In the midst of burgeoning Orwellian fears this summer, Anthony Weiner played an important role. At the end of May, late-night talk show hosts and comedians were presented with a bottomless well of hot dog humor when Weiner announced his candidacy for mayor of New York City. When The Guardian published the first exclusive based on Edward Snowden’s leak at the beginning of June, Weiner’s campaign continued to provide comic relief. In July, Edward Snowden took refuge in the international arrivals terminal of the Moscow airport, and the Obama administration scrambled to justify its surveillance programs to its own citizens and the rest of the world. In the meantime, more inappropriate pictures of Weiner surfaced, and he reaffirmed his continuing commitment to his mayoral campaign.
In the midst of serving as a source of comedic relief, Weinergate has also prompted some commentators to critique the actions of the women in his life, particularly his wife Huma Abedin and his ‘sexting’ partner Syndey Leathers. Many question Abedin’s decision to stand by her husband as more and more evidence of his past indiscretions is revealed. Others wonder why Leathers, a 23 year old student who recently starred in a pornographic parody of her relationship with Weiner, is able to reap the benefits of the affair as Weiner suffers in the polls. But there is an important difference between the mayoral candidate and these women: The people of New York have not been asked to trust either his wife or his former online mistress with political power.
There is no double standard here. Voters can reasonably expect their elected representatives to maintain the same moral integrity they advertised as part of their platform. However, an ordinary citizen such as Leathers is under no such obligation. Her only obligation is to abide by the laws. Although her online affair with Weiner may have been morally reprehensible, and although it may seem unfair to Weiner’s supporters that Leathers has been able to profit so richly, the reality is that she did not break the law nor breach her duty to New York.
In fact, one of the accomplishments of feminism today is the ability of women to take pride in their sexuality. The mythical bra-burning bonfires of the 1960s do not epitomize feminism. Rather, a principle aim of contemporary feminism is women’s liberation in a corporeal sense. It is the ability of a woman to use the fact of her womanhood to the extent and in the way that she chooses, as long as that use does not violate some legal or professional duty she owes. Sydney Leathers chose to leverage her body as a means to first establish a relationship with former representative Weiner, and now she has used that relationship to create a name for herself. Huma Abedin, Weiner’s wife, chose to leverage her sexual liberty in the opposite direction, by choosing to stay with her husband despite his indiscretions. Both equally exercise body politics.
Despite my use of female pronouns, this liberation is not limited to women. Men have simply historically had greater sexual freedom and therefore have fewer shackles to shed. The key thing to remember is that the way one uses one’s body has implications beyond the dance floor and the bedroom. Sydney Leathers, for example, has chosen to publicly profit from her relationship with Weiner, but she will also be branded as one of Weiner’s online mistresses.
The sexual harassment scandal of San Diego mayor Bob Filner and his recent resignation further demonstrate that men have to play by the same rules as women and accept the consequences of their sexual liberty. Perhaps Filner’s behavior is more despicable because it occurred in face-to-face interactions with women, and because his sexual advances appear to have been unsolicited. Nevertheless, the sheer volume of the calls for Filner’s resignation and the effort to collect sufficient signatures to recall the mayor demonstrate that Filner breached a duty he owed to the people of San Diego. Even if Filner’s ability to make sound policy decisions for San Diego was not affected by his alleged extracurricular habit of harassing women, he was still deemed unfit for office by public opinion. As soon as the Democratic National Committee called on him to resign, he entered an intensive behavioral therapy program. After completing the therapy regimen earlier than expected, he responded to the recall effort by refusing to acknowledge the harassment allegations. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi derisively told reports not to identify Filner as her “former colleague.”
One day in the hopefully not-too-distant future, women will be equal to or surpass men in elected office. When that day comes, there is a chance that a female politician will forget the extent of the duty she owes their constituents, and she will send an inappropriate photograph or sexually harass an employee or a colleague. If and when this happens, she will be just as culpable. There is not now and should not be a double standard when it comes to such behavior by political officials. There is only the responsibility to serve.
Joline Doedens is a second-year law student. Her column runs every other Wednesday. Send Joline a message @jydoedens.