A version of this post was published at Ms. Magazine.
During his bid for New York City Mayor, Anthony Weiner found himself in the spotlight once again for another batch of sexts and explicit photos that he sent to women under the alias “Carlos Danger.”
Post-scandal, however, the media tired of discussing Weiner and instead moved to the women, passing judgment and moralizing them in sensational linkbait stories. Perhaps the tip of the iceberg being the New York Post‘s cover blaring, “Señora Danger, What Is Wrong With You” alongside a stunning photo of Huma Abedin with small type below that reads,
Sure, Carlos Danger is a sleaze, but his señora is no saint either. Huma Abedin happily lied to a public that had been nothing but sympathetic to her as she inexplicably stood by—and colluded with—Anthony Weiner.
Other publications followed suit, all joining in on the media circus spectacle about the women of the Weiner sex-troversy.
There was a heavy dose of slut-shaming from Susan Jacoby in The New York Times:
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?
Huma-shaming courtesy of Sally Quinn in The Washington Post:
Though her friends say she is strong and resolute and defiant, sadly she [Huma] makes all women look like weak and helpless victims. She was not standing there in a position of strength. It was such a setback for women everywhere.
And some feminist-shaming from Dr. Keith Ablow at Fox News:
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.”
In “Things That Look Like Feminist, But Aren’t” MSNBC’s Irin Carmon spells out the sexism trailing after the media’s portrayal of the women around the Weiner scandal. She offers a clear and concise breakdown of the unfeminist commentary, concluding that what is ‘actually setting back women’ is in fact the “barely-varnished takedowns of women for their personal and sexual decisions, in column form, purporting to be feminism.”
But these sexist jabs aren’t just unfeminist and harmful to women; they end up defining us. They teach us, implicitly of course, that woman are typecast as the good girl or the bad girl, the sexually promiscuous “slutbag” or the “beautifully soulful” naive wife who stands by her man (private matters which are, for the record, none of our business). We pass judgment on the women, spilling ink critiquing their feminist cred, while forgetting that Weiner is the one responsible for his own actions and the scandal that ensued.
The media seems to think that it’s easier to blame the women that “enabled” him. It’s easier to ask why his “soulfully beautiful” wife, Huma Abedin, doesn’t just leave her husband. It’s easier to write about the ‘sad,’ ‘lonely’ complicit sexter Sydney Leathers, Weiner’s online mistress, pursuing a porn career. And it’s sensational to report his Communications Director, Barbara Morgan, the “bitchy” boss, calling her former intern a “fucking slutbag” after publishing an unflattering story about the Weiner campaign.
Like a broken record, these “women roles” repeat over and over. Boys will be boys, but when it comes to the women, we humiliate them. Huma has become the new Hillary — cast as the “power hungry” wife who was well-versed in the “Clinton school of forgiveness” where “power is more important than dignity.” This is a role to which Huma “armed with her signature shade of lipstick,” “crimson lips pursed,” obliged.
It’s not up for debate whether or not it was right or wrong for her to stand by her husband, but the consequences of Weiner’s infidelity expose the lose-lose situation for women. Huma has lost in the face of infidelity not once, but twice, and she loses again every single time we hold her culpable for Weiner’s wrongdoings.
And yet this sexist chatter ultimately becomes a powerful weapon to disempower women at the feet of influential men. Because the fact is, no matter Hillary’s notable achievements in politics — New York Senator, presidential candidate, and President Obama’s Secretary of State — she is still defined and shamed for the decision not to leave her husband in the aftermath of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Why does a scandal that begins and ends with Weiner have to end up becoming a commentary on women and the merits of feminism? What women’s narratives are we choosing to tell, and at what cost?
As Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote at Salon:
This is how we talk about females. They’re victims or they’re schemers or they’re pathetic lonely losers or they’re slutbags.This is the narrative we create, the roles we cast them in within the public discourse. The man in the middle of them all, the one who actually lied to his wife and his voters, he just gets to be a sleaze. It could be worse. He could be a woman.