From the last Morning Jolt of the week:
Congress’ First In-Vitro Fertilization Sex Scandal
Picture the scene: a busy, overworked office of the House Ethics Committee.
Staffer One: Urgh. Well, that completes another case. What a weirdo. Who’s next?
Staffer Two: Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona.
Staffer One: And what did he do? Allegedly?
Staffer Two: He asked two female employees to bear his child as a surrogate.
Staffer One: (blinks) Wait, what? Run that by me again.
Staffer Two: It says on the complaint that he asked two female employees to bear his child as a surrogate.
Staffer One: Two? What, did he want twins or something?
Staffer Two: (reading) The congressman says he never “physically intimidated, coerced, or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of my congressional staff.”
Staffer One: No, he just wanted his genetic material to be placed within the wombs of his staffers and carried to term. How, exactly, do you bring up a request like that? ‘Hey, I need you to carry something for me… for about nine months?’
Staffer Two: The staffers say the request made them uncomfortable.
Staffer One: I’d imagine so!
Staffer Two: It’s probably worth noting that there’s no sign of any prurient interest.
Staffer One: No, it’s just… weird. I mean, really weird, man! Of course it’s inappropriate for the workplace! How would you feel turning down your boss for a deeply personal request like that? Every time he made a decision after that, you would wonder if he was punishing you for turning him down, or if your refusal was playing a factor in his decision.
Staffer Two: Yeah, but let’s keep in mind, one of the toughest difficulties a couple can go through is infertility issues. People enduring that can find the sight of any child or any pregnancy upsetting, because it feels like they’re being denied something they want so badly, something that everyone else seems to get to have, even accidentally or at an inconvenient time. High school sex-ed classes make it sound like you can get a girl pregnant by looking at her for too long; it’s maddening for couples to find they’re having difficulty getting pregnant after all that time of trying to avoid pregnancy. The yearning for a child, and risk of not having one, can throw anybody for a loop. I once read a book where a guy described going through a difficult pregnancy with his wife and crying at the sight of kids in car repair commercials. My point is that Franks… may not have been at his peak emotional and psychological health when he made these requests.
Staffer One: Those are very good points. But you can’t ask your staffers to do something like this!
Staffer Two: No, of course not. As their boss, Franks had a responsibility to make sure these women never felt like they were obligated to do something inappropriate or excessively personal, and procreation certainly seems to be on that list. But Franks probably shouldn’t be lumped in with John Conyers and all the other creeps in the pile of paperwork in front of us.
Staffer One: In the aspect of seeing others as objects for his sexual pleasure, correct. But in some ways, this case is the clarifier of the current trends because of that difference. The key problem running through so many workplaces, so many prestigious offices, and so many halls of power is not an inherent “brutality of the male libido,” as that New York Times op-ed put it. The problem is people in authority not understanding or not caring about boundaries, not seeing those under them or around them as human beings deserving of respect, and losing any reticence or hesitation about abusing their power over them. Upset or not, it’s hard to believe Franks thought very long or hard about how his staffers would feel upon getting this request, or the awkward and difficult position he was putting them in by making it. The House Ethics Committee will have to–
Staffer Two: (checks phone) Wait, never mind, says here he’s resigning. Well, that saves us a lot of time and paperwork.
Staffer One: Great. With Franken going, let’s call our counterparts in the Senate and ask them if they want to grab a drink. The busy days aren’t likely to end anytime soon.