The Wednesday Weigh-In: Sexting, scandal, and the politics of respectability

As if you weren’t hearing enough about what kinds of sex you should like to have, this article happened today. In “Weiner’s Women”, self-declared feminist and secular humanist author Susan Jacoby asks incredulously why “hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women apparently derive gratification from exchanging sexual talk and pictures with strangers” and decries a “new double standard which pretends that only men are responsible for virtual sex that may prevent or wreck real-life relationships”.

Besides completely ignoring the possibility that women might actually get off on cyber sex, Jacoby’s argument seems to infantilize women as belonging to the men they engage with sexually, thereby promoting the very patriarchy she ostensibly seeks to dismantle. Picking up on this point and others, Julia Carrie Wong has penned a pretty epic takedown of the article on her Tumblr, writing, in part:

“The internet might change the mechanisms of communication, but what it hasn’t changed is the fact that women’s sexual autonomy will always be infringed upon in a patriarchal society.  My feminism want to dismantle that patriarchy.  Jacoby’s feminism seems content to exist within it.  The very idea of judging a woman as “infinitely sad” based on one potentially minor aspect of her life is a feature of that patriarchal worldview.”

In the meantime, another, highly racialized version of the politics of respectability are front and center in the news, after Don Lemon sparked justifiable outrage with his 5-point plan to fix the black community, one point of which advised folks to “pull up your pants”.

Thus week’s Wednesday weigh-in is focused on respectability. Do you disrespect people for wearing their clothes a certain kind of way, or engaging in certain kinds of sex (be honest!)? What are some things you think we can all be doing to dismantle the politics of respectability to the extent that they serve racism and/or patriarchy, while still calling out disrespectful or dishonest behavior that occurs within the sexual realm, like that of Anthony Weiner’s?

Leave it in the comments, folks.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is a writer and advocate focusing on race, gender, and sexual and reproductive rights. In addition to serving as an Executive Director at Feministing, Lori is the Director of Global Communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Lori has previously worked at the United Nations Foundation, the International Women’s Health Coalition, and Human Rights Watch, and has written for a host of print and digital properties including Rookie Magazine, The Grio, and the New York Times Magazine. She regularly appears on radio and television, and has spoken at college campuses across the U.S. about topics like the politics of black hair, transnational movement building, and the undercover feminism of Nicki Minaj. In 2014, she was named to The Root 100 list of the nation's most influential African Americans, and to the Forbes Magazine list of the "30 Under 30" successful people in media.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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