New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner has once again found himself in the spotlight for sending sexts and explicit photos to women, under the alias “Carlos Danger.” Post-revelations, however, the media tired of discussing the former Congressman and instead moved to the women involved, passing judgment and moralizing about them in sensational linkbait stories.
Just the tip of the iceberg is the New York Post‘s cover blaring, “Señora Danger, What’s Wrong With You?” alongside a stunning photo of Weiner’s wife Huma Abedin, with small type below reading,
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. 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 [Weiner's extramarital sext partner] 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?
Then there’s 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 in the media’s portrayal of the women around the Weiner scandal, concluding that what is “actually setting back women” is 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. Once again, women are typecast as good girls or bad girls–sexually promiscuous or “soulfully beautiful.”
We pass judgment on the women involved, critiquing their feminist cred, while forgetting that Anthony Weiner is the one responsible for his own actions and the scandal that ensued. Some in the media, though, seem to think that it’s easier to blame the women who “enabled” him. It’s easier to ask why Huma Abedin doesn’t just leave her husband. It’s easier to write about complicit sexter Sydney Leathers pursuing a porn career.
Like a broken record, these “women roles” repeat over and over. Abedin has become the new Hillary Clinton, cast as the “power hungry” wife who was well-versed in the “Clinton school of forgiveness,” where “power is more important than dignity.”
This sexist chatter becomes a powerful weapon to disempower women. No matter former Senator and Secretary of State Clinton’s notable political achievements, she can’t shake the perceived stigma of having not left her husband in the aftermath of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Why does a scandal that begins and ends with Weiner (or Bill Clinton, for that matter) end up becoming a commentary on women and the merits of feminism? 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.