What's Really Behind "Weinergate"? A Right-Wing Attempt to Smear "Loose" Women
Over the weekend, a would-be sex scandal erupted when the rightwing website Big Government started claiming to have evidence that Representative Anthony Weiner of New York had tweeted a picture of his penis to a young woman living in Seattle. After the initial buzz of excitement at the potential of a paper-selling sex scandal, the story started to die from lack of evidence. There was no physical evidence of the picture or the tweet, only an alleged screenshot of the photo that could have easily been photoshopped and a retweet of the alleged tweet. Both were courtesy of the single known witness to the tweet, a conservative who tweets constantly about his hatred of Congressman Weiner. While there's no solid evidence whether this is or isn't a hoax conducted by the sole witness to the tweet, the preponderance of evidence points in that direction, and media outlets new and old, such as Gawker and the New York Times, are leaning towards the view that it is a hoax. Other outlets are avoiding weighing in either way on whether or not Weiner sent the picture.
Extreme scepticism that Weiner is anything but the victim of a political hit job is more than warranted in this case, and not just because of the lack of evidence or the fact that this is being heavily promoted by Andrew Breitbart, who has a long history of disseminating falsified evidence to support his claims (see the Shirley Sherrod affair etc). Nor should you be sceptical only because of the timing of this story – remarkable, if true, that this should happen right after another New York congressman resigns from office after sending an inappropriate picture to a woman online, only to see the Republicans lose his seat to a Democrat in the special election to replace him. Nor should you be sceptical only because the photo in question so crassly lends itself to puerile "weiner" jokes at the congressman's expense.
No, we should be sceptical of this story chiefly because it fits a larger pattern of rightwing culture warriors ganging up and sexually harassing random young women after floating facetious insinuations about improper relationships between these women and Democratic politicians.
Blame Monica Lewinsky. Or, more specifically, blame rightwing nostalgia for the year of Monica Lewinsky, when conservatives were able to openly indulge their hatred of a popular Democratic politician, their prurience and their love of smacking down young women who devote their energies to pursuits other than being good Christian housewives. The days of Monica Lewinsky were a heady time indeed for the right; ever since then, they've been trying to recapture the magic. In the process, they've built up a long list of deplorable vilifications of innocent young women and their friends and family, usually for no other reason than said young women look how conservatives imagine the next Monica Lewinsky will.
During the 2004 campaign, the Drudge Report floated rumours that John Kerry was having an affair with a woman named Alexandra Polier, based on the "evidence" that Polier was young and cute and had met the senator. In 2006, feminist writer and activist Jessica Valenti was subject to a barrage of online harassment after blogger Ann Althouse accused her of making goo-goo eyes at former President Clinton, based on the evidence that Valenti wore a blue sweater and stood near Clinton in a group shot of a blogger lunch he hosted. In 2008, forgetting the failed attempts at bringing down Kerry with rumours, the rightwing noise machine claimed that Barack Obama had had an affair with campaign staffer Vera Baker. Once again, the "evidence" to bear was that the rumour-mongers looked at the woman in question and deemed her hot enough.
Being targeted by these baseless sexual harassment campaigns is traumatic for the objects, as the latest victim, Gennette Cordova, is finding out. Your dating history and your looks are combed over by strange men, who are clearly wiping the drool off their mouths as they analyse the shape of your breasts and the length of your skirt for more "evidence" that you are the honeypot their hated politician has fallen into. Every picture of you available becomes the new Zapruder film, examined endlessly for some tiny detail that could be used to claim you're a slattern, a girl gone wild, a despicable flirt who can't be trusted not to sleep with every man who isn't a rightwing blogger. If you recede from the public view in response, you're accused of hiding something. If you face down your accusers, you're accused of being an attention whore.
Of course, political harassing young women for perceived non-chastity didn't start with Monica Lewinsky, though that scandal certainly shapes the way this harassment looks today. For decades now, conservative ideologues have used opposition to abortion rights as an excuse to gawk at and harangue thousands of women for supposed sexual deviance. The stereotype of a woman who gets an abortion as a sexy young thing trying to conceal her shameful fornication draws protesters every week to the hundreds of abortion clinics in the country, so they can holler invective or passive-aggressively "pray for" women trying to manage the unwanted consequences of sexual intercourse. Unfortunately, the social tolerance of sexual harassment means there's no end in sight to the abusive scenes in front of abortion clinics; and, in fact, these harassment campaigns pretending to be "protests" have been exported beyond American borders and are starting to appear in places like the UK.
And just as the culture of misogynist harassment around abortion clinics shows no signs of fading, so we can expect to see more harassment aimed at random young women who've done absolutely nothing wrong but happen to support Democrats while being attractive and female. One rightwing blogger has already floated the suggestion that Representative Weiner's Twitter followers be looked over carefully, so that other women deemed "luscious" can be similarly singled out for a barrage of online abuse.