“He wouldn’t do it to Franni.” That’s what the writer Marilyn Suzanne Miller, a former colleague of Al Franken’s from Saturday Night Live, said after she found out about the recent allegations that the former comedian, now U.S. Senator from Minnesota, had kissed a woman against her will and had posed for a picture grabbing her breasts while she was asleep. But Miller was one of the only people who had anything to say about the fact that Franken was married when he was engaging in this behavior.
I know we are supposed to focus on Franken’s actions themselves—the unwanted advances, the nonconsensual groping. But spare a few thoughts for Franni Bryson, the woman who has been married to Franken for more than four decades. The two met during their freshman year at Harvard. In a story that Franken likes to tell when campaigning:
When Bryson was a baby, her father was killed in a car accident. He left her mother widowed with five children. The family was able to survive with the help of Social Security survivor’s benefits, and the GI bill but they often went without food or heat. Still, four out of the five children managed to go to college.
It’s a touching story and one that works well for Franken’s career, but one wonders how his wife feels about being used as a political prop while her husband is out putting the moves on other women. Some of Franken’s defenders have pointed out that his infraction occurred while he was a comedian, not a Senator. But the thing about these incidents is that there never seems to be just one. Unless a guy suffers a stroke or some other mind-altering event, he does not start forcibly kissing women or grabbing their breasts when he reaches his mid-fifties.
But worrying about Al Franken’s wife would probably seem too prudish these days. The entire “Pervnado,” as the New York Post has dubbed the fallout after Harvey Weinstein, has been about consent and power. The idea that respect for marital vows should have prevented these men from engaging in such actions is quaint, perhaps even naïve.
Of course, the same was true of our view of Hilary Clinton twenty years ago. We were too concerned with the salacious details of the Starr Report, the disgrace to the Oval office, the activities with a young intern, even the lying under oath, to even begin to consider the broken marital vows. And presumably it didn’t help that Hilary decided to stand by her man. (It looks like Franni is sticking around too.)
But it doesn’t help that infidelity in these cases is always viewed as an afterthought. Marriage is in a state of decline as it is; we don’t need more public examples of people ignoring their vows and other people ignoring them doing it. There has been some talk in recent days about how we need to start making distinctions among the different sins of these men. (On NPR’s “All Things Considered” last week, David Brooks suggested putting them into “different buckets.”). They worry that if we don’t, every man who looks at a woman the wrong way will be fired.
You know what was good for figuring out how bad your sins are? Religion. But oh, never mind.
As well, we should understand that while consent and power certainly matter in sexual relationships, they are not the only way that we judge people’s actions. Leeann Tweeden, the radio host who was groped by Franken, says she forgives him. But it is not only Tweeden he has harmed. Cheating on and publicly humiliating your wife of four decades is also worth notice—and criticism.
Image: By Lorie Shaull (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons