I want to agree with Dan Savage here about Anthony Weiner.
Even if you find Weiner’s behavior disgusting, even if you’re mystified by Huma Abedin’s stand-by-her-mannishness (hey, maybe they have an agreement, people? Maybe she’s enjoys getting her virtual freak on too?), won’t you please think of the children? Think of your own children. I promise you, moms and dads of America, your kid is online right now sexting up a storm, swapping dick pics and boob shots, flirting with classmates, cranking up their BFs and GFs before school, during school, after school, etc., and all of their flirty chats, texts, IMs, and pics are going to wind up stored somewhere. Kids today: each and every one of them is creating a smutty digital trail that could be used against them one day—unless we defuse these ticking dick pic time bombs now.
That’s fine as far as it goes. However, I don’t think that Weiner’s penis is the one you want to hang your dick pic hat on.* The norms around these things are still evolving with the technology. They have new risks (like perminance) and new benefits (hotness, you’re not going to get a disease or preggers no matter how reckless you are with the pictures or texts you send). Still, those of us who want the rules to evolve into a reasonable direction should be defenders of consent and of honesty, and it’s tough to say Weiner lived up to either of those.
When the scandal first broke, what turned me from it’s none of my business to he should go was the fact that the pictures weren’t consensual (NY Times link).
“It didn’t make any sense,” Ms. Cordova, a 21-year-old college student in northwestern Washington State, said in her first extensive interview since Mr. Weiner confessed in a news conference Monday to sending her the photo. “I figured it must have been a fake.”
Ms. Cordova’s experience with Mr. Weiner appears to fit a pattern: in rapid and reckless fashion, he sought to transform informal online conversations about politics and partisanship into sexually charged exchanges, at times laced with racy language and explicit images.
Ms. Cordova, who had traded messages with Mr. Weiner, a New York Democrat, about their shared concern over his conservative critics, said she had never sent him anything provocative. Asked if she was taken aback by his decision to send the photo, she responded, “Oh gosh, yes.”
Surely those of us who think that sending pictures of your penis, or boobs, or whatever to strangers isn’t inherently immoral should be the ones who are strongest in trying to defend people’s right to not get unwanted pictures. Consent still ought to matter in our digital age.
Now, there has been no indication that his post-Congressional sending pictures was anything other than consensual. Maybe he has learned that lesson (I haven’t seen any evidence that he has discussed a lack of consent as a problem). If it’s intentional or not, it’s a step in the right direction. Still, he clearly lied to at least one of the women, promising to leave his wife for her (all of the articles I can find that I’d want to block quote use her name, even though she wants to stay anonymous so no link, I’m afraid; any comments with links to articles that name women who wish to stay anonymous will be deleted). That’s more forgivable, but it still seems creepy to me. I don’t think those of us defending the morality of sending pictures to people who want them should also feel an obligation to say lying to get pictures is no big deal.
And finally, there is the cheating aspect. Maybe Dan Savage is absolutely right, and Weiner’s wife, doesn’t mind or is in favor of it. But publicly, their stance is that she’s against it. And for the discussion of the ethics of sending pictures, I think we can say it’s wrong to go outside of the agreed upon boundaries of a relationship. We can do that even when we’re defending people’s right to define their relationships however they want. And look, I’m not going to judge their marriage from the outside: the fact that they have both decided to stay together, is enough, and frankly that part is still none of my business. We say that isn’t a deal breaker for electing people, and more generally that people probably shouldn’t be fired over it, but we can still say it’s not OK.
As I say, I agree with a lot of what Dan Savage says here. I just don’t think defending people’s right to send raunchy pictures means we have to defend Anthony Weiner in this case.
* That could be phrased better, but sometimes you can’t edit out accidental genius.