Radicals Debating the Weiner Scandal

If only Anthony Weiner were being shoved out of Congress for his role in justifying throwing single-payer health care under a bus in order to support Obama’s pro-insurance industry plan. Or for his craven denial of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Or for any number of ways in which he has used his liberal creds to wrangle progressives into defending the indefensible.

But no, the U.S. Congress—itself awash in arrogance and sexism—is pushing him out for his arrogant sexism. It is as tragic as it is predictable given the debased political climate in official politics, which exists in a realm far removed from millions of people losing their jobs, homes and health care.

Given that a few thousand people appear to be clued into my previous blog posts on the question, I wanted to air some of the debate among leftists who raise some important disagreements with me about how to understand this evolving sexting scandal.

As socialists who oppose Weiner’s politics, despise the right who initiated the brouhaha and are correctly suspicious of the media’s own ideological and financial agendas, I think we can all agree that this is a maddening diversion that will do nothing to improve the political climate or anyone’s life.

That said, there is a useful debate on the question among a few leftists I know, and I find some of their arguments compelling. The main point of controversy I’ve encountered is: The media are sexually infantilizing women by ignoring the consensual nature of many of the exchanges.

That is true. I mention it briefly in my initial post, but frankly didn’t make enough of a point of it. At the time I wrote it hadn’t yet reached the crescendo of this weekend, but friends are right to underscore this argument.

It is crucial to distinguish between the women who were flattered by the attentions of a U.S. Congressman and engaged in a consensual flirtation and those like the Washington student, Gennette Cordova, who from her own account in the New York Times claims to have only had political chats with him until he turned it sexual and she received the penis pic.

Leftists should have no truck with the moralism of the right. If women want to flirt with a guy and enjoy his photos or whatever, who are we to judge?

A friend, Monique Dols, posted to my Facebook wall: “The women here are not saying they have been victimized. So why should we?” Actually, that comment made me pause, read through the stories and accounts from women, and so far as I can tell even Cordova feels enraged and victimized not by Weiner, but by the media hounds and right-wing operatives who are dogging her. Point taken.

Another socialist friend, Jen Roesch, writes:

I don’t see any such evidence of non-consensuality…. I think we have to be very careful with using the word “non-consensual,” which we would use in a context of harassment or assault. If Weiner had sent unwanted messages, been asked to stop or been rebuffed and then continued, then yes you might call it harassment. But not a single woman has claimed this.

Well, Cordova does claim that he went from politics to sex without any encouragement or sexual response from her, so I don’t fully agree with that challenge and I do think that trolling your female FB and tweet followers for sexting is sexist behavior. However, Cordova also didn’t block him from communicating with her after that, which means she is unlikely to have felt violated.

Jen makes two important arguments here. 1) There isn’t enough credible evidence to slam Weiner for misogyny, given the sources; and 2) The reasons for the scandal in the first place: “Breitbart and other bloggers have been cyber-stalking Weiner and women who follow him on twitter (or vice versa) for literally months and were threatening to expose them.”

Therein lies a not insignificant fact—the right wing in this country is so repugnant and hollow that this is how they pursue their political opponents. And the Dems’ policies are so similar to the Republicans on war, budget cuts and so much else, that they have little of political substance to fend off attacks and thus cave over shenanigans instead.

Socialist Worker editor, Alan Maass, made that point as well and sent a link to Glenn Greenwald’s Salon.com piece, “The Joys of Repressed Voyeuristic Titillation.” Glenn’s piece is excellent and I find myself in agreement, please read it.

In sum, Weiner probably did act like a pig with some women, but the sources are suspect and the story has now blown out of all proportion. I do think there’s a reason why many leftists like myself still think Weiner’s behavior doesn’t pass the sniff test and are quick to respond so bitterly. A lifetime of experiences of dismissive and demeaning behavior from men in positions of power gets your hackles up. Nonetheless, I’ve no interest in undermining a fight for sexual liberation by feeding into this scandal, such as it is.

I give the last word here to my friend Jen: “I think to call him a misogynist ends up conflating behavior that is influenced by a society shaped by alienation and sexism with actual sexual harassment, rape and violence against women. Clarence Thomas Anthony Weiner is not.”

Debates in real-time, face-to-face, among more than 1,200 activists from all over the country, including all the folks cited above—Monique, Jen, Alan, Glenn—will be at Socialism 2011: Revolution in the AirJuly 1–4, Chicago!


12 responses to “Radicals Debating the Weiner Scandal

  1. Perhaps the questions we ought to be asking is why did Breitbart “out” Weiner? You say that Weiner threw single-payer under the bus and that he is a stout defender of Israel. Neither of those positions would be a reason for Breitbart’s actions. What threat to the Right’s agenda does Weiner represent? Is it just because he is a Democrat who supports Obama? Or is there something else going on?

  2. Thanks Sherry! I’m still not sure even on Cordova because I thought the NYT piece was heavily spun. But we can discuss over drinks. I think we’re largely in agreement.

    By the way, when I tried googling all this to figure out if there was a pattern of misogyny, your blog was in the first 20 google search results. Pretty impressive reach for such a new blog.

  3. Personally, I suspect Breitbart went after Weiner because Weiner was an effective defender of the throne, capable of rounding up support from the very base that was crucial to Obama’s 2008 win: progressives of various races and ages. Obama has so alienated that base that to win in 2012 it will be crucial to motivate progressives to support a president who has pushed a decidedly corporate and pro-war agenda.

    • Weiner may have been “an effective defender of the throne”, but who among us wants anything to do with the person sitting on that throne? There is no way in Hell that anyone is going to motivate me “to support a president who has pushed a decidedly corporate and pr-war agenda”. Check out the New Progressive Alliance – it’s time to do something else besides taking to the streets to protest or make speeches.

  4. On his HBO show on Friday, Bill Maher and Jane Lynch did a “dramatic reading” of Weiner’s instant message chat with the Las Vegas blackjack dealer. I’ll tell you what—the woman was as much into it as Weiner, and she gave as good as she got. Still, I agree with what you say about Weiner’s making contact with women in his capacity as a Congressman and political leader, rather than just another horny guy online: it was dishonest and disrespectful. I also agree that I would much rather go after Weiner for his anti-Arab racism and his support to Obama’s neoliberal policies. I said something similar about Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings in the “Bulletin in Defense of Marxism,” arguing that he should be rejected because of his legal rulings on abortion rights and affirmative action, verifiable crimes against thousands, even millions of people, rather than his alleged offense against Anita Hill.

  5. But Tom, there were substantive allegations of sexual harassment against Anita Hill. That’s one of the reasons it’s important to understand the difference between Weiner’s consensual acts and someone like Clarence Thomas. Otherwise people end up lumping it all together as “boys behaving badly”.

  6. “However, Cordova also didn’t block him from communicating with her after that, which means she is unlikely to have felt violated.”

    not necessarily. women quite often have to make the calculation, when they’re being sexually harassed, whether just putting up with it and ignoring it is less costly than calling it out, rebuffing it, or withdrawing from participation in the non-sexual part of the relationship would be.

  7. The Right surely has the progressives’ number. Rather than focus on how to get rid of the man on the throne and the defenders of that man, we allow ourselves to be diverted into analyzing sexist behavior. Sad. Ain’t nothin’ gonna change, folks, until we start fielding candidates to bring about change. What is it going to take, another Joe Hill? Organize, don’t sit in your chairs and tut-tut over bad behavior.

  8. Most people are women.

    “Sexist behavior” involves a failure to see and respect the humanity of most people, and analyzing it is not a “diversion.”

    Also, “sexist behavior” on the putative left is often the thin end of the right-wing wedge. Some of the first people to see through Obama’s “progressivism” were women repelled by the sexism of his campaign.

    If you are on the left and seriously advocate organizing, perhaps it would be good to consider the experience of the majority of the population. The ones who do 75% of the world’s work, and own 25% of its property.

    • “Sexist behavior” has existed since homo sapiens evolved on the savannahs of Africa. So has hierarchy. If you want to concentrate on analyzing sexism, that’s fine with me. But you’ll be analyzing sexism while sitting in a shack wearing rags and fulminating against chauvinism while the rich (male and female) laugh at you. “Seriously advocate organizing”? Surely you jest! The Right has been organized for decades and the Left just whines about injustice. The union movement made no progress until some blood was spilled – ignore those lessons at your peril. Did Emma Goldman, Jessie Bross, Hortensia Black, Jane Addams, Lucy Parsons, and Fanya Baron let “sexist behavior” stop them from their achievements? No. Stop whining – organize!

  9. Dear Sherri,

    You and I met at a recent panel at my school where you thought rather highly of my transgender feminist tirades so hopefully you’ll approach my response to this post with an open mind.

    When I read your original post on the Weiner scandal I was thrilled; someone else *got it*, I thought, and I felt less isolated in my analysis of the latent sexism in Weiner’s behaviour.

    This latest article of yours, however, walks back your very trenchant analysis and courageous recognition of Weiner’s misdeeds for what they were by suggesting that because these women responded in a consensual manner there’s nothing to see here and everything’s fine. You go further in suggesting that there is a kind of puritanism and infantilisation of these women in saying that they were still victims even if they consented.

    This is problematic for several very important reasons.

    1) I have often heard from men or been told by them that I am a prude because I oppose things like sexual harassment or street harassment. Look at the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case to see some very high profile and ‘sophisticated’ men saying exactly the same thing: the American media is puritanical, the women here are prudish, DSK was a mere “seducer” and so on and so on. This, however, is the sexual perspective of a particular set of men. To say “I don’t like this treatment” means “I don’t like sex” is a classic means of forcing women into a corner with few rhetorical options remaining to them to adequately articulate their experience. It is not, in any sense, anti-sex to say that what Weiner did was *irresponsible* which leads to my next point:

    2) Have you heard from Monica Lewinsky lately? How about Ashley Dupre? The woman that Senator Ensign had an affair with? None of them are doing terribly well. Now, how about the famous men they slept with? Clinton remains an international man of mystery and a beloved political doyen, Eliot Spitzer has a TV show, Senator Ensign will retire comfortably on a day of his choosing. Unlike his erstwhile mistress, he will not have to live off of a Christian charity to make ends meet. All three of these relationships were, by the definitions most commonly accepted “consensual”– even though we can and should be able to debate the purported consensuality of sex work– and yet these women’s lives were upended and ruined.

    The women that Weiner texted and flirted with will be forever branded by our patriarchal media. Look even at how the people in your own comments section refer to them “the blackjack dealer”– the salacious tabloid headline, the nameless noun, the thing– and of course the “former porn star” who is the new favourite of the press. I’ve seen them refer to “Weiner’s women” (does that phrase not bother you?) as “an ex-porn star and several other women.” They are all going to be remembered as ‘whores’ and this is something that will bedevil their lives for quite a while, if not for the rest of their lives.

    Weiner should have known that because he was a man of such station, who could create a huge explosion with a sex scandal, he had a special responsibility to not endanger anyone with his proclivities, regardless of consent. It is beyond the control of either him or the women he texted what patriarchy would do to them once the scandal was exposed. It *was* within his control to not court that chimaera by simply keeping it in his pants, if I may turn a hackneyed phrase.

    That he so cavalierly put these women in harm’s way is what is misogynist. That he had such callousness towards how their lives would be ruined by this is what is misogynist. He will bounce back, even President Obama’s gone on record to say that, people still think he’s viable for New York City mayor, and failing even that– hey– Larry Flynt’s apparently offered him a job. But he would not even have to stoop to those depths. Perhaps CNN wants another political analyst.

    Now tell me, what do you think will happen to the women? If they get book deals or TV shows it will only ever be about their sex; because that is what we are for in patriarchy. Providing the sexual spectacle. If we refuse, we are “prudes.” Weiner will have the luxury of, one way or another, continuing to do what he loves. All of these women said they love politics and I have little doubt about this. But at this point, careers in that field will be closed to them, barring herculean feats of emotional strength and endurance that, in any just world, they should not have to leverage because of what could be called a single mistake in their life.

    Men will be forgiven their sexual indiscretions. Women never are.

    In all of this lies the problem with what Weiner did. *Everything else* you say, his Zionism, his capitalist shilling, it’s all true, and these are all marks against him. In a just world, these would have rode him out on a rail long before his misogyny came to light, yes. But that doesn’t erase the fact that the misogyny is there.

    I worry that in attempting to undermine Cordova’s credibility you are also suggesting that it is better to save a white man’s reputation than to believe a woman of colour when she says something that indemnifies him. Is this really a leftist, emancipatory road? Or is it yet another compromise? What would we be protecting in doing this? We already agree that Weiner is no great man of the left. Are we simply indulging leftist men their usual privilege of a free pass on misogyny just because they are, say, Marxist, or anti-Zionist, or anarchist, or what have you?

    “However, Cordova also didn’t block him from communicating with her after that, which means she is unlikely to have felt violated.”

    This too seems a convenient excuse that men would be all too happy to cheer on, because this is how they wish to read “consent”– when men have sexually harassed me, I wanted to yell, scream, curse… but I never did. I was polite and unfailingly so because I was afraid of being hurt. That Cordova’s reaction was not unequivocal is hardly unusual nor a mark against her. I know of no woman who has not, in a situation like that, tried to be as sanguine as possible. But their calmness is not a substitute for consent. It’s just very convenient for certain men to pretend that it is.

    In sum, I hope we can have a conversation about this. I am, indeed, your sister in struggle as you inscribed in my copy of your book. 😉

    • Edited to my above comment, it was written at 2 in the morning just before bed, so any grammatical errors are the product of that. I also apologise in advance if I sounded a bit strident, that wasn’t quite my intention here.

      Correction to the above comment, I misused the word “indemnify” since I was passing out; the sentence should read “says something that indicts him.”

      Anyway, thanks for listening, Sherri!

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