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 Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

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

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  • marjette

    Or we could not give a damn about anyone’s CONSENSUAL sex lives AT ALL. Seriously, Weiner’s CONSENSUAL sexual dalliances just as little to do with his behavior in the role of a civil servant as his sexual orientation does. I’m honestly INCREDIBLY tired of hearing about politicians’ sex lives. How about we leave Weiner and Abedin to sort out their marital issues themselves? If there even ARE any, because, for all we know, they could have an open marriage arrangement and the only reason this is an problem for them is that private lives have become less-than-private with modern telecommunications technology. The “politics of respectability” are ALL bullshit. We don’t need to be enforcing other people’s sexual mores on ANYONE, even politicians’ families!

  • Stevie

    I think this question is so important! While I want to respect consensual sex and be non-judgmental, I am bothered when I hear about things like Anthony Wiener’s texting affairs or whatever. I believe that the hierarchies we live in give a lot of power to older, successful men, and this imbalance creates a situation where they can exploit others. That’s part of patriarchy. I wonder how much consent can take place when you’re married to a politician, knowing how much pressure there is for politicians to not get divorced. I worry that Anthony Weiner does not respect his wife, and that makes me wonder if he respects women in general.

    I think it is important to call behavior like this into question, because, as all good feminists know, “the personal is political.” We have to be clear in doing so. Its not the sex-out-of-marriage, its the (likely) lying about it to someone you have made a commitment to. We definitely need to take any assessment of the women he texted off of the table, because it is not about them. Also, I need to remind myself that being critical of Anthony Weiner does not mean I am opposed to open relationships.

    • honeybee

      But isn’t part of the point that we shouldn’t be making assumptions about other people’s lives? There’s no evidence to suggest what you worry about hence you’re basically stereotyping him the same way people stereotype people of color, gays, etc. You assume because of his age, color, gender, etc. he’s a certain way. That’s not cool.

      Now if his wife comes out and says she is being pressured, she hasn’t given consent to him, etc. that’s different. But we can’t just assume. And I know she may not feel comfortable publicly declaring these things – which is why it’s up to the people in her personal life – her friends, family, etc. to reach out to her on this issue and support her in this way.

      • Stevie

        I think his wife has said she did not give consent to him, or that is implied in her forgiving him. You’re right though, my “worry” that he wasn’t respecting his wife was based on stereotypes. I wish there was another answer, though, than it becoming a personal matter if she’s feeling pressured. It matters to me whether or not a politician is pressuring their spouse, and that is the sort of thing that outsiders only get glimpses of.

        It is this one action that is not respectful to her. Perhaps in other ways he is respectful, but would it not be just as harmful to assume that?

  • Jeanine Hull

    I was willing to overlook his problem as equivalent to a drinking or gambling addiction when it first came out (no pun) a few years ago. However, both of them thought it was OK for him to run for a major public office without dealing with his problem. That’s what really bothers me is that he begs for forgiveness from the public and then just goes on doing it and then runs for office while he is still doing it and his wife knows he’s doing it and they don’t think this is a breach of faith with the public. I don’t see this as a moral issue, I see it as an “ability to see reality” and a “willingness to admit something is wrong and fix it” issue. Why he didn’t get treatment for something that he is apparently quite ashamed of is the issue for me. This is denial on a grand scale that I cannot see rewarding with public office and public trust.