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!