and that it is Obsverable; as Collins says: “I saw all this happen, and it knocks me out whenever I think about it.” I think it would be a good idea, as we daily awake to the crushing—but fleeting—Kafkaland of Mongo, to more often do just that: think about it.

      • 3 janis December 11, 2017 at 9:00 pm

        The Ellen Willis piece was intriguing and informative, and at least as relevant today.

        “ …On the contrary, they need the cultural issues, so they can continue to be elected to wreak their economic havoc. The culture war, in short, is not real. It is a “never-ending” series of “forgettable skir- mishes.” It is an exercise in triviality whereby “Because some artist decides to shock the hicks by dunking Jesus in urine, the entire planet must remake itself along the lines preferred by the Republican Party, U.S.A.”

        … If you aimed to understand it, you would have to try to understand the kulturkampf : what was the profound appeal of Hitler’s world view? Then as now, the mainstream of the left resisted this question, uncritically sharing the general tendency to attribute the Holocaust to an inexplicable outbreak of “evil.”

        … Its [radical right-wing] potent secret weapon has been the guilt and anxiety about desire that inform the character of Americans regardless of ideology; appealing to those largely unconscious emotions, the right has disarmed, intimidated, paralyzed its opposition.

        … But the left did not learn the obvious lesson—that to back away from fighting for your beliefs on the grounds that you have no hope of persuading people to share them is to perpetrate a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

        Despite, or maybe because of this government, significant cultural issues may ultimately be treated in a more benign way; led by the better natures of more of us.

        • 4 bluenred December 11, 2017 at 9:25 pm

          Yes, it is indeed relevant. And spot on.

          The cultural radical impulse is rooted in the core elements of the democratic ideal: equality and freedom. There is a clear logic in the progression from affirming that all men are created equal, with the right to choose their government, enjoy freedom of speech and religion, and pursue happiness, to demanding that these rights apply to racial minorities, women, homosexuals, young people, atheists and other groups in one way or another denied them; that the challenge to repressive authority extend beyond government to institutions like the corporation, the family, and the church; that the pursuit of happiness include freedom from sexual restrictions dictated by patriarchal religious norms; that free speech include explicitly sexual and anti-religious speech. Such demands, however, challenge not only deep structures of social privilege and subordination but our very definition of morality. All of us living in Judeo-Christian or Islamic cultures have imbibed from infancy a conception of sexuality—and desire more generally—as dangerous and destructive unless strictly controlled, of repression and self-sacrifice as indispensable virtues. Movements that encourage us to fulfill our desires are bound to arouse conflicting emotions, to intensify people’s yearnings for freedom and pleasure, but also their anxiety and guilt about such primal rebellion. An outpouring of social experiment and innovation liberates creative energies, but also rage—at oppression, at losses of status and privilege, at the sources of anxiety and confusion. Cultural radical demands immediately question and disrupt existing social institutions, yet building democratic alternatives is a long-term affair: this leaves painful gaps in which men and women don’t know how to behave with each other, in which marriage can no longer provide a stable environment for children but it’s not clear what to do instead. Is it really surprising that cultural revolution should cause conflict?

          To argue that this conflict has no political significance is to say that democratic values have none—never mind the blood and passion expended by democrats and their enemies. To argue that one’s “material interests” have only to do with economic class is to say that sexual satisfaction or frustration, bodily integrity and autonomy or the lack of same in the sexual and reproductive realm, the happiness or misery of our lives as lovers and spouses, parents and children are ethereal matters that have no impact on our physical being. (If abortion is a marginal issue, what about contraception, which was illegal in Connecticut until the Supreme Court’s Griswold decision of 1965?) To dismiss as “hallucinatory” people’s embattlement about what moral and cultural norms will govern their everyday lives and intimate relationships is to say that people (at least working class people) do not, under normal circumstances, care deeply about anything beyond the size of their paychecks. Nor does this view consider that culture and economics are deeply intertwined: the family, after all, is an economic as well as a cultural institution. (Is sexist bias in divorce settlements a cultural or an economic issue? What about women’s “second shift” in the household?)

          Suppose the left had consistently stood up for the principle of a feminist, democratic culture? Can anyone doubt that the political landscape would be different? It follows, surely, that if the left were now to push back on cultural issues, it would find Americans more receptive than it imagines. But for Tom Frank, the fact that the right has not decisively won the culture war leads to a different conclusion, reminiscent of Vermont Senator George Aiken’s position on Vietnam—that we should say we won and go home. According to him, nothing has changed culturally, and nothing will change, because our corporate rulers don’t want it to.

          It’s at this point that Frank crosses the line from merely being wrongheaded to committing the intellectual equivalent of criminal negligence. For a great many people, especially women, have suffered, and continue to suffer, from those practical effects of the cultural backlash that he insists do not exist, and therefore need not detain us.

          I suspect it’s of a piece with the denial that culture is important—a defense against the terror of radicalism that must be warded off at all costs. For some, there is also nostalgia for a time when white liberal men like Tom Frank were heroes, before they were robbed of the spotlight by blacks, women and gays, forced to confront private conflicts as public issues, and ultimately pushed aside by the right. There is something poignant about this, given the political bleakness of the day, but it’s an indulgence the American left cannot afford. We need to look not to the New Deal but to a new politics, one that recognizes equality and freedom, class and culture, as ineluctably linked. That we’re so far from this recognition makes Kansas the least of our problems.

        • 5 bluenred December 11, 2017 at 9:33 pm

          It is essential to note that your first quoted extract is from Willis’ summation of white-boy class-man Frank’s thesis. She does not at all agree with it. Quite the contrary.

          • 6 janis December 11, 2017 at 9:46 pm

            Good that you gave that context.

            • 7 bluenred December 11, 2017 at 11:36 pm

              White-boy Frank: “The culture war, in short, is not real. It is a never-ending series of forgettable skirmishes. It is an exercise in triviality.”

              No. I don’t think so.

              • 8 janis December 12, 2017 at 12:24 am

                The way these issues are treated by much of the media contributes to a sense they are trivial. The public is bounced from one sensational drama to the next, erasing time for reflection; diminishing its significance with each episode … until a critical mass refuses to forget and fight.

                • 9 bluenred December 12, 2017 at 6:40 am

                  That’s media right there. It isn’t treating that man’s issue as trivial. The significance is clear, the drama not sensational, but Real: his daughter is dead. Which seems to more concern him than the size of his paycheck. There is no critical mass, only individual human brings, free on this earth. As for fighting: “who wants to fight? An animal can learn to fight. But to say beautiful things, and to make people believe them . . . . “

                  • 10 janis December 12, 2017 at 8:39 pm

                    Roy Moore defeated – I guess that’s proof you’re right about the potential of the general media to sometimes affect positive change.

                    • 11 bluenred December 12, 2017 at 10:06 pm

                      I don’t know that I was saying that the general media can sometimes effect positive change. But it’s certainly true that it can. For instance, the general media is currently working to put Mongo in the penitentiary. Which is where he belongs. And has belonged, ever since his first real-estate deal, which was all mobbed up. Which anyone could have known, if they had been reading Wayne Barrett, 35 years ago. In the general media.

                    • 12 bluenred December 12, 2017 at 11:47 pm

                      In any event, the media most responsible for Moore’s defeat is the Showtime. This is because it aired Twin Peaks: The Return. And therein the good Dale Cooper was whisked out of the Lodge and into the corporeal container of one Douglas Jones. Cooper, in this new form, was no longer conscious of who he was, but, while in Jones, said Jones became possessed of strange powers, and things unusually broke his way. Just as, in Real Life, with the Alabama Jones. And so, by David Lynch: tonight, foretold.

                  • 13 janis December 13, 2017 at 12:09 am

                    ‘affect/effect’. It’s hard to tell the difference sometimes.

                    I’ve never seen ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’, but since it is Lynch inspired I may look for it.

                    Why is there no option for a direct ‘reply’ to your comment?

                    • 14 bluenred December 13, 2017 at 12:31 am

                      Because wordpress has some sort of built-in Hitler device that prevents people from continuing to reply after a certain number of replies have already been posted in the thread. Presumably this is to prevent those ghastly threads where the comments have only three or four letters on each line.

                      The Return is my favorite Lynch. He held out not only for final cut, but also for the substantial time and monies required to say what he wanted to say. And then he said it. It is all of what he is. The little boy growing up in the perfect sunny little Pacific Northwest neighborhood, who, one afternoon while out in the street playing with his brother, saw stumbling round the corner a naked, bloodied woman. She sat down on the curb, and cried. And David, he cried too.

              • 15 nancy a December 12, 2017 at 9:48 pm

                This Man with the Sign made a Difference. Grateful for him.

                It is never of “no avail”… .

                • 16 bluenred December 12, 2017 at 10:10 pm

                  He is a good man. He evolved. He is not afraid to say he was wrong. Publicly. And urge others, away from wrongness. Maybe tonight his pain is diminished a bit. He said what was important. And people heard.

              • 17 janis December 13, 2017 at 12:50 am

                Thank you.

                David Lynch contributes majorly to the collection of tears that replenish the ocean.

  2. 19 nancy a December 10, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    If Mall Moore takes Sweet Home Alabama (as he probably will) ~ then Al should stay…

    As Mr. Jones also said, “Let Yourself Go….” : )

    • 20 bluenred December 10, 2017 at 6:03 pm

      If they find out about David and the 15-year-olds, there will be wailings and lamentations. Especially now that the new thing seems to be that when a man dies, the MeToo people will go to the tubes and there expose his Bad Penis. David Cassidy, who died so recently I’m not sure he is even in the boneyard yet, is now being described as a rude, crude homing penis, who would follow women into the bathroom, and there Commence Groping.

      • 21 nancy a December 10, 2017 at 6:18 pm

        They did come for David over this when he died…

        Lou would say “those were different times..”

        but i suppose that is the Mall Moore argument too, isn’t it ” :/

        • 22 bluenred December 10, 2017 at 7:18 pm

          It is all, always, about consent. As the David gal said:

          Still, you were a 15-year-old kid and he was an adult man with a lot of experience, and power, and drugs. You don’t see any problem with that now?

          I was an innocent girl, but the way it happened was so beautiful. I remember him looking like God and having me over a table. Who wouldn’t want to lose their virginity to David Bowie?

          But did it ever feel like there was something unusual about it?

          No. You need to understand that my life has never been normal. I have always been special. I always felt like the universe was taking care of me.

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