The Pendulum Swing
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The Pendulum Swing

A lot of very positive things have happened in the last months, all of which have given important visibility to sexism in our daily work lives and to the still very much unfinished work of equal rights in every thing and everyway for women. The speed and attention to all this -- in months not years – has been extraordinary and promises to root very real change for women going forward.

Whether the kind of change that we are really hoping for happens and happens soon depends, at least in part, on whether the pendulum swing here does not go so fast as to begin to sow doubt and skepticism in the public at large. The numbers of women coming out to report inappropriate behavior by men is impressive and unprecedented. The number of men already paying the consequences also grows larger and larger every day.

But there are some dark signs of caution that we all need to heed. And, the most recent one came from Susie Tompkins Buell, a big donor and supporter of Democratic women politicians. She recently announced that she is contemplating withdrawing support from the female senators who called upon Al Franken to resign before his case had been fully litigated. She is especially unhappy with Kirsten Gillibrand, Senator from New York.

This is a key and important move by Buell. Gillibrand was clearly the leader of the group of female senators who served as judge and jury in the Franken matter. People have spoken of her as a potential presidential candidate, but her bullying of other female Senators and her leading the pack of accusers will, I suspect, be remembered for a long time to come. The Senator’s too hasty action was certainly front and center in Ms. Buell’s mind, and Gillibrand is not likely to enjoy her financial support going forward.

Gillibrand has set an example that should not be followed. While all that is happening is good for women and good for the country, we must remember, at the same time, that due process is the hard rock bedding of a democracy.

It is very good that women are coming forward and that men are being required to take responsibility for their actions. But as often happens at key moments of change in our society, there comes a dangerous tipping point and we have come to that edge already in the Franken/Gillibrand matter. In Franken’s case, things moved far too quickly to judgment. He fell victim to the herd mentality of tainting everyone without full and careful vetting, of treating all people accused of wrong doing as guilty before full and thoughtful review.

Although too late to help Franken, it is encouraging that Susie Tompkins Buell sounded the alarm. She has been to date the most important voice criticizing the Senators’ rush to judgment. Franken was too quickly condemned before he had the opportunity to contest the facts and to counter the accusations of his accusers.

Daniel Socolow
Daniel Socolow: President, Socolow Group. Former Director of the MacArthur Fellows Program, President of the American University of Paris, Vice President of Spelman College. BA, MA, Ph.D.

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