The picture was striking. The military airplane. The sleeping woman. The outstretched hands. The mischievous smile. The Look what I’m getting away with impishness directed at the camera.
On Thursday, Leeann Tweeden, a radio host and former model, came forward with the accusation that Senator Al Franken of Minnesota had kissed her against her will during a 2006 United Service Organizations trip to Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In a story posted to the website of Los Angeles’s KABC station, Tweeden shared her experience with Franken. She also shared that photo. “I couldn’t believe it,” she wrote. “He groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep.”
I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated.
How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it’s funny?
I told my husband everything that happened and showed him the picture.
I wanted to shout my story to the world with a megaphone to anyone who would listen, but even as angry as I was, I was worried about the potential backlash and damage going public might have on my career as a broadcaster.
But that was then, this is now. I’m no longer afraid.
I’m no longer afraid. It’s a sentiment that has been steadily spreading, in recent weeks, among those who have been sexually harassed and preyed upon—not among all of them, certainly, but among many more than before. Tweeden, however, had another reason not to fear coming forward: She had, unlike so many other victims of harassment, hard evidence. This was not a case of her word against his, he said against she said; Tweeden had, via that photo of Franken groping and grinning, the receipts. Because of that, members of the public had no other choice but to do the thing that so many people, for so long, have been extremely hesitant to do: Take her at her word. Trust the woman and the story she tells.
It remains to be seen whether the #MeToo moment—the “Weinstein Moment,” it is also called, in ironic commemoration of the man whose alleged actions led to the flinging open of the floodgates—will prove to be a pivotal one in the sweeping context of American cultural history. There have been, after all, other such moments. There have been other such movements. But one of the most significant elements of #MeToo as a phenomenon is the fact that it has served, effectively, as its own kind of photograph, its own kind of receipt. There are so many women, telling such similar stories. They are painting a picture. They are daring you to look. “Pics or it didn’t happen,” as they say; well, here’s the pic. That makes the #MeToo moment not only about justice—and about women being required, once again, to insist on their own humanity—but also about something both simpler and more fraught: belief itself. Will this be the moment that we—we as a culture, we as a collective—finally start taking women at their word?