Because Women are Defined Forever by the Politicians they Fuck

24 Jul

I am an avid reader of The New Yorker.  For the first few months I received the weekly magazine, I awaited its arrival with baited breath.  I was riding the train to and from class in Manhattan on a near daily basis and had plenty of time to rip through the half dozen or so articles, the Talk of the Town, the book and movie reviews, the satire.  When I first started reading it, I read it from cover to cover, making sure not to miss a thing.  I was almost compulsive about it.  As time went on and I stopped going to and from the city as often, I began to fall behind.  I now have issue upon issue filed away that I have yet to touch and still I save them, sure that one day I will return for all the valuable information I didn’t have time for in the past.  I refuse to intentionally discard any of them, so consider myself slightly lucky for the loss of a few issues over time.  (Of course, the obsessive side of me is agitated by the holes in my carefully organized collection.)  I am actually half convinced that one day I will be found dead in my apartment, crushed under the weight of piles and piles of back issues of my favorite magazine.  

Recently, I have been in a slight New Yorker rut, toting around unopened issue after unopened issue.  Today I decided all that would change.  I grabbed the July 22nd issue that has been wrinkling in my shoulder bag (a shoulder bag that, by the way, is imprinted with an old New Yorker cover, how predictable) and decided to quickly read through the Talk of the Town so I could more quickly get to the article I was really interested to read, an article by Rachel Louise Snyder called “A Raised Hand:  When domestic violence turns ugly.”  Well, I got waylaid by a Lizzie Widdicombe piece called “On the Couch:  Comeback” that touches upon the return to the political scene for two disgraced New York politicians:  Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner as comptroller and mayoral candidates respectively.  I have actually been thinking about how to address this exact topic for some time and Ms. Widdicombe, whom I normally enjoy quite a bit, gave me just the fodder I needed.

Just today I was ranting about the return of Spitzer and Weiner, lamenting the fact that if a female politician were to “sext” someone a photo of her tits or use the services of an escort, her career would be over.  There would be no comeback attempt because there would be no chance of anyone taking her seriously.  She would be a whore.  She would be a bad example for our children.  People would be digging into her past, looking for any sexual deviance.  If she had made an allegation against someone for sexual misconduct, it would be dredged up, analyzed and mocked, more so even than at the time it was filed.  She would go from being a respected politician, to being maligned by the newspapers in the same way as was Ashley Alexandra Dupre, the “call girl” who’s mere existence brought down Spitzer,  a woman who was, after all, simply doing her job.  Dupre, as it turns out, is more than just her job.   According to the assistant editor of Rolling Stone Andy Greene (as quoted by Widdicombe), Dupre was a singer with a voice “not much worse than Britney Spears.” But, he continued “it’s a really tough road for her to have a music career because she’s a prostitute.”  Apparently, her time as a sex worker makes it near impossible for anyone to imagine her as anything other than that.  Dupre is a prostitute, Spitzer is someone who gave in to temptation; Dupre lacks morals, Spitzer is merely weak.  For many Americans, being a paid participant in the sex trade devalues a person, and yet high powered men who pay for the services of women like Dupre can get their lives back in order with a few well-timed apologies and maybe a publicized visit to a therapist. Spitzer, after all, was given two shots at being a talk show host.  And now he is back in politics.  None of this is to say, of course, that people utterly forget what happened, that the offenders aren’t mocked ruthlessly (I mean, Weiner, really? The jokes write themselves!), or that a return to the political scene is easy.  The point is that a return is possible, which it is not for women.  Until recently, Dupre wrote a sex column for the New York Post because once you’ve been a sex worker that’s pretty much all people want to hear out of your mouth.  Anyway, back to Widdicombe’s article.

In her short piece, Widdicombe talks about the entrance of these two men back into the political scene.  She takes the approach of analyzing their “infidelities” using the perspective of marriage councellors, making the argument that these two men need to salvage their voter-politician relationship much in the way they had to salvage their marriages.  (Granted, this is going to be much harder for Weiner given the recent release of more information about his sext-ploits.)  In conversation about Spitzer’s return, one therapist she spoke to, a Doctor Jim Walkup, said that voters “remember the look of that woman” (italics mine), referring to Dupre.  And, a Doctor Christina Curtis added, “his wife” — Silda Wall Spitzer — “having to go up to the podium, and the humiliation.”  She is remembered for, and defined by, her humiliation.  The New York Post, oh-respectable publication, called her “the first door mat” and I think I read somewhere that she blamed his visits to Dupre on herself.  Patriarchy at its finest.

I actually don’t really know where to go from here.  I guess part of it is that I would expect for The New Yorker to have a more nuanced discussion, even in a short piece, of the roll that gender plays in all of this.  The writers have been known to say much more with much less words.  These men have taken advantage of their power and privilege and although they were forced to resign their seats at the time, they are still relevant.  But what about Dupre?  She is just “that woman.”  And despite her high powered career, our national memory of Wall Spitzer is best captured in these words by Katy Waldman of Slate:

“Silda Wall Spitzer impressed herself into our collective memory when she stood, chalk-gray, beside her husband as he resigned from the New York governorship in 2008. It was a wrenching image of devotion or delusion, depending on your take…”

I guess what I am looking for is a simple admission that when these high-powered men take their dicks out, there is collateral damage and that the damage generally has a female face.  Monica Lewinsky, after all, is remembered for little more than that stained blue dress but the reality is that she wasn’t simply an exploit, she was and is a person.  Furthermore, despite the fact that Bill Clinton earned himself the unfortunate nickname “Slick Willy,” his opinion still matters.  His support of Barack Obama makes a difference.  He is still respected.  And yet the only thing that matters about Lewinsky, even all these years later, was that she gave the President head in the oval office.  These women are all human beings.  They deserve our respect and they deserve to be acknowledged for something more than simply their involvement in some dude’s temporary political undoing.  We have to acknowledge the power dynamic that exists between a well-established, well-respected, powerful man and the oftentimes much younger women that get wrapped up in, and brought down by, their after hours activities.  We have to acknowledge that men of power, and specifically straight, white men of power, get a pass from us when they fuck up, even when they fuck up over and over again.  Sure, give Spitzer and Weiner another chance, but lets not use it as an excuse to unearth topless photos of Dupre.  The women that get caught up in all this are simply living their lives, and they deserve to go on living it outside the shadow of some powerful guy.  They also deserve a second chance.

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