Weiner’s Women by Susan Jacoby

This is the best editorial that I have read on the eventual demise of Anthony Weiner.  Written by Susan Jacoby for the New York Times.

Op-Ed Contributor

Weiner’s Women

By
SUSAN JACOBY

THERE is something missing from the endless moralizing and sophomoric
jokes aimed at Anthony D. Weiner. That something is the role of women in
a coarse and creepy Internet culture dedicated to the fulfillment of
both male and female desires for virtual carnal knowledge.

People ask how Mr. Weiner’s wife, the soulfully beautiful and
professionally accomplished Huma Abedin, can stay with him. My question
is why hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women apparently
derive gratification from exchanging sexual talk and pictures with
strangers.

These women are not victims of men like Mr. Weiner (or of ordinary,
obscure sex seekers in the digital world) but full and equal
participants. There is no force involved here; people of both sexes are
able to block unwanted advances. Women are certainly safer on the Web
than they would be going home with strangers they meet in bars.

Nevertheless, the female thrill seekers are as bewildering in their own
way as the sleazy would-be mayor of New York is in his. Why is he called
a pervert while Sydney Leathers’s statement that their Internet contact
progressed to phone sex twice a week — “a fantasy thing for both of
us,” she told one tabloid TV show — is greeted with neutral, if not
exactly respectful, attention? Some fantasy. Cinderella, where are you
now that we need you?

I actually have no nostalgia for the double standard of sexual morality
under which I was raised in the 1950s, when women were supposed to be
the gatekeepers of sexual propriety while they waited for Prince
Charming. But the unfairness of the old expectations does not justify a
new double standard, which pretends that only men are responsible for
virtual sex that may prevent or wreck real-life relationships.

One vital, often overlooked aspect of feminism (especially by those who
have bought into the stereotype of ’60s feminists as man haters) has
always been its insistence on the right of women to express and take
pride in their own sexuality.

But the “sex” that women engage in with often anonymous men on the Web
has nothing to do with pride in one’s body or mind. Whatever women or
men are getting out of sex via Twitter or YouTube, it is not recognition
of their specialness as individuals. I could call myself Susanna
Reckless and post pictures of my much younger self online tomorrow, but
the resulting encounters would have nothing to do with the real me. It
all recalls the classic New Yorker cartoon with the caption, “On the
Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

The morality of virtual sex, as long as no one is cheating on a real
partner, is not what bothers me. What’s truly troubling about the whole
business is that it resembles the substitution of texting for extended,
face-to-face time with friends. Virtual sex is to sex as virtual food is
to food: you can’t taste, touch or smell it, and you don’t have to do
any preparation or work. Sex with strangers online amounts to a
diminution, close to an absolute negation, of the context that gives
human interaction genuine content. Erotic play without context becomes
just a form of one-on-one pornography.

Nor do I consider it worse for women than for men to engage in this
behavior. But I do suspect — because I concede the validity of the
numerous studies concluding that men are more interested in and aroused
by pornography than women are — that women who settle for digital
pornography are lowering their expectations and hopes even more
drastically than their male collaborators are.

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.

That’s undoubtedly just as true for the men who have been called
arrogant as a result of their online indiscretions. Deep down, what does
a man really think of himself when he must feed his ego with phony
gasps of erotic pleasure from strangers in a digital vastness? What does
a woman think of herself in the same arid zone of sex without
sensuality?

This is not the sort of equality envisioned by feminism. It is, rather,
the equality of the lowest common denominator — a state of affairs that
debases the passion and reason of both men and women.

Susan Jacoby is the author, most recently, of the e-book “The Last Men on Top.”

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