There has been so much written, said, and now even sung about disgraced Congressman Anthony Weiner, his three-ringed mayoral campaign, his odd proclivities, his strange school-boy style of lying and, of course, his long-suffering wife.
And I admit that it was in the spirit of trying to glean one more salacious detail out of what we all hope is fast-fading scandal that I read Susan Jacoby’s op-ed in The New York Times .
First off, let me say that Jacoby is smart. Really smart. And her contributions to American Letters are impressive. But her op-ed expressed a certain well, disappointment, with young women who sext. She wrote
As a feminist, I find it infinitely sad to imagine a vibrant young woman sitting alone at her computer and turning herself into a sex object for a man (or a dog) she does not know — even if she is also turning him into a sex object. Twentieth-century feminism always linked the social progress of women with an expanding sense of self-worth — in the sexual as well as intellectual and professional spheres. A willingness to engage in Internet sex with strangers, however, expresses not sexual empowerment but its opposite — a loneliness and low opinion of oneself that leads to the conclusion that any sexual contact is better than no contact at all.
Now, personally, I’m not one for sexting. And I’m not defending the coarsening of culture which encourages people to parade their private lives in public for notoriety or money or both. But as a feminist, I find it problematic when women — any women — use the mantle of empowerment to tell other women how to express themselves sexually. Or to chide them for not expressing their sexuality in line with some larger feminist principal of self-empowerment.
If a woman engages in prostitution because of extreme economic privation, or mental illness, well, I would stand firmly on my feminist soapbox about that. But barring those examples, I can’t think of an occasion when feminists should legitimately make an argument against sexual expression — whatever its form — provided it takes place between consenting adults. The interaction between Sydney Leathers and Anthony Weiner has its origins in a much older dynamic — attractive but less powerful women using sex to captivate more powerful (and often, very willing) men. And it’s dispiriting that even now, as women are closing in on economic parity, some women resort to that tired old formula. But that’s the problem, right? Not sexting.