A Radical’s View of the Weiner Scandal

To be honest, at first I didn’t think much of the brouhaha surrounding Congressman Anthony Weiner. Unlike Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Weiner seems to have made no physically threatening moves toward women, unless you count his thumbs working overtime on a Qwerty keypad.

Though liberals were gaga over him for his pugnacious partisanship, to socialists like me Weiner’s always been one of those useful tools of the Dems. After all, it’s not the crass corporate apologists who corral progressives safely back into the electoral trap by diverting militant calls to action into a safe trudge to the ballot box, it’s the leftish-sounding, brash podium-pounders like him.

And, naturally, he defends and/or denies Israel’s racist policies toward the Palestinians, which mollifies the PUPs—Progressives Until Palestine—that huge swath of American liberals who are antiwar and pro-abortion, etc., but who were raised on a steady diet of lies regarding the apartheid state. Marrying a Muslim woman has probably only embellished Weiner’s Middle East creds among the many Americans who are squeamish about the starvation of 1.5 million Gazans, yet defensive about Israel out of either ignorance or ideology.

Weiner always seemed more clever than most politicians, but ultimately just another promoter of the status-quo, with a bit of in-your-face New York panache.

As details emerge, however, I’ve come to change my mind about Weiner’s cyber actions. Weiner is a posterguy for misogyny in its postmodern form. What else can we call a man incapable of sustaining a serious political interaction with a woman without steering the relationship toward the sexual?

Women to him, and millions like him, are reduced to objects of desire, potential receptacles for his dick and presumed admirers of his sex. That Weiner expanded his diddlings and oglings to cyberspace only adds a 21st-century twist that allowed him to broaden his leer to students in Washington State and the blackjack tables of Vegas.

While some of the women appear to have enjoyed the flirtations, which is their prerogative, that cannot be said of many of them who thought they were gaining the serious attentions of a Congressman. Media agendas aside, there is another angle to this.

In a chatty snippet in Wednesday’s New York Times, a reporter who dined with him a few weeks back informs us that Weiner’s proud of his sexist, bad boy image. At the overpriced eatery known for bad food and aspiring actresses in Union Square, Coffee Shop, the reporter notes, Weiner

made a point of telling me it employed models and actresses, commenting on the comeliness of the staff. He also turned around in an exaggerated pantomime to eye a provocatively dressed waitress as she flounced by toward the back of the restaurant.

Setting aside the lingo used to describe the waitress and her gait (“provocative,” “flounced”), it’s notable that a U.S. Congressman thought it perfectly appropriate to behave like a sexist jerk in front of a reporter from the paper of record. To Weiner, his visual drooling was just normal, healthy male behavior. And that’s exactly my point.

When men act like this toward women, it’s not flattering, it’s demeaning. Accounts of how he met the recipients of his lascivious tweets are telling. The women made political comments on his Facebook wall, often about health care policy or the dangers of the far right. After initially engaging them in political chatter, he’d degenerate suddenly, and from all accounts without solicitation, into sexual come-ons.

Like millions of women, I know exactly how demeaning that can be. When I was a college freshman studying philosophy and Greek classics, I had a professor I adored. He was bawdy and engaging in class and I regularly stopped by for chats about history and politics and whatever else was on my 19-year-old mind. I was excited to be reading Aristotle and translating the book of John from ancient Greek, though all I recall of it today is that it seems Jesus would have made a pretty good socialist.

Anyway, one day this prof asked me to join him out for lunch. In the midst of a conversation about Aristotelian logic, he announced that it was “time for us to move on to stage B of this relationship. I have a key to a friend’s place, he’s out of town, and he’s got a hot tub…” Those were his exact words, though I can’t recall what followed from him because I was stunned and felt like I wanted to burst into tears. Not because I felt physically threatened—we were in a public place and I was a fit rower, he was a 50-something academic with a paunch—but because for months I’d thought he enjoyed talking to me because of my ideas, not because he was angling to get me into bed.

I stood up and walked out of the restaurant without saying a word. I knew I’d never forgive myself if I’d cried in front of him, letting him know how humiliated I felt, how belittled. I summoned the courage to go into his office the next day, and told him that I would not be attending the last week of his class and would take my final in my dorm room so that I wouldn’t have to see him. He agreed and we never spoke again.

I’m no wilting flower, nor was I back then. In fact, to most people I appear to have a surplus of confidence, and maybe it’s enduring crap like that that makes a gal a bit of a badass. But dozens of small and not-so-small encounters like that one leave women questioning whether certain men actually respect what they say and think or if they’re just humoring us like that old professor.

I can imagine that some young women entering politics through a Congressman’s Facebook wall only to encounter sexting and lewd pictures in response will enter the ranks of women who continue to ask, does what I say have value, or is this guy just interested in my tits?

What Weiner did was help stoke anxiety and insecurity in a bunch of women who respected him for his ideas and got none of that in return. I can only hope that he inadvertently created a few badasses along the way, too.

Badass Elizabeth Schulte will be speaking on “A woman’s place is in the revolution: Class struggle and women’s liberation” at Socialism 2011: Revolution in the Air, July 1–4, Chicago. Just go, this weekend event rocks!

40 responses to “A Radical’s View of the Weiner Scandal

  1. nail:head!

  2. Beautiful! Thanks for writing this

  3. Yep. That about says it. I hadn’t sorted all my feeling about it and you seem to have identified the cause of the nagging queasiness that this story conjures. Thanks for speaking up… again!

  4. Sherry, I hadn’t thought about it quite like this before, but you make some really important points. It’s not just about Weiner’s private personal life—how can he represent his female constituents if he has such a lack of respect for them? Of course, I completely agree with you that Liberals like Weiner are worse than useless to working people like us. Corralling us back into the safe electoral trap—yeah, that about sums it up. Keep up the good writing, Sherry!

  5. Great piece, Sherry. I for one aam glad you have some confidence :=)

  6. This is a very good piece Sherry! I read Greenwald’s article and while he made some good points, there was still something nagging in the back of my mind about Weiner’s overall demeanor and you nailed it!!

    • Ya know, it was after reading Greenwald’s piece that I began to think about this whole thing more deeply. I both agreed with him about the hypocrisy and media stupidity, but was uncomfortable leaving it at that. The Times yesterday spurred me on because the student in Washington said she couldn’t get the “joke” of his tweeted pic of his erect penis in underwear after their exchanges about politics. Yes, we’re sexual beings, but not with everyone with whom we chat!

  7. “What else can we call a man incapable of sustaining a serious political interaction with a woman without steering the relationship toward the sexual?” Yes, precisely this! EXCELLENT post (I found your blog through a link from a NYTimes comment this morning). Far too many men who view themselves as “champions of the left” seem to have this impossible block when it comes to dealing with women, viewing them not as humans who comprise half the population, but as bodies and bodies alone. Worst of all is when these men attempt to use their intellectualism as a mere tool to snare women. Honestly, sex scandals happen, and life happens, and generally trying to get puritanical and holier-than-thou about these things is an exercise in futility because the majority of people have at least something in their past, present, or future that they’re not exactly proud of, but what we’re starting to see as the Weiner thing keeps unfolding is an extremely longstanding pattern of cheap, creepy misogyny, hypocrisy, and overwhelming narcissism. And yeah, if we boot Weiner out we’ll still have a legion of narcissistic misogynists left in Congress who simply haven’t been caught with sufficiently damning evidence yet, but hey, at least we’ll have one less in there, and there’s always the naive hope that whoever takes his place might be just a teensy bit better. Ah, who knows.

  8. I agreed with you 100% on your analysis of the political role Weiner plays – he does play the role of attracting progressives to vote for the “lesser of two evils”.

    With that said, I hate to bring ants to the picnic, but it seems to me you’re trying to pathologize quite conventional heterosexual male behavior.

    Basically, you seem to be putting Weiner’s ham handed, lame, corny but basically harmless attempts to use his fame and prominence to get consensual sex with women in the same category as the predatory sexual violence of a Dominique Strauss Kahn.

    Yes, I can imagine how tedious, annoying and angry-making it can be for attractive women to be constantly bombarded with male sexual attention. With that said, it doesn’t mean that those men are sexual predators – they are just guys following the conventional script that our society teaches men you have to use to get women to be interested in you sexually.

    Honestly, is it really that awful that Weiner made passes at his female fans? Yes, that makes him a really awful husband, but that doesn’t make him a bad person or a misogynist.

    Gregory A. Butler

    • It’s a great deal more than “tedious” or “angry making”, Gregory, and your words are deeply dismissive. It is in fact dehumanizing, threatening, and in some contexts absolutely terrifying.

      • I’ve never lived it, but I’ve heard second hand accounts from women of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of male sexual attention. From what I understand (and correct me if I’m wrong) depending on the context it can be anything from annoying to terrifying, depending on the man and the context.

        I wasn’t trying to be dismissive here.

        I’m neither a woman nor a feminist, but I am a partisan of women’s rights and that’s where I was coming from.

        No, I didn’t express myself quite the way you would. Why would I? We’re different genders and have different politics so of course I’m going to have a different vocabulary.

        What I was reacting to was the O.P. exaggerating the menace posed by the cloddish lame attempts of a doofy, socially awkward man to seduce his female fans.

        Congressman Weiner is many things; a sex offender is not one of them, and the OP seemed to put him in that category. That’s not correct.

        Gregory A. Butler

    • Excuse me, but this guy sent unasked for pictures of his penis to women — that puts him on par with a subway flasher, IMO. What, exactly is your “logic” that this doesn’t make him a sex offender? Flashing women is not ok, it is not acceptable, even on the internet, & it does, in fact, make him a bad person AND a misogynist.

    • I like your implication that because it’s “conventional” it’s not predatory or a problem. “Promoters of the status quo,” indeed.

      There are many things an intelligent person can consider to decide if a behavior is or is not a problem, such as how much harm it causes, how the people on the receiving end of the behavior feel about it, how it meshes or conflicts with other behaviors and principles that you consider “good”, etc. But “other people do it too” is not one of them. “Other people do it too” is a rationalization of cowardice and conformity, or, at best, has nothing at all to do with morality whatsoever. It can be an explanation for learned behavior, sure, but that doesn’t make the behavior *not harmful*.

      I mean, the entire reason we HAVE a feminist movement is BECAUSE predatory and misogynistic behavior is so “conventional” instead of being the province of a few inexplicably damaged outliers, like we like to pretend.

      It used to be “conventional” to rape your wife and laugh hysterically at the idea of her voting, too.

      • I’m genuinely curious here – if it’s forbidden for a man to get in a sexual text message conversation with a woman, even if she wants the conversation, even if she initiated it, what sort of male heterosexuality is permissible?

        I really want to know – do we have to have written permission from some sort of feminist commissariat before we’re allowed to have any sort of sexual thoughts about women?

        That’s how all the anti sex ranting in this post comes off to me.

        Look, I’m sure you came by your hatred of men and male sexuality honestly, but I’m sure you can understand why any man who isn’t a eunuch would have a problem with your agenda.

  9. So when these wry and powerful men get a naive young woman into bed, what comes of it? Nothing sweet, nothing lasting, nothing real. No heart, no soul, no lasting legacy. As a man I hate these men.

  10. I don’t know.

    Sone of the women were flirting with him. That mom was quick to make a buck off of it.

    Reminds me of Nehring writing about how society won’t admit young women have power over men.

    The damstrel in distress angle seems forced. Hrs not their professor coercing them.

    I still agree with Greenwald.

  11. Sherry, THANK you. I’ve been struggling to put words to what’s been upsetting me so much (just ask my therapist, heh). This was spot on for me.

  12. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    I’d said I was disappointed because it made me realize “Weiner’s the kind of guy who sends dick pics to women.” This is what I meant. You articulated my feelings about this.

    And Adam, “some” of the women were flirting, sure. He’s a powerful and attractive man. Some of the women only flirted back after he changed the tone of the conversation. Many women don’t know that they can talk to men as equals without flirting to engage their attention (and to a degree, it’s true.)

    Few men can understand how humiliating a situation like Sherry describes with her professor is for two reasons: 1) men are almost never dismissed as intellectual partners in that way – only interesting as long as they also represent potential sexual partners and 2) if the situation were reversed, most men would be thrilled at the opportunity for sex and see no conflict.

    A man who claims he’s not in control of his actions because of sexual attraction is immature at the least…at the worst, well – I remember a guy who came up to me at a club and stated outright what some other men had implied: “You turn me on like crazy, so I know you want me.” Truth is, I’d barely been cognizant of him – just noticed his smile. He later tried to force me into his car. The sexual power women have over men is the reason they make women cover up head to toe in some parts of the world.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if men were in control of their own power, and didn’t need to feel out of control because of sexual attraction and if women, even sexy young women, felt they had their own power and didn’t need to get it through the sexual manipulation of men?

  13. Regardless, it is his constituents who should get to decide whether or not he gets to represent them.

  14. What would modern leftism be without the rote Israel-hatred right in the third paragraph? What a Hamas supporter has to say about anything is of less interest to me than something my cat might deposit on my back porch.

    • Andrew Splane

      What would modern Zionism be without its army of annoying trolls who justify military occupation and apartheid? Go spend more time with your cat, maybe it can teach you some humanity.

    • Actually, modern leftism in America is most notorious for lock step support for the State of Israel, the ideology of Zionism and any and all atrocities committed by the Israeli Defense Force, and the demonization of all opponents of Israeli policy, Zionism and the IDF as “antisemites”.

      You are a perfect example – because a majority of the registered voters in the Gaza Strip chose, in a free and fair election, to be represented by Hamas they are subhumans to you and any atrocity against them is justified.

      • A majority of Germans chose at some point to be represented by the Nazis. The Left’s eager embrace of people who desire nothing more that to finish the Nazis’ work is telling.

        Fortunately, people like you are further from power than ever, so my cat and I, never mind Israel, don’t have anything to worry about except to hang around and poke you with sticks. Oh, the humanity!

      • Amen to Mark Twang. These so-called feminists are amazing in that they are so afraid not to “toe the party line” that they would support any anti-Israel group even if the conditions for women in these groups is abominable.

        Let’s see some of the so-called feminists in this chat room move to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other countries and live as a Muslim woman. They would not be able to leave the house without a male relative. In some places they would not be able to attend school. Would they like to have their clitoris removed and their vagina partially sewn?

        If they have had enough and would like to leave their family, their region or country and leave Islam behind, there is a good chance of a “fatwah,” a contract being put out on their life. This even happened, as you may recall, to Salman Rushdie.

        Read history, think a little more deeply about things. I don’t respect people who can’t make up their own minds.

  15. To me it’s just axiomatic. A man who treats women like meat is not a feminist. A man who is not a feminist CANNOT/SHOULD NOT — by definition — be considered a friend to the left. Period. End of story.

    Any so-called progressivism that doesn’t include feminism isn’t progressivism.

    But yes, too, about the way the so-called progressive champions just co-opt and eliminate the true adversarial work that has to be done.

    • So, how exactly was Weiner supposed to respond to the flirty sexually charged fan emails he received from his women fans? Was he supposed to ignore his sexual urges and pretend that he wasn’t aroused by the thought of random attractive women being interested in him? Was he supposed to tell them “I’m sorry, but I won’t objectify you by thinking sexual thoughts about you, because I’m a married feminist man”?

      If that’s the standard, the only men who would be able to be male feminists would be asexual men and guys who’ve been castrated.

      Asexuals are only about 2% of the population, according to (A) community advocates, and since this isn’t pre 1911 Imperial China, there really aren’t a lot of men without genitals running (other than guys who have had radical prostate cancer surgery – and, ironically enough, a few sex offenders in certain Southern states)

      Other than them, you really aren’t going to find a whole lot of straight guys who don’t respond to women sexually, especially when those women are flirting with them.

      Gregory A. Butler

      • Was he supposed to ignore his sexual urges and pretend that he wasn’t aroused by the thought of random attractive women being interested in him? Was he supposed to tell them “I’m sorry, but I won’t objectify you by thinking sexual thoughts about you, because I’m a married feminist man”?

        Ah, it’s the Men Can’t Control Themselves argument! I’ve seen this argument used for rape apologia pretty often too.

        I’m rather disturbed by how so many of my fellow liberals don’t seem to believe the unsolicited flashing of genitalia, online or off, doesn’t count as sexual harassment.

        What he did was not solicited, period:

        http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2015269311_weinerpattern09.html

        “It didn’t make any sense,” Cordova, a 21-year-old Seattle woman and student at Whatcom Community College, said in her first extensive interview since Weiner confessed in a news conference Monday to sending her the photo. “I figured it must have been a fake.”

        Cordova’s experience with Weiner appears to fit a pattern: In rapid and reckless fashion, he sought to transform informal online conversations about politics and policy into sexually charged exchanges, often laced with racy language and explicit images.

        Cordova, who had text-messaged with Weiner about their shared concern over his conservative critics, said she never had sent him anything provocative. Asked if she was taken aback by Weiner’s decision to send the photo, she responded, “Oh gosh, yes.”

  16. Yes, Gregory, he was supposed to say, “Thanks for your flattering interest, but it’s not appropriate for me to interact with you in this way.” It’s not rocket science.

    • Like I’ve said elsewhere in this thread, basically, you expected him to react like a eunuch. This isn’t late 19th century Imperial China, so there aren’t a lot of guys like that out there.

  17. Mr. Butler – So all male members of Congress should be responding to their “sexually charged fan emails from women” with pictures of their penises? What if Congressman Weiner had acted like an ethical human being? Instead of thinking with his dick, he could have used his BIG BRAIN and either not responded back, ending the conversation, or he could have said he was MARRIED and not interested. What if the young “sexually charged woman fan” was actually a male undercover Republican troll looking to entrap him? Which would be better? A picture of his penis or the comment “Sorry, I’m married.”

    He was acting in his professional capacity as a member of Congress while engaging in this behavior. Why didn’t he have a second Twitter account or weren’t women interested in following an ordinary schlub name Tony Weiner?

    Anthony Weiner is the modern version of the naked man in a raincoat standing on a street corner flashing. He has entered a treatment facility and is asking for a leave of absence. Two of the most powerful Democratic WOMEN, Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, have asked him to resign.

    • I suspect that most heterosexual men would respond in kind to a flirtatious email from an attractive woman.

      They might not go as far as sending a dick pic (a rather extreme response since some women like that kind of thing and others very much don’t so it can be a dramatic hit or miss) but they’d probably flirt back.

      This is ESPECIALLY true of the married guys, in particular the married guys who’s wive refuse to have sex with them anymore.

      This isn’t an “ethics” thing it’s a human biology thing – all primates are naturally sexually adventurous.

      Society systematically represses and punishes this natural drive in women (which may account for why so many women suffer from depression and other similar disorders) but it celebrates that same drive in men.

      Just look at the gay guys!

      Since there are no women in their sexual relationships who feel obligated to restrain themselves sexually because society says women are supposed to limit their number of sex partners, gay guys are free to follow natural primate biology and have sex at will.

      In light of those social and biological realities, expecting a man in our society to deny his sexual urges is really unrealistic, and not very healthy.

      If anything, we should fight for a society where women would be permitted to be as free and adventurous sexually as men are.

      As for that “rehab” thing, that’s just modern penance – Weiner has to make a show of contrition, basically because he got caught out there doing what every other rich and/or powerful man does (except those guys are a little smoother about it and do a better job of keeping it a secret from their wives and the general public).

      If I were advising Weiner I’d tell him when he comes back, leave the random women alone because he might just get caught out there again and that would not go down well.

      He should smarten up and only deal with professional escorts. They are sexual professionals who know how to keep private things private so he could keep his private business out of the headlines.

      Also, if he shops around I’m sure he could find an escort who’d do a damned good job of pretending to be a lovestruck fan, so he could get that thrill safely.

      It’s expensive, but worth every penny.

      I’m sure there’s plenty of Weiner’s male colleagues who could give him a referral to a good escort service, so he could handle his business privately and then go back to congress and handle the people’s business free of distractions like this.

      GREGORY A. BUTLER

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  19. Quite honestly, I can’t go to the mall anymore without having sexual thoughts. Is that my fault? Really? Advertising is the business of America, and I find it incredulous that smart people would deny that the preponderance of young girls today are selling sex. I would truly enjoy an intelligent conversation about this some time, but it always ends with name-calling. I’m also sick of the Dagwood Bumstead paradigm, but that’s a whole different discussion. I’m a 65-year old angry, white male, which, I suppose, disqualifies me from the conversation.

    • I’m a 42 year old angry Black male, and apparently I’m disqualified from the conversation as well [I think it’s the whole MALE thing – some folks hate the Y chromosome]

      To update your cultural reference a bit, I think a sizable subset of feminists see all modern men as a mix of Al Bundy and Ted Bundy and much of their politics is driven by that world outlook.

      GREGORY A. BUTLER

  20. Why is it that my twenty-something male friends understand something that you older men don’t? Being a decent, respectful, ethical human being does not mean you don’t have a healthy sex life or deny your sexual feelings. You just don’t voice them or give into them when you know that doing so would be indecent, disrespectful, and/or ethical. But, then, they treat their female peers as equals, worthy of respect in all situations including flirtatious and sexual interactions. And I find your attempt to back up your argument by using gay male culture as an example as emblematic of how little you have actually interacted with actual gay men. Moreover, the idea that women wield a sexual “power” over men is ludicrous. Why don’t men acknowledge that they have sexual “power” of women? God knows I and plenty of women I know find the sexual allure of men difficult to resist, yet we don’t say men have sexual power over us. And don’t say that men as a gender are hornier than women. My libido and the incredibly diverse libidos of my male and female friends speak otherwise. The idea that women exclusively have sexual power over men that they can’t resist is dangerous when men have the power to physically overpower women. It is, to my mind, also a concession, an excuse for not addressing inequality. When a group of people wields little legitimate or cultural power, sexual power is no power at all. If we accept this idea of sexual power, then this so-called power is still on men’s terms, since they define it by whether or not they acknowledge it and respond to it. Again, then tt is no power at all. Let’s dispense with this idea then, since it doesn’t seem to do anyone of either gender any good. Yeah, I’ve gotten a dick pic before, but only when I asked for one, because no man I’ve chosen to interact with would be disrespectful enough would send one without my consent.

  21. Also, it’s incredibly disrespectful to men to characterize Weiner’s behavior as “normal” male behavior. I love the men in my life too much to give credence to the “men are dogs” stereotype. A-hole behavior is a personal problem.

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  25. tinfoil hattie

    Mr. Butler, you seem to only be able to see things in terms of how men behave. What is a man to do, you ask, when seemingly dozens of beautiful, sexually attractive and attracted young women fling themselves at his twitter account?

    That’s not how it works in the real world. Most sexual predators are men. Women are the prey. But men think it’s fun being prey, or something. Or that women, with our sexual urges, act just like men do – inappropriately.

    Then you turn it into, “I am sure you came by your hatred of men and male sexuality honesty.” When not one person here has said she hates men or their sexuality. Only that none of us want it foisted upon us under the pretext that men just can’t control themselves what with all these chicks all walking around with vaginas and breasts and everything.

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