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The women of SNL do not understand that friend and assaulter aren’t mutually exclusive

Reuters/Gary Cameron
A friend to some, alleged harasser to others.
  • Leah Fessler
By Leah Fessler

Reporter, Quartz at Work

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Men like Al Franken, the US senator who recently acknowledged his inappropriate sexual behavior, are putting their colleagues in a difficult position: Disparaging someone who you’ve only known to be kind—but who has been publicly accused of harassment—can feel like betrayal.

Such is the case for 36 women who issued a statement today (Nov. 21) in support of Franken, their former colleague on on Saturday Night Live, the NBC comedy show.

The statement, titled “SNL Women Offer Solidarity In Support of Al Franken,” was released by NBC, via Twitter:

These women appear to be reeling after learning that Franken, who wrote and performed on SNL from its launch in 1975 until 1980, and again from 1985 until 1995, had been accused of groping and kissing radio host Leeann Tweeden without her consent during a 2006 United Service Organizations tour to the Middle East. There is photo evidence of Franken’s groping. The harassment took place before Franken became a Democratic senator for Minnesota, a post he has held since 2009.

It’s good that these women admit “what Al did was stupid and foolish and we think it’s appropriate for him to apologize to Ms Tweeden, and the public,” which he did. But Franken’s behavior wasn’t just stupid and foolish; he is accused of sexual assault, a criminal act. And while these women denounce groping and forced kissing, they appear unwilling to fully process that being a friend and a good colleague to some, and an assaulter to others, are not mutually exclusive.

These women’s justification for standing with Franken is that, in their experience, he has been a “dedicated family man, a wonderful comedic partner, and an honorable public servant.” “None of us,” they add, “has ever experienced any inappropriate behavior.”

What this justification translates to is that a harasser is only worth abandoning if he has harassed you, or someone you know. Undoubtedly, this position may be tempting when the person in the line of fire is a colleague you admire. But the harsh reality is that our workplace persona is not always indicative of our whole truth. Relying on our knowledge of colleague’s behavior in the office as proxy for who they really are can be ignorant, short-sighted, and dangerous.

This is not to say that we, whether we’re famous or not, should deny the internal conflict of caring for someone that has been accused of harassment. As CBS This Morning co-hosts Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell showed today, in their public reflection on the harassment allegations against their former co-host Charlie Rose, it’s certainly possible to express personal sadness and confusion, while refusing to stand by the serial victimization of women.

“I am not okay,” King said of her inner turmoil. “But Charlie does not deserve a pass.” A refrain worth learning from.

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