Friday, June 17, 2011

Sexual Hypocrisy and Democratic Weakness: Just Another Day in the USA

So Anthony Weiner has resigned. Lacking anything better over which to obsess, the rapidly declining US media created a faux scandal that forced Weiner to resign. The story is very brief. The former House member sent an electronic picture of himself wearing briefs to a woman. Rather than creating a fictional email and Twitter account, Weiner sent the pictures using his official email address. He also used various accounts bearing his name in order to engage in sexual banter and to flirt with several women. The outrage surrounding this issue forced Weiner to resign. Before he resigned, several Democrats – including President Obama – told Weiner that he should quit. This decision should upset anyone who believes in personal liberty.

Weiner’s conduct was reckless for a politician. He risked getting caught and subjected to a political scandal. This observation, however, does not indict the underlying behavior itself. It only means that he was not politically savvy. With respect to Weiner’ conduct, however, there are no allegations (at least credible ones) that he violated any criminal laws, committed a tort, or violated any statutory rights held by any of the women with whom he communicated. In fact, it seems that several of them willingly engaged in sexual banter with Weiner. In other words, Weiner resigned because he engaged in noncriminal sexual conduct that appears to have been consensual or otherwise nonabusive.

Puritanical Values

The United States has a long and tired history of suppressing consensual sexual conduct. Historically, white women have been viewed as “sexually pure”; they should not engage in or be exposed to sex outside of marriage. Weiner crossed this socially constructed boundary. Dignified male politicians should act like “gentleman.” Their sex should remain private and restrained. Weiner crossed this boundary as well. And teenagers, LGBT persons and persons of color have all been stigmatized due to sexual conduct and stereotypes. The reaction to Weiner implicates this long puritanical history that seeks to strip away sexuality in very racial and gendered terms.

Despite the ways in which the reaction to Weiner implicates a troubling slice of US history, many self-proclaimed liberal critics refuse to defend Weiner. Instead, they continually make the observation that his behavior was stupid, that he was asking to get caught. Not too long ago, people routinely made this same argument when gays and lesbians who came out of the closet experienced employment discrimination. Although Weiner’s situation is not completely analogous to the struggle for LGBT rights, the reaction to his conduct sounds eerily familiar. Rather than focusing on his right to engage in consensual sexual conduct, many people are simply arguing that he should not have done so. But this does not explain why the country treats sexual expression as immoral.

Hypocritical Values

The United States ranks among the world’s largest markets for pornography and prostitution. Nevertheless, it retains relatively puritanical views about sex. Until recently, federal law shielded the supposedly strong and heroic members of the armed forces from the presumed threat of homosexuality. States have rushed to ban same-sex marriage. A significant portion of the country opposes teaching teenagers about birth control – even though teenage pregnancy remains a serious problem.

Down in the Bible Belt, residents of Dallas, Texas often joke that the city has more churches and strip joints than any city in the nation. In Texas, however, state law bans the sale of “sex toys,” unless they are necessary for medical purposes. Texas treats sex toys as obscenity – unless you need them for medical purposes.

These are just a few examples of the hypocritical stance towards sexuality in the US. Weiner's resignation brings that hypocritical history to the surface.

Weakness

Rather than treating Weiner’s conduct as politically unwise – but generally harmless – Democrats rushed to kick him out of office. Predictably, the party caved when it could have resisted a silly scandal.

Ironically, the weak party has now kicked out one of its most passionate and fearless members. But this is typical of Democrats -- very typical and disappointing. Several other politicians on both sides of the aisle have suffered political scandal, but they kept fighting (remember Clinton). Today, the Democrats cannot fight at all. They have the spines of slugs.

25 comments:

Matt P. said...

Ah, everything you write may have some truth and application to a scenario where Weiner graciously and sincerely apologized. Instead, he slandered others, lied repeatedly and obnoxiously, alleged crimes, and generally acted like a complete dirtbag. By doing so he made himself a laughingstock and showed the worst political judgment possible. Moreover, some women claim that they did not ask for his solicitations. Thus he is much like a modern day flasher.

andgarden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
andgarden said...

Marvelously put.

BTW, I understand the urge to get people to visit your site. But it's hard to share a post with others if the RSS version is very attenuated.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Matt - he did not resign because he lied. He resigned because of the sexual dimension. I stand by my comments. Also, even if he sent a pic of his briefs to people on his Twitter list, this doesn't constitute harassment or a crime. The proper response is to get off of his Twitter list or to delete the comment. Sorry, but this is simply sexual hysteria.

Andgarden: Thanks.

Landru said...

It is nice to see you post again, and so powerfully. While I'm pretty disappointed in the man for being exceptionally careless, especially in such a hostile political climate, you're not wrong.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Thanks, Landru. I had to slow down due to teaching and scholarship commitments.

FairlyFatGuy said...

Funny that a black guy would defend a guy who got where he is by implying his opponents were friends of rampaging blacks. I am a black guy myself and frankly I find wiener's situation to be funny and just deserts, especially after the "ground zero mosque" fear mongering.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

FFG: sorry - but the Dems acted inappropriately here. Bringing up past stuff that had nothing to do with the strategy in this instance does not refute any argument I have made. PS: My race should not prevent me from making arguments about sexuality. I am gay as well.

Doug said...

Yes but he SHOULD have resigned for falsely accusing other people of committing felonies (hacking) to smear his "good name." That alone was so despicable that is should have been enough.

Matt P. said...

Darren you are obviously entitled to your opinion but to ignore the way he handled the pictures (the repetitive and obnoxious lying), to ignore the type of women involved (age, professions, etc.) to ignore the fact that physical evidence that can be electronically distributed through the media and titillate seems shortsighted. To claim this is just sexual hysteria is ludicrous. I stand by what I wrote above and here as well. So we are even.

AngelaD said...

Sorry but I'm not following your argument here. I agree that Americans are puritanical and hypocrites about sex. And it's not fair that Weiner would have been a totally ineffective congressmen if he had stayed in office, but the reality is that he would have been. And I wish the media and everyone else had not spent so much time focusing on this foolishness, but they did and were going to continue to do so. Given those facts, he needed to resign just so the congress could get on with all the important issues it needs to be dealing with. I wish no one cared about Weiner's private consensual behavior, but since they do, I don't see how he possibly could have been effectibve in office. He was a rising star with progressive views. He's gone now because he decided to put his private consensual behavior on the internet. Very unfortunate.

Nell said...

Anthony Weiner is a member of an elite group of 535 individuals who wield the enormous power and privilege of the United States Congress. He abused that position to troll the internet for cyber-sex, in some cases without the consent of his targets. He then repeatedly lied about it.

In the words of the great Tip O'Neill, "all politics is local." If I, as a young woman constituent of Rep. Weiner, call his legislative office looking for help with a student loan problem, must I be concerned that there will be a sexual quid pro quo before I receive that help? Given his now very public behavior, I can never be sure of the answer to that question, can I?

Matt gets it. Darren, I'm sorry to say, you don't. (Even so, it's good to see you back.)

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Nell: this is not an abuse of power scenario. He has not extracted sexual gain in exchange for anything legislative or otherwise. Also -- see my comments to Matt below; I think you both have a curious of women and sexuality (one that many feminists have criticized).

Angela: Weiner did not hold up Congress. They still had legislation to schedule; there were no hearings on the subject scheduled in the House. Plus the Dems made it even more of an issue than it really was.

Matt - I do not assume that women are so fragile sexually that a sexual email in and of itself constitutes some violent breach of decorum. At least once, the law and I agree on this issue. I am more aligned with feminists who are critical of this crazy puritanical discourse. You and others who follow this line of thinking are ignoring the fact that many of the woman engaged in communication with him. Yet - he is still a swine. If the individuals had themselves been male and responsive, this issue would not have caused to much controversy. But let's all protect the fragile women. Hey -- I see a coat lying in a puddle of water so she won't get muddy.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

PS: on the issue of age and sex -- I have seen several articles describe (with seeming horror) a "co-ed" (literally) receiving a crotch shot. Gasp - a poor "co-ed" subjected to open sexuality. Poor, dear. If "she" were black, Latina or a gay male -- this would not be a part of the discourse. So, yeah, I am very pissed that part of this rests on gendered and racial constructions of sexuality.

Matt P. said...

Feel free to address the repetitive and obnoxious lying at interviews and press conferences, the attempted guidance and coercion of others to misinform/lie, the slandering of innocents, the false allegation of crimes, etc. at your convenience. Darren you are being purposefully blind to all these other issues in an attempt to shoehorn your version and weight of the facts to fit your view of sexuality/feminism. The coverage of this did NOT just concern the women. It also was focused on his ridiculous assertions and lies. I don't think the word "certitude" became a a punch line because of anything he did to a woman...

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Angela said: "He's gone now because he decided to put his private consensual behavior on the internet. Very unfortunate." -- It's even more unfortunate that the Democrats lack the ability to smash down this silly logic. Republicans have rushed to defend Trent Lott, Strom Thurmond, and other bigots when they did or said things that were not only "offensive," but more directly related to their work as lawmakers (e.g., race and gender issues). So, yeah - the Dems are whimps.

Nell said...

Feminism is not a monolith. There are several feminist bloggers who have argued forcefully that Weiner ignored sexual boundaries by using his position as a US Congressman to solicit cyber sex even when the women he targeted rebuffed his advances. No one (that I've read) has suggested that Weiner's harassment was legally actionable but that doesn't negate the fact that it was harassment nonetheless.

What pisses me off is that simply because I'm a straight white woman, you think you can condescend to tell me that I'm doing feminism wrong. Kindly do not dismiss my point of view because you happen to agree with the Amanda Marcotte school of feminism and I don't.

Let's not play the Oppression Olympics game. It furthers no one's cause.

Unknown said...

Maybe the "proper" response is to call a celeb lawyer and cash in. Or maybe the "proper" response is to forward his briefs along to political enemies. Or post on public twitter or facebook for bragging rights. No?, no, we should expect those gals to keep their responses "proper".

Weiner did not resign because of a crime. He did not commit a crime. Not sure exactly why he did resign.

Matt P. said...

Touche Nell, that is gonna leave a mark! FYI Darren, I am Jewish so I claim that this has nothing to do with feminism. This is all about antisemitism!!! Yeah, that's it.

Nell said...

Good one, Matt! I thought about playing the anti-semitism card myself, not because I'm Jewish, but because Weiner is.

Aeneas said...

Welcome back, Professor!

No, I'm not weighing in on the discussion. Just welcoming you back.

But... since I'm here, to paraphrase (very freely) what King Henry II (I think that's the number...) said to his confessor, the congressman committed something worse than a sin; he was stupid. And stupidity carries very heavy penalties; and consequences.

:)

I'm all the way on the West Coast, so... in this greatest outdoors asylum in the world, what do I know?

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Nell -- you are misinterpreting. I am not condescending to you, and I know that feminism is not a monolith. I happened to stake claim in the camp that probably would think this is overkill. Men can actually read and apply feminism with asserting power over women.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

PS: Please feel free to make sexuality, racial and religious (Matt) critiques that differ from my own. Neither of us owns discourse or theory.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

I am also waiting for someone to explain how he used a position of power to seek sex. Twitter is not owned by Congress; neither is FB. Also, there are no allegations that he offered any type of favors that he as a member of Congress could deliver in exchange for sex. The only connection between Congress and his sexual activities is his use of his own name when sending sexually related materials online. If this constitutes using power to obtain sex, than anyone in a position of power who seeks sex in his or her own name is potentially abusing that power.

burts23 said...

With millions of Americans unemployed and states slashing spending there are more important issues to discuss!

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