Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The Posts I Didn't Want To Write. On Weiner. Part II: Feminist Analysis

As I mentioned at the end of my first post in this series, the crucial question in the Wienergate for a feminist is certainly about the women receiving the "lewd" pictures. If they were not willing participants, then Weiner's actions are sexual harassment. Right now I have not found evidence of this.

The second aspect has to do with Weiner's marital vows. Now, marriage can be a very gender-unequal institution. It has historically been so and it still is so in many countries. If this was true of Weiner's marriage, I would have feminist concerns about Weiner's behavior, because his wife might not be able to leave him, should she wish to do so, or she might only be able to leave him at great psychological and financial cost to herself.

Even in the United States some marriages are like that (among isolated religious groups, say). But I doubt that Weiner's marriage to Huma Abedin, an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is like that. Abedin has her own income and the divorce laws do not discriminate against her because of her gender. One could argue that Weiner has violated the marital contract, of course, but the marital contract in this case is not loaded against women. How Abedin decides to act here is her business.

I guess the case could be used to argue that alpha males are just wired to post pics of their gray underpants to all women and that we must accept this behavior. I haven't come across these arguments in the last few days but I'm sure they will be coming.

That argument can be dangerous because it usually fails to draw a clear line between mutually voluntary behavior and sexual violence. It's also a silly argument as I have written more times than anyone wants to read.

Finally, there's the argument that women don't get turned on by pics of pecker bulges:
We polled some women. Really, they would like to see . . .
“I would like a photo of a made bed,” says Kathryn Roberts, who works at a law firm in Washington. “I would take rose petals, but I want them on top of a made bed.” And not that fake kind of made, either, where the comforter is smooth but the sheets are a jumbled mess.
“Or laundry,” adds her friend Andrea Neurohr.
“Folded laundry,” elaborates Roberts. “Maybe in a wicker basket.”


Not all women like this, of course. This is the part where we call up an expert, who affirms that there is a great diversity in what women find arousing.
“There is a great diversity in what women find arousing,” says Marta Meana, a renowned psychologist who studies women’s sexual function at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. She would never want to make blanket statements about what does or does not put wind in one’s sails.
“But,” she says, if you look at the empirical literature, it does indicate that the majority of women are not as aroused by pictures of” naked man-parts.

This piece is meant as humorous, I think, but it can provoke all kinds of responses. For instance, perhaps women are not sexual creatures but wish to be paid for sex by having the chores done. Or rather more realistically, perhaps these complaints have something to do with the unequal division of household chores and how being dead-tired isn't likely to turn a woman on.

It's hard to interpret empirical evidence about what turns heterosexual women on or doesn't turn them on. For one thing, this society teaches us, from a very young age, that all sexuality, really, is coded as naked or partially dressed women. Those images are everywhere, from movies and television to billboards by highways.

After a while it wouldn't be too surprising if we all agree that heterosexual women's sexuality isn't very visual and if all women themselves connect sexuality to visual images of women's bodies, even heterosexual women. In this culture, at least.

It could also be that women just aren't turned on by pictures of penises or pecs or whatever, and that this is how it would be even if billboards and magazines and newspapers focused on naked or semi-dressed men. It could be. But I don't think we are going to test these alternative theories anytime soon.

Then there is the difference between being sent a picture of a vulva and a penis, especially if the recipient didn't want them and they came from someone unknown or at least not the recipient's sexual partner. Given the differences in sexual violence, the latter type of picture is more likely to convey menacing undertones.