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An American in France on Sexual Harassment, Resistance, Bravery, and Pigs

Trump year 1

What have you done in the last year to respond to the upheavals in American politics?  This is an installment in a series of short essays that reflect on the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency.

I moved to France. I needed perspective and a break from the chatter. Along the way to self-imposed exile something profound happened in America — and then France followed. Something of once-in-a-lifetime magnitude. So I am doing what I do best: writing, initiating dialogue, encouraging introspection and calling out bullshit by its name: calls for other than zero tolerance for sexual abuse and harassment of women by men. No offender is exempt. A safe zone for brave women who step up to tell their stories and confront their abuser is of paramount importance. Sacred cows — and pigs — will fall. Mine is a singular focus on the cause célèbre of a lifetime.

Harvey Weinstein is an unlikely catalyst for a social movement. #Metoo. It’s a revolution, an uprising. By women, women who for the most part lack power and agency. Held hostage by fear of the heel of some man’s jackboot. It’s about power — resisting it, defying it, and confronting it. I am humbled by cross-generational profiles in courage. These women dared to take the heretofore chilling risk of losing their careers and their humility and their privacy. Theirs is profound stuff. As good as America gets when we get it.

Now is a precious moment, when the female body politic has risen with indignation and outrage at the inglorious misogynist Trump. Though he seethes with contempt for women, his hatred has emboldened rather than stifled them. He is losing. Across the nation walls of silence, non-disclosure agreements, fear and intimidation have been stood down by an armada of women. Pillars of power — male privilege — are being run out of town. Harvey Weinstein and Charlie Rose as metaphorical Jim Crows of the #Metoo movement.

Yet two months is but the beginning of a seminal shift in American culture. Eviscerating the systemic abuse, harassment and injury inflicted by men on women requires safety in numbers, and bountiful support. Unconditional support. It is a fragile bubble, delicate, to be safeguarded at all costs. It must be nurtured and protected by you, by me, by all. It is a movement too young to absorb tears and fissures in the social fabric that has sustained it.

That is why Al Franken must go. And all like him (read: John Conyers). Why? No man is as important as the next woman or young girl who fears speaking up because Al Franken got a pass. Their voices must not be chilled. Allowing outlandish behavior — Franken’s was no comedy sketch — to threaten the fragile safe zone necessary to allow for women to tell their stories is non-negotiable. Al Franken is a pig. He may be less malodorous than other abusers, and some may buy into his casting himself as a silk purse spun from a sow’s ear, but he is still a pig. Take a sniff of his parsed words.

“This is not something I would intentionally do.” he said. Intentionally meaning he would only grab a woman’s ass unintentionally? And “I’m very sorry if these women experienced that.” If they experienced… that?”! How dare he suggest that his intentionality trumps their experience? Franken’s if is dog-whistle speak for “these women may have lied.” Shame on anyone who stands up for him — especially political leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Pelosi in particular abandoned her “zero tolerance” policy in a clumsy interview on Meet the Press Sunday. Too many people like her miss the point, or cannot face it: this is not about Al Franken. It is about the women he abused, and the abused yet to speak out. His Senate seat will be filled by a liberal Democrat (a woman please) who will carry on. This moment is not transpiring in a court of law — it is a public rebellion in the town square. The judicial system will mete out criminality for those perps guilty of crimes. Franken is not a criminal. He is a bad actor impeding a zero-tolerance zone. An honorable man would step down. Al Franken is not an honorable man, yet.

Last weekend tens of thousands of French women took to the streets of Paris to protest sexual abuse and violence. France’s gender equality minister (yep!) and President Macron are supportive of laws criminalizing people for engaging in street harassment — catcalls and all — and strengthening gender equality. The French seem to be getting it. In an ironic twist French women have been blasting social media with the hashtag #Balancetonporc in the aftermath of WeinsteinThe French equivalent of #Metoo translates to “out your pork.”

Absolument. Out them. All of them. Until no man dares to do it again.

Jim Neal is a writer, political activist and second openly-gay US Senate candidate in history. He has contributed or been cited in the New York Times, New York Magazine, Bloomberg, the HuffPost, the Daily Beast, regional newspapers, and networks ABC, NBC, FOX, NPR, CNBC, CNN , the Daily Mail, Channel One (Britain) and ORF(Austria). He lives in Brooklyn, and is completing a collection of short stories and producing a biopic on Maria Callas.

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