Listen, this Anthony Weiner business is ridiculous.
I make no bones about being an Anthony Weiner fan. I applauded him when he stood up for reproductive access. I cried with laughter at his Click and Clack impressions during his house speech defending NPR. Anthony Weiner was the kind of politician that I could get behind. He was real, he was witty, and he wasn’t afraid to call on people’s bullshit. Why am I saying “was” – he still is all of those things. Except that now he has been widely shamed for his poor decision making skills and has proved, very publicly, how real he actually is.
Let me start with saying that even though I was reallly hoping it wasn’t actually him doing the tweeting, I don’t have much of a problem with Anthony Weiner’s actions. Aside from the fact that he is married*, Weiner’s internet actions crossed no boundaries of the law, and the explicit conversations he was having were completely consensual – you can read some of the contents here:
Perhaps this is bold, but let me channel my Dan Savage here and equate this situation to a politician coming out publicly as a gay person. By the very nature of this act, they are publicly declaring their sexual desires and kinks, things that are normally private matters for hetero peoples. Nanci Pelosi doesn’t have to come out and publicly say that she likes to be spanked and have her hair pulled, because she’s straight and you don’t think about her in a sexual context when you see her on the tele (unless you do?). But the minute that a public figure like Pheonix Suns owner Rich Welts makes an announcement that they are not straight, you automatically have a mental image of them taking it in the ass. Right?
So Anthony Weiner likes sexting. He likes phone sex. That’s his kink. So what? He said, with certitude, that he’s never had sex outside of his marriage and he never intended on having physical contact with these women. I’m not saying that having sexual conversations with other women isn’t “cheating” – that’s not for me to decide. Who knows. Maybe Huma’s into it! Maybe she gets off on reading his conversations and its a totally awesome and healthy part of their sex life! (Maybe, in my alternate reality dream life, Weiner is bravely taking the blame/shame rather than outing this kink, because Huma is also a respected public figure and he’s actually protecting her!) The downside, in real life, is that Weiner was a dumbass and accidentally tweeted a dick pic to the whole wide world. And because he’s a public figure, he has fallen under the intensely magnifying lens of the 24-hour news cycle and the shaming gaze of our often puritan society.
The reason Weiner lied initially to cover this up is because he was embarrassed, because our institutions (the Church, government) shape the public’s view of what is moral, what is acceptable, and what is shameful. In The Trouble with Normal, Michael Warner says
Sexual shame is not just a fact of life; it is also political. Although nearly everyone can be easily embarrassed about sex, some people stand at greater risk than others.
Let’s be real here: Weiner’s actions are not that weird or creepy, or out of the ordinary. Sexting has become the initial entry into sexual behavior for many young people in this age of technology. Yes, the fact that Weiner used his position of power to make contact with women via the internet is kind of fucked up. But these women were into it, as evidenced by the content of their conversations, and in the grand scheme of sex scandals this is peanuts. It doesn’t even compare to other sex scandals in history (please expect a Hump Day post soon, outlining some great sex scandals of American political history with the review of One Nation Under Sex!).
I think Rachel Maddow (who is a badass) and Melissa Harris-Perry (also a badass) get it right here, in that it comes down to Weiner’s ability to be a good steward of his public and private lives. I too, viscerally believe in someone’s “right to be icky, as long as they’re not victimizing anyone and as long as they’re not being hypocritical.” Watch:
Now, NY Times op-ed contributor Maureen Dowd will have you believe that the feminists of America don’t care about this because they’ve moved on to the post-feminist attitude that ‘men are dogs’ and we can’t expect anything more of men in power than to be sexual deviants who cheat on their wives. Whatever, that may have some bit of truth to it, but I cannot believe that this woman compares the Weiner situation with Dominic Strauss-Kahn:
We’ve traded places with France. There, after D.S.K., a spirited feminism has blossomed, an urge to stop covering up seamy incidents of droit du seigneur. Now we’re the world-weary ones, with little energy to try to reform relations between the sexes: Is there any point, really, in trying to fix men?
WHAT? This situation has almost no comparison (except for their marriage status*). I think the line is clear: consent. DSK coerced/forced a woman into performing oral sex on him in a fucking hotel. As I’ve pointed out, the conversations Anthony Weiner was carrying on with women were totally consensual, and as a sex-positive individual I say anything that happens between two consenting adults is A-OK.
* I’m going to return to this marriage aspect. Dowd refers to “marrying up” – where a man of power makes a “strategic” move and marries a smart, savvy woman of power to increase their powerfulness. In this instance, it would be Weiner’s marriage to Huma Abedin, a top aide to Hilary Clinton. One tweet I saw read
Good to know that if you marry someone less smart & less attractive than you it’s still no guarantee of fidelity
Dowd also talks about “dating down” in the context of marriage/sex/power which pisses me off and I think creates a really dangerous dichotomy of class and power amongst the women in this tale. On the one side you have the beautiful, educated, high profile Huma, (marrying up) and on the other you have a single mom and a former porn actress, among others (dating down). This kind of separation of the women really rubs my feminist bits the wrong way – how are we supposed to elevate the position of all women if we clearly separate them with signifiers in our public discourse? We see this all the time with victims of high-profile sexual assault cases or scandals. The socio-economic and/or physical signifiers of victims or participants often set the tone for their credibility amongst the media. (For example, the public announcement that DSK’s accuser may have HIV (nobody’s fucking business) or the age and weight of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mistress(es). These factors somehow legitimize how much blame/shame the public can place on the woman and more easily brush off these infidelities in the way Dowd claims the feminists are doing. ‘Men are dogs’ and we can expect nothing less and nothing more from them, so obviously, its up to the women to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner, right?
Ugh. I’m not even ready for the onslaught of media scrutinizing all of the women who will now come forward saying that they too had sexual conversations with Anthony Weiner. I bet they’ll say she’s/they’re in it for their 15 minutes.
This post brought to you by Tara.