Don’t Tell Me That You Don’t Remember: The Convenient Amnesia of Men Held Accountable

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Don’t Tell Me That You Don’t Remember

The Convenient Amnesia of Men Held Accountable

Today, with a smug look on his face and no conviction in his voice beyond bitterness, Senator Al Franken resigned from the U.S. Senate. The resignation comes after weeks of women coming forward to accuse Franken of groping, inappropriate behavior, and sexual harassment. Photographic evidence proves that Franken groped a sleeping woman’s breasts while smiling at the camera on a 2006 USO tour. It was clear from his statement that he didn’t really want to resign. It was clear from his statement that he felt himself a victim. It was clear from his statement that he absolutely wasn’t sorry. Because it was clear from his statement that he didn’t think he ever did anything wrong.

Earlier this week, John Oliver grilled actor Dustin Hoffman on allegations made against Hoffman for his behavior in the past, which included unwanted sexual advances and inappropriate sexual comments made to a then 17 year old production assistant on the set of the 1985 film Death of a Salesman. Hoffman clapped back at Oliver’s questions, becoming increasingly defensive, and digging himself even further into a hole. Because it was clear from Dustin Hoffman’s words that he wasn’t sorry. Because he felt he had nothing to be sorry for. Because he didn’t think he ever did anything wrong.

As I watch this pattern unfold, my blood boils hotter and hotter and hotter. At this time in America, women are feeling emboldened to step forward and reveal the ways in which they have been violated by men. It is truly inspiring to hear the voices of these women exposing the truth of so many men in power. And at first, it was a comfort to hear that our voices were being heard.

But they’re not being heard. Not really. Everything is being done now to drown out the voices of these women with empty apologies and feigned ignorance.

As a woman in America, I have been catcalled more times than I can count. I have been propositioned, groped, grinded on. I’ve had men say disgusting things to me. I’ve been called horrible names for turning men down. I’ve received heinous messages on dating sites, asking to see my ass, my boobs, would I join a threesome, how about anal. I have been followed. I have been assaulted. I’ve had my talents doubted, my emotions belittled, my entire being violated. I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t share similar stories, or far worse ones. It is not a secret that this happens to women all of the time, every day, no matter who you are or where you live. It has always been happening.

The thing about these incidents of sexual harassment is that I remember them. Vividly. In fact, I will never forget them. Ever. They live with me every day, and they continue to happen. Every woman remembers. So to hear the likes of Al Franken and Dustin Hoffman claim that they don’t remember doing what they are being accused of, or that they remember it differently, is a slap in the face.

I have maintained that there are two kinds of predators: Those who are actively preying on women, and those who don’t think they’re preying on women. I truly don’t know which is worse. Both speak to a severe rape culture that we have here in America. Both exist in a system in which men’s crimes and transgressions are “open secrets” with no consequences. In which powerful men in Hollywood become untouchable villains enabled by the money around them. In which Brock Turner can penetrate an unconscious woman’s vagina behind a dumpster and get little more than a slap on the wrist. In which the President of the United States is a man who openly bragged about “grabbing women by the pussy” simply because he could.

When Oliver and Hoffman went back and forth on that panel, Hoffman was defensive, remembering things differently. In fact, he claimed he didn’t even remember this woman who accused him. Franken, too, claims he doesn’t remember, or that he remembers it differently. My first reaction is that they’re lying–of course they remember. How could they not? They all remember. But maybe they don’t “remember,” because they never thought they did anything wrong. How horrifying is it to hear that what a woman claims was unwanted groping is seen by the man to have been a casual, comforting gesture? For too long have men been able to look at their lives throughs the lens of privilege, power, and absolutely no consequences.

When confronted with the accusations against them, Franken and Hoffman both spoke about their character, their respect for women, and how these actions are not who they are as people. Both issued statements of “apologies.” And then both backtracked, proving that they don’t think they have anything to be sorry about. But this is their character. As Oliver said to Hoffman:

'It’s ‘not reflective of who I am.’ It’s that kind of response to this stuff that pisses me off. It is reflective of who you were. If it happened and you’ve given no evidence to show that it didn’t [happen] then there was a period of time for a while when you were a creeper around women. So, it feels like a cop-out to say ‘well this isn’t me.’ Do you understand how that feels like a dismissal?

All of us have done things in our past that we are not proud of. Whether those things are forgivable is up to those who were hurt and affected by those actions. It’s possible that a truly sincere apology could have a healing effect. And it would be so easy for both of them to apologize, and do it with real conviction, humility, and remorse.

But Hoffman and Franken aren’t having self-reflective moments where they see their behavior in a new light and are sincerely sorry for the pain they have caused. They are behaving at the advice of a publicist through a written statement, because when you hear their own words, their “apology” falls apart.

Here is what Franken said in his statement today (emphasis mine):

“Over the last few weeks, a number of women have come forward to talk about how they felt my actions had affected them. I was shocked. I was upset. But in responding to their claim, I also wanted to be respectful of that broader conversation. Because all women deserve to be heard and their experiences taken seriously. I think that was the right thing to do. I also think it gave some people the false impression that I was admitting to doing things that in fact I haven’t done. Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others I remember very differently.” 

Hoffman, too, maintains his innocence, saying that he made a statement based on the advice of his staff, and in so doing he was immediately presumed guilty by the court of public opinion.

The gall that these men have is sickening. Not only have they committed unwanted acts against women, but they see themselves as the victims here. Their actions and their words have said that they know the correct thing to do is apologize and say that they respect women, and they’ll pretend to do that…to a certain point. After that point, they’re going to maintain that they don’t remember all of the totally not wrong things that they claim they never did. What a delusional world these men live in–one where they have been enabled to dissociate their behaviors so that they don’t see themselves as predators. It’s 1984 doublethink: I both believe and respect these women, while at the same time I don’t believe and respect these women.

Franken’s brazen audacity to cite the irony that he is resigning amid sexual assault allegations while Trump is in the White House and Roy Moore is all but guaranteed a seat in the Senate is particularly despicable. He may as well have said, “It’s not fair that I have to leave when all of these other sexual predators get to stay!” The real irony here, Al Franken, is that you don’t see how you are absolutely no different or better than Trump and Moore and all the rest of these men who have been accused as you have.

Because the truth is, you did do something wrong and you know it. But sure, go on and keep saying you don’t remember it or you remember it differently. If YOU don’t remember it, then maybe you should just take the word of the woman who hasn’t been able to forget it from the moment it happened, who will remember it for the rest of her life.

Al Franken said today, “I may be resigning my seat, but I am not giving up my voice.”

No one wants to hear your voice. Stop talking and disappear.