Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Big Apple Is Becoming The Big Yuck

Ah, what a web we weave when we send selfies to virtual female acquaintances. Former U.S. Congressman Anthony D. Weiner is a national dirty joke. Instead of flashing his junk from an unfurled raincoat, Weiner is a virtual exhibitionist, thanks to his trusty smartphone camera. Even his surname evokes sniggers. Susan Jacoby weighed in today about the recipients of the image files from the former Congressman's smartphone camera. Jacoby mentioned the famous New Yorker cartoon about the dog on the Internet:

So, we are left with a former Congressman (and NYC mayoral candidate) who is a virtual male dog in rut — virtually humping the leg of any woman who will accept his selfies. The irony of all of this is that Mrs. Weiner (Huma Abedin) has served as The Hillster's top aide. This blogger wonders if the former First Lady has offered advice to her aide about the fallout from a straying (actual, not virtual) spouse, the POTUS 42. If this is (fair & balanced) yuck, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
Weiner’s Women
By Susan Jacoby

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There is something missing from the endless moralizing and sophomoric jokes aimed at Anthony D. Weiner. That something is the role of women in a coarse and creepy Internet culture dedicated to the fulfillment of both male and female desires for virtual carnal knowledge.

People ask how Mr. Weiner’s wife, the soulfully beautiful and professionally accomplished Huma Abedin, can stay with him. My question is why hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women apparently derive gratification from exchanging sexual talk and pictures with strangers.

These women are not victims of men like Mr. Weiner (or of ordinary, obscure sex seekers in the digital world) but full and equal participants. There is no force involved here; people of both sexes are able to block unwanted advances. Women are certainly safer on the Web than they would be going home with strangers they meet in bars.

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?

I actually have no nostalgia for the double standard of sexual morality under which I was raised in the 1950s, when women were supposed to be the gatekeepers of sexual propriety while they waited for Prince Charming. But the unfairness of the old expectations does not justify a new double standard, which pretends that only men are responsible for virtual sex that may prevent or wreck real-life relationships.

One vital, often overlooked aspect of feminism (especially by those who have bought into the stereotype of ’60s feminists as man haters) has always been its insistence on the right of women to express and take pride in their own sexuality.

But the “sex” that women engage in with often anonymous men on the Web has nothing to do with pride in one’s body or mind. Whatever women or men are getting out of sex via Twitter or YouTube, it is not recognition of their specialness as individuals. I could call myself Susanna Reckless and post pictures of my much younger self online tomorrow, but the resulting encounters would have nothing to do with the real me. It all recalls the classic New Yorker cartoon with the caption, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

The morality of virtual sex, as long as no one is cheating on a real partner, is not what bothers me. What’s truly troubling about the whole business is that it resembles the substitution of texting for extended, face-to-face time with friends. Virtual sex is to sex as virtual food is to food: you can’t taste, touch or smell it, and you don’t have to do any preparation or work. Sex with strangers online amounts to a diminution, close to an absolute negation, of the context that gives human interaction genuine content. Erotic play without context becomes just a form of one-on-one pornography.

Nor do I consider it worse for women than for men to engage in this behavior. But I do suspect — because I concede the validity of the numerous studies concluding that men are more interested in and aroused by pornography than women are — that women who settle for digital pornography are lowering their expectations and hopes even more drastically than their male collaborators are.

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. Twentieth-century feminism always linked the social progress of women with an expanding sense of self-worth — in the sexual as well as intellectual and professional spheres. A willingness to engage in Internet sex with strangers, however, expresses not sexual empowerment but its opposite — a loneliness and low opinion of oneself that leads to the conclusion that any sexual contact is better than no contact at all.

That’s undoubtedly just as true for the men who have been called arrogant as a result of their online indiscretions. Deep down, what does a man really think of himself when he must feed his ego with phony gasps of erotic pleasure from strangers in a digital vastness? What does a woman think of herself in the same arid zone of sex without sensuality?

This is not the sort of equality envisioned by feminism. It is, rather, the equality of the lowest common denominator — a state of affairs that debases the passion and reason of both men and women. Ω

[Susan Jacoby began her career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has been a contributor to a wide variety of national publications, including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The American Prospect, Mother Jones, The Nation, Glamour, and the AARP Bulletin and AARP Magazine. She is currently a panelist for "On Faith," a Washington Post-Newsweek blog on religion. Her book Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism was named a notable book of 2004 by The Washington Post and The New York Times. Her most recent books are The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought (2013) and The Last Men on Top (2013). Jacoby received a BA (Journalism) from Michigan State University.]

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