Al Franken and Male Behavior

The current upheaval over sexual harassment has many people challenging their assumptions as well as their behavior. Many women have begun rethinking what sexual harassment actually means, what behavior from men they are willing to accept, and what becomes the final straw. Men are being forced to rethink what they say and how they say it as well as what they do.

Al Franken, Leeann Tweeden, sexual harassmentI think these changes are good for us as a society—and long overdue. As I have written previously, our culture has changed its norms in the past and we can do so again. The Al Franken on-camera transgression raises another issue, however: Whose norms have we been living with all these years?

Answer (of course): male norms.

Why Al Franken Thought It Was Funny

Look at it this way. Al Franken pretended to grab that sleeping woman’s breasts because he was mugging and thought it was funny. He did it in public, in front of a camera, not in secrecy. The awkward truth is that, for men, it probably was funny. Al and the male cameraman and most of the soldiers on the USO tour in 2003 would have thought it was funny.

The only woman in the room, Leeann Tweeden, found nothing humorous in the situation. She also did not like being forcibly tongue-kissed during a so-called rehearsal of a skit. Her opinion did not matter, however, because it fell outside the norm. Had she protested it, she probably would have heard, “Can’t you take a joke?” Men use this fallback defense when they get called out for stepping over the line.

Creating Norms in Their Own Image

This issue goes way beyond Mr. Franken, Louis CK or any other comedian. It goes past humor and into every other aspect of our culture.

BEing an Assohole is All Part of My Manly ImageMen have a history of making male behavior, male thinking, and male standards into the society’s norm. Their rules apply universally, regardless of gender. It may actually never occur to many that women think differently, react differently and have different ideas of what constitutes mature adult behavior. And, even if they acknowledge that, they may not find it too important.

Why? Because men have been running the show for centuries in most parts of the world. Why? They are certainly not smarter, more intelligent, more creative, or more talented than women. They just possess superior size and strength.

That strength—and the need to protect weaker females from predatory males—has allowed men to dominate women and create cultural norms in their own image.

Superman, Wonder Woman, superior upper body strengthWomen read books like Games Mother Never Taught You or Hardball for Women or Lean In because they need to understand how men think and behave so they (the women) can react in a way that benefits them. Only when you understand the dominant gender’s rules—which are very different from the rules and norms in your own life—can you succeed in a world they have defined.

Men don’t write or read books that would help them to understand how women think and behave. Why ever would they? In a world that puts “bros before hos,” who cares what the women think?

The Only Way to Solve the Problem

It gives me hope that we are having this conversation at all. For the first time, people are offering more than lip service to the issues of male harassment, domestic violence, career extortion, intimidation, and rape. For the first time, people are asking the most important question, which is, “How can we change this?”

The answer is simple: Women need to be in more positions of power. Only when women can reset the rules and change the norms will our society change. Only when men feel real consequences for acting like louts, bullies, and criminals will they modify how they deal with women. Only when men get called out for even creating phrases like “bros before hos” will they understand just how offensive they can be.

The Magic Wand

If I could wave a magic wand tomorrow and do one thing, it would be to have men live as women for a day. That’s all it would take for them to “get it.”


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About Aline Kaplan

Aline Kaplan is a published author, a blogger, and a tour guide in Boston. She formerly had a career as a high-tech marketing and communications director. Aline writes and edits The Next Phase Blog, a social commentary blog that appears multiple times a week at She has published over 1,000 posts on a variety of subjects, from Boston history to science fiction movies, astronomical events to art museums. Under the name Aline Boucher Kaplan, she has had two science fiction novels (Khyren and World Spirits) published by Baen Books. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies published in the United States, Ireland, and Australia. Aline’s articles have also appeared on the Atlas Obscura website. She has been an active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America since 1988 and is a long-term member of the Spacecrafts science/fantasy writers’ group. As a tour guide, Aline leads architectural and historical walking tours of the city for Boston By Foot, ghost tours for Haunted Boston and historical bus tours of the city. She lectures on Boston history and has appeared in the Boston Globe, as well as on TV for Chronicle, an award-winning television program that broadcasts stories of New England. As a lecturer, Aline has spoken at Brandeis and Tufts universities for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. She has also addressed as service organizations and local meetings. She is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston and lives in Hudson, MA.

5 thoughts on “Al Franken and Male Behavior

  1. Wow-that’s a lot of assumptions about a post that was in no way about Democrats or Repubicans but unacceptable male behavior. It transcends politics and did not deserve the labeling you gave it.

  2. I agree with everything you’ve said except: “Men don’t write or read books that would help them to understand how women think and behave. Why ever would they? In a world that puts “bros before hos,” who cares what the women think?” I’ve had to read “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” and numerous other books on this topic over the years, so I think this comment is unfair. And generalizations aren’t usually a good thing to do, but I do get your point. I’m upset about Al Franken and Louis C.K. both of whom I like a lot, but they both need to be spanked over this, and get their comeuppance” for it. I think they’ll both be okay in the long run if their sincere in their apologies and actions going forward. We’ll see I guess.

    • Kudos on reading these books, Mike. But, really, I have to ask: How many of the books you have read except for Mars/Venus were written by men for men to help them understand women? As opposed to books like Lean In that are written by women for women to help them succeed in a man’s world? Just curious.

    • Where were you both when Billy-boy was getting hummers in the Oval Office and getting credibly accused of rape? Probably voting for him.

      Where were you both when Teddy “The Swimmer” Kennedy was having a waitress sandwich with fellow Democrat Chris Dodd (let alone driving drunk and killing a woman)? Probably voting for him.

      Where were you when Gerry Studds sodomized an underage Congressional page and bragged about it? Probably voting for him.

      My bet? Not just voting for him, but forgiving him. Because “Democrat”. You people lack the credibility, let alone the moral standing, to be outraged now after – quite literally – decades of wink-wink on harassment, rape, homicide, and outright treason.

      • The post was not about politics, David, or one party vs. another. It was about how men create the rules about what’s normal behavior and what’s not. Your comment is the reason I do not often write about politics. BTW: It must be exhausting to be so angry all the time. BTW: Your assumptions are wrong.

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