The press coverage of Weinergate II uniformly puts women in a bad light. Some are pictured as volatile out-of-control revenge seekers, others as opportunists. Worse, many are seen as victims. None are portrayed as clear-thinking actors making decisions that suit their values, needs and desires.
Enough. Regardless of what you think of Weiner, we have to stop casting the women around him as either saints or sluts.
Weiner announced his candidacy in April in a video that included his wife Huma Abedin and his infant son. Her presence was meant to validate his comeback after he had to resign from Congress in 2011 for a sexting scandal. She was immediately judged, and her long-time association with Hillary Rodham Clinton only seemed to exacerbate the situation. She served as deputy chief of staff to Clinton in her capacity as Secretary of State and now acts as head of Clinton’s transitional office (although Abedin has now been named as “on vacation” from Clinton’s office).
Normally, such connections would be unquestioned trophies, but today Abedin’s association with Mrs Clinton evokes memories of the woman who stood by her husband despite accusations of adultery during his first presidential campaign. That association is unpleasant not only for Abedin. The current separation may be desired by both women.
Abedin could well use the time to sort through her marriage. As many in the press have reminded us, surely Hillary Clinton’s presumed presidential candidacy would be diminished by reminders of her stint performing “Stand by Your Man” for Bill who later went on to dally with Monica Lewinski. Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post has drawn the comparison, and Maureen Dowd has already used Weinergate II as the occasion for another potshot at Clinton . You would think no one outside politics faced these issues.
Abedin was notably absent from the video Mr Weiner filmed Saturday vowing to stay in the race. Clinton’s political spokesman Phillippe Raines is reported to have urged her to remain off screen.
Other female casualties of Weinergate II include Barbara Morgan, the chief spokeswoman for the campaign who suffered a self-inflicted wound in a profanity-laden interview with Talking Points Memo. Morgan loosed a vicious tirade at Olivia Nuzzi, a campaign intern who had resigned andpenned a critical portrait of the organization for The Daily News. Nuzzi had claimed many in the campaign had thin resumes and had joined to cozy up to Abedin and potentially gain access to Clinton. Morgan countered that Nuzzi was – to sanitize her verbiage – a talentless opportunist who seized the chance for a glamor shot in The Daily News.
The scandal has proven to be a publicity bonanza for 23-year-old Sydney Leathers, one of Weiner’s sexting partners. In addition to an interview with Howard Stern, she reportedly has an offer for a porn movie. However, some in the press characterize her as a “victim” of the “predator” Weiner who was lured into sexting with him.
A few commentators would include all women who engage in sexting as victims. Not surprisingly, Fox News fielded a column from one of its medical reporters, psychiatrist Keith Ablom, asserting that depersonalized sex, whether in the form of hook-ups or sexting is more damaging to women “because, you see, girls and boys are not the same“. However, he concludes that Weiner’s partners weren’t used primarily by him but by “the Women’s Movement” who deluded them into believing in sexual equality.
Despite describing herself as a feminist, Susan Jacoby took a somewhat similar tack in her recent New York Times op-ed in which she decries females who engage in virtual sex as “lowering their expectations and hopes even more drastically than their male collaborators”. Ms Jacoby’s conclusion is that while virtual sex is arid for all it is more so for women based on “numerous studies” demonstrating that men enjoy pornography more.
These views of what makes a woman a victim are hopelessly outdated. A woman doesn’t become a victim simply because an outsider can’t understand the reasons for her decision. Put simply, women should be able to lead their lives as they wish without being painted as victims or deviants. The reproductive rights motto “trust women” should apply equally in this context as well.