On Wednesday, Buzzfeed published a “not safe for work” post detailing Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s (D) online correspondence with a Portland-area stripper. The main point of the piece is that the stripper, Lynsie Lee, has taken topless photos of herself and Booker has corresponded with her over Twitter anyway.
Buzzfeed’s article — which mainly seems to be a vehicle to publish semi-nude photos of Lee — doesn’t explicitly draw any conclusions about the relationship between the two, but notes that the correspondence is “interesting” and jokes that they could be a “match made in heaven.”
That subsequently inspired a rash of other stories about the issue: Gawker notes that “Cory Booker Flirted With This Portland Stripper on Twitter,” the New York Daily News proclaims that “Cory Booker dabbles in online flirtation with ‘stripper model weirdo’ from Oregon,” and the New York Times covers the apparently explosive news by announcing “Now Revealed by Stripper: Booker’s Twitter Messages.”
Booker frequently uses Twitter to interact with his constituents and supporters. An official statement from the New Jersey lawmaker’s spokesperson reiterates that point: “I think it’s pretty well known that the mayor talks with people from all walks of life on Twitter. There have been a couple of stories about that over the years.” But the New York Times notes that the messages between the lawmaker and the stripper reveal the “occasional perils of his reliance on the social media service.”
The underlying message behind the recent coverage is clear. It’s supposed to be some kind of “scandal” that Booker, who is romantically unattached, is interacting with a woman who makes her living by stripping. It’s taken for granted that the banter uncovered by Buzzfeed is something that Booker didn’t want to be revealed — particularly now that he’s planning to run for a Senate seat in New Jersey. It’s supposed to reflect poorly on him.
Booker is a single man. Flirting with a stripper doesn’t break any sort of moral codes. It certainly doesn’t break any laws. Booker’s polite messages to Lee on Twitter — the lawmaker told her “the East Coast loves you and by the East Coast, I mean me,” to which she replied she was blushing — were hardly offensive. In the media’s eyes, however, the simple fact that Lee is a stripper makes her a dangerous person to be associated with. The type of female sexuality she represents is impure and shameful.
Society has a long history of approaching female sexuality in this manner. A similar media narrative unfolded earlier this year, when mayoral candidate and former congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY) admitted to sending explicit online messages to a woman named Sydney Leathers. Unlike Cory Booker, Weiner is married, and his online flirting was an act of infidelity. Nonetheless, the media mainly focused on Leathers herself. Particularly after Leathers announced her intentions to work in the adult film industry, mainstream outlets seized on the opportunity to moralize about appropriate female behavior.
As Jezebel notes, “Everything a sex worker does is not automatically scandalous.” But the mainstream media hasn’t caught on to this yet. For now, women displaying outward signs of their sexuality are firmly taboo, and even single men apparently don’t want to be linked to them.