Thank you for resigning last week from the U.S. Senate. It took courage and integrity and a strong commitment to what you and I both know is right for you to do this. I wanted to recognize that.
Mr. Franken, I am a survivor of rape and childhood sexual abuse and assault. My stake in this current movement to call out sexual predators runs deep. For many years, I have carried so much hatred and anger in my heart. For many years I have lived in fear. For many years, I have internalized these feelings so successfully that they manifest themselves simply in a deep and abiding SELF-hatred.
Throughout these years, I have become a keen observer of the asinine things that men (like you) do. I have come to understand, both through observation and through study, that it is our culture that raises you to not only believe you have a RIGHT to do these things but that you have a RESPONSIBILITY to do them if you are to be considered a man.
Mr. Franken, I know you. In my undergrad days, at the University of Michigan, I was the girl who hung out with guys like you at parties. You made me laugh. You were clever and quick and relentlessly liberal and desperately flirtatious in your nerdiness, with a tiny edge of sweetness. For an angry, young feminist in the early 90s, these were an intoxicating combination.
While I was in the Peace Corps from 1997-1999, I was assaulted by a man just like you (survivors are often re-victimized throughout their lifetime, Mr. Franken—until we can fully accept that our victimizations were NEVER anything like “our fault”). When he got drunk, he’d say and do inappropriate things. Many of the women in my Peace Corps group knew this already but, they said nothing and did nothing about the behavior because, ultimately, they felt bad for him. He was a nerd. He was a smart, witty, nerd who was desperate for our attention. And because women have been socialized to eat up every ounce of male attention they get – however inappropriate it is – the women in my Peace Corps group thought of his desperate, nerdy inappropriateness as “a little sweet.” But after he assaulted me, I told on him. Because I was a survivor, I recognized his ridiculous behavior for what it was: dangerous. As soon as I told our medical officer what he had done to me, the alpha male of our pack – a handsome, strapping young man from Jersey – was sent to me to tell me that I was a “bitch” and that “friends don’t tell on each other.” I guess he didn’t realize that I do not consider people who assault me, “friends.” I was ostracized from my group for the rest of my Peace Corps stint. There were two women in the group who would still talk to me after that. They were both survivors.
My first husband was like you too. JUST like you. Oh, I know you.
But Mr. Franken, the reasons this fellow Peace Corps volunteer and you, and my ex-husband, and all of these poor, nerdy boys get into trouble is that our culture has not taught you how to be a proper human. Indeed, it has pushed you – forcefully – to turn your back on what it means to be a proper human and instead, “BE A MAN!”
The message you get from our culture is to pursue, to push, to grab, to get, to take, to overpower, to destroy if necessary. The message you get from our culture is that we are no more than objects for you to play with. The message you get from our culture is that emotional maturity, intuition, intelligence and responsibility are weak. Communication is weak. Expressing desires – in a way that is not creepy – is weak. You can’t possibly be a “real man” if you have to ask for it.
And this is particularly hard for the nerdy boy or the dorky boy. Possessing few of the natural qualities that make aggression and objectification easy, the nerdy boy learns to pervert his intelligence, emotional intuition, propensity towards compassion into something unnatural indeed. Our culture forces you all to twist your innate “feminine” qualities in on themselves until you all implode. Usually, this happens in the form of some inappropriate behavior – whether that’s unwanted touching, stalking, or rape. Meanwhile, the girls you grow up with learn to accept your inappropriateness as a form of flattery or even love. So, this leaves you stuck in a pretty hard place – having no actual idea that what you are doing is so absurdly wrong.
But this is changing, Mr. Franken. We won’t have it anymore. Obviously, you know this now.
So, you are caught in an interesting time – both historically and personally. You could do what so many men like you have done before. You could retreat into the shadows of obscurity or small local offices or the pages of memoirs and go down with your ship. You could defend your predatory behavior until the day you die and stick to the story that men like you are the REAL victims. So far, Mr. Franken, you don’t seem like that type, so I’m writing to urge you to continue to take a different approach.
And let me say, in order to set you on the right path, that it is not a turning away from masculinity that we, as a culture, need. I am not asking you to berate men for wanting to be strong, powerful, and in control. Indeed, the qualities of the masculine protector are necessary for all of our survival – and in many ways, are the foundation of a healthy emotional life. More of us – of all genders – should seek these qualities. BUT… these qualities are only useful so long as they are tempered by those typically feminine characteristics of compassion, emotional intelligence, vulnerability, patience and empathy.
We all possessed all of these qualities as babies. We all had the capacity for strength AND vulnerability as children. We NEED to get to work on repairing the fissure our culture created in each of us between these two sides of ourselves– but particularly in those nerdy boys who wanted to inherently be everything they were told they should/could not be.
This is not an unimportant point: This fissure will not be mended by shaming sexual desire out of everyone. This fissure will not be repaired if we tell people to simply become more prude-ish and suppress their natural sexual desire. This will only continue to rip us further apart. A vulnerable acceptance of and openness to natural sexual desire is essential to move this conversation forward. Nerdy boys are not inappropriate because they have sexual desires. They become inappropriate when they are not taught the proper way to manage and express these sexual desires. Until we can put away our shame surrounding sexual desire, we will never be able to teach boys how to behave appropriately and we will keep producing sexual predators.
Mr. Franken, what I’m asking you to do is to take this opportunity to become a champion for Survivors. A TRUE champion. Take this opportunity to become a role-model and teacher to those men – especially the nerdy boys and young men – who are LOST in this wilderness of take-or-be-considered-weak. This movement to end sexual predation has long needed truly courageous, truly STRONG men who are willing to stand up and tell other men the exact nature of their wrongs and the exact way that they can fix it. Take the time. Gather your strength. Study. Write. Make the connections. Then, Mr. Franken, please, be that man.
Thank you for your time,