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 Air, July 1–4, Chicago!