How The Anthony Weiner Scandal Has Devolved Into An Excuse For Slut-Shaming

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"How The Anthony Weiner Scandal Has Devolved Into An Excuse For Slut-Shaming"

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CREDIT: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

After mayoral candidate and former congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY) admitted to sending more sexually explicit messages and pictures to strangers on the Internet after resigning from Congress, it didn’t take long for pundits to seize the opportunity to draw conclusions about appropriate female behavior.

From attacking Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, for standing by him, to mocking the sexuality of his latest online mistress, Sydney Leathers, the media has chosen to moralize about the “sex” aspect of Weiner’s current scandal rather than focusing on his deception and infidelity. This choice is ultimately a form of ‘slut-shaming’ — assuming that women who have sexual desires are always immoral or impure, and it’s their responsibility to behave more chastely so they don’t tempt men.

Of course, sexual morals do play a role in some public sex scandals. If the media is pointing out the hypocrisy of a pro-life Republican lawmaker who pressured his mistress to get an abortion after impregnating her, or an anti-gay evangelical pastor who had a same-sex affair, it can be appropriate to discuss the moral implications of that sexual behavior. But in those cases, the morality of the public figure comes into question, not their sexual partner’s. Not so for the women connected to Weiner. Despite the fact that those women aren’t up for political scrutiny — and, in fact, were not committing adultery — they have become the focus of the story.

Here are just a few recent examples of how the news of Weiner’s infidelities devolved into slut shaming:

1. Fox News’ Keith Ablow: The famous psychiatrist at Fox News, Keith Ablow, claims in a new op-ed that the enthusiasm of Weiner’s sexting partners can be blamed on feminists, access to contraception, and gender equality in the military. Ablow asserts that “the new eagerness of women to be overtly, graphically sexual” goes against the “psychological facts” of the female psyche, which secretly wants to be less sexually forward. He concludes, “So, don’t think for a minute that the women who welcomed Anthony Weiner’s sexual energy were being used by him, first or foremost. They were used by the Women’s Movement long before he ever hit send.”

2. MSNBC Host Thomas Roberts: On Wednesday, MSNBC’s Roberts disparaged the woman Weiner had been sexting, Sydney Leathers, as “chick” who is “so batshit.” He noted that Leathers “is reportedly considering a porn deal now,” and said that’s why he thinks “this whole thing is such a big mess” — as if Leathers’ potential career in adult films has anything to do with Weiner’s decision to sext with other women.

3. The New York Times’ Susan Jacoby: In an editorial titled “Weiner’s Women,” Jacoby turned her attention away from Weiner’s infidelities to claim he was being punished by a “double standard” that lets single women off the hook for sexting. She demanded to know “why hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women apparently derive gratification from exchanging sexual talk and pictures with strangers.” Instead of treating women as people whose sexual desires might include anonymous sexual gratification, Jacoby observes, “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.”

4. Weiner Spokesperson Barbara Morgan: When one of Anthony Weiner’s interns, Olivia Nuzzi, came forward with two different tell-alls on the mayoral candidate, a spokesperson went to reporters to refute Nuzzi and her assertions. But instead of responding to the accusations in her story, spokesperson Barbara Morgan trashed the author, saying Nuzzi is a “fucking slutbag” because of the photo that ran of her in the New York Daily News. “Nice fucking glamour shot,” Morgan said. The women’s advocacy group UltraViolet released a statement on Wednesday calling on Weiner’s campaign to fire Barbara Morgan over her slut-shaming comments. “New York can do better than this, and quite frankly women everywhere deserve better than this,” the release said. Weiner, however, stood by his aide on Wednesday.

5. The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd: Countless commentators speculated about Huma Abedin’s rationale for defending Weiner, but Maureen Dowd took the cake with a column asserting that Abedin’s Saudi heritage brainwashed her into being submissive to her husband. Dowd wrote, “Huma was raised in Saudi Arabia, where women are treated worse by men than anywhere else on the planet. Comparatively speaking, the pol from Queens probably seems like a prince.” Aside from grossly over-generalizing Abedin’s home country, Dowd essentially blames Abedin, rather than Weiner himself, for the way that Weiner treats her.

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Society’s shame-based approach to female sexuality is deeply ingrained. With every new sex scandal, the media seems unable to resist scrutinizing the female partner. Monica Lewinsky, Rielle Hunter, and Ashley Alexandra Dupré have all become icons of disgraced femininity.

And the same fate likely lies ahead for the women in the Weiner scandal. In fact, one of his partners from 2011 has been dealing with the consequences ever since: Her customers at the blackjack where she works taunt her constantly about her involvement. “I cannot tell you the devastation,” she recently told the New York Times.

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