So Gawker published a really ridiculous, journalistically irresponsible hit piece on Christine O’Donnell, who is running for a senate seat in Delaware. O’Donnell is a religious conservative fond of making slightly-off statements about how she’s not a witch and masturbation is adultery; part of her platform is the promotion of “sexual purity” and conservative values. The Gawker piece, written anonymously, describes a drunken hook-up between O’Donnell and some jerk in Philly (who has been outed by the Smoking Gun as Dustin Dominiak). O’Donnell is characterized as a predatory older women (the word “cougar” comes up), who doesn’t actually have sex with the jerk in Philly but does spend a night getting naked in his bed. However, “there were signs that she wasn’t very experienced sexually. When her underwear came off, I immediately noticed that the waxing trend had completely passed her by. Obviously, that was a big turnoff, and I quickly lost interest.”
This is a story, apparently, because O’Donnell is a big proponent of abstinence — not just from sex, but from sexual activity generally — until marriage. And I’m a big fan of political hypocrisy stories, so it doesn’t bother me all that much when hypocrites like O’Donnell are exposed. She goes around saying that no one should have sex; if elected she’ll push for policies that teach kids in school that sex is sinful outside of marriage and condoms and contraceptives don’t work; and if elected she’ll vote against abortion rights. At the same time as she’s condemning sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriages — and using her political platform to promote laws and policies that condemn sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriages — she’s engaging in it. Exposing that, I think, is fair game, just like I think it’s fair game to expose anti-gay bigots who sleep with people of the same sex, or “family values” men who cheat on their wives.
But something about this seems particularly ugly, doesn’t it? The O’Donnell campaign is taking the This Is Sexism route in their response instead of denying it completely. O’Donnell, the say, is being subject to the same kinds of sexist attacks lobbed at Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton; mentions of O’Donnell’s personal life are sexist and misogynist. But in the country of Larry Craig, David Vitter, John Ensign, Mark Sanford, Ted Haggard, etc. — all men, all taken down (or at least knee-capped) by their private sex lives — Team O’Donnell can’t possibly be 100% on the mark with this one.
They are half right, though. Right-wing men have been exposed for cheating on their wives while they promote family values, and for having sex with men while they condemn homosexuality. But a lot of right-wing men also promote abstinence-only education, and are anti-abortion, and condemn sexual activity outside of marriage, and I haven’t seen an exposé yet on a single right-wing Christian dude who got naked with a lady. It wouldn’t be much of a seller. And even if there was a story like that, I doubt it would mention the condition of his pubic hair. (And I really doubt it would mention the condition of his pubic hair as some sort of measure of his sexual experience).
The “cheating family man” and “homophobe on homo” stories are sellers because, as common as homosexuality or cheating your spouse may be, they’re still taboo to varying degrees. Men having sex before they’re married, or having one-night stands, or being sexually aggressive? Not taboo at all; totally normal. But women having sex before they’re married, or having one-night stands, or being sexually aggressive? Not taboo, exactly, but not as widely accepted as totally standard. Dudes who pursue someone for a one-night stand are just dudes. Women who do are sluts.
The O’Donnell story rubs me the wrong way not because her sex life is totally off-limits — sorry, sister, but when you start using your own purity and sexual mores to try and dictate everyone else’s, and when you want to be the sex police and violate everyone else’s privacy, you lose the right to your own — but because the whole story is coded in a very specific, very sexist way. She’s aggressive, which is bad for a lady, and especially embarrassing in the sexual sphere where women should be hunted; and she’s also kind of sexually unattractive, with the pubic hair and all. Plus she’s way sluttier than she says she is. The story doesn’t center around the hypocrisy aspect so much as the titillation factor. The point of the story isn’t to expose O’Donnell as a person who says one thing and does another; the point is to shame and humiliate her, and to shame humiliate her in an expressly sexualized way that is really only directed at women.
It doesn’t exactly hurt my heart to see that, like the vast majority of Americans, Christine O’Donnell likes sex and engages in sexual activity. But it would have been nice if this story had been a hypocrisy tale that illustrated the practical impossibility of her political positions instead of “Christine O’Donnell is a cougar and kind of a whore.”
- The Diabolical Daggers are Disappointingly Absent by zuzu November 26, 2006
- No Sex For You! by zuzu April 17, 2006
- WTF of the day by Jill January 14, 2008
- Chastity Clubs: Bringing the Hymens to Harvard Since 2001 by Jill March 31, 2008
- So that’s why I’m still single! by Jill July 9, 2009