What’s More Shameful Than Nude Photos of a Member of Congress?

thinking that they’re shameful.



LET ME STATE THIS RIGHT OFF THE BAT: Revenge porn is sexual assault. And Katie Hill, the thirty-two-year-old Democratic representative for California’s 25th District who has resigned over nude photos of her leaked by her ex, has been violated as completely as if she’d been raped.

Though you be in sunny Des Moines and I in Toronto, I can hear you think, “Nonsense. Katie Hill suffered embarrassment, but not the physical horror of rape.” And I agree with you.

Nonetheless, psychological horror is as real as physical, and can scar someone irrevocably. Violation is not confined to the physical. Assault is legally described as “the least of touching without consent,” and can also include a threat, if the person under threat believes that the threat is real and imminent. This removes any mitigating idea of degree, that below a certain threshold it’s not assault.

What is being defended here is the integrity of body and mind. To rape is to annihilate a woman’s ownership and control of their own body, to render them powerless, to break them. Rape is negation.

Rape means a woman having to process the contradictory ideas that she is both a victim (weak), but in ways subtle and overt, also the perpetrator, because she “brought it on herself.” In rape, a woman becomes the specific target of generalized male powerlessness turned to rage.

Women enrage men, because heterosexual men are eternally in competition with each other on every level; sexual conquest is a primary way for a man to “win” the competition. In the sexual realm it appears at first that women call the shots, picking and choosing from the roster of strutting competitors.

But male identity is a fragile construct that needs constant shoring up. Men live in a constant state of sexual anxiety, and as they jockey for their place in the pecking order, humiliation is a constant threat. One humiliation too many, and a poorly socialized male with a wounded ego can react with aggression against its perceived cause.

A humiliated male is a dangerous beast.

Don’t try to win this one. Either she was too sexual and therefore an irresistable temptation (a whore), or she was not sexual enough and therefore distant and cold, a rejection ( a bitch). There is no change of women’s behavior that will create safety for women because women aren’t the problem and never have been, except in men’s minds.

Katie Hill, in other words, was asking for it.

It boggles my mind, already heavily into boggled mode as the impeachment circus enters the Big Top, that nude pictures of Katie Hill should even be an issue, especially when there is a US President who enumerates his nauseating sexual “conquests” with nothing less than full macho (insecure) locker-room pride and whose advice to “grab ’em by the pussy” remains his most eloquent, or at least most famous, contribution to modern political discourse.

This gives an extra edge to that bitter joke:
“What’s the definition of a slut?
A woman with the morals of man.”

Women are still judged by a supposedly exalted standard based on the assumption that men get to control, in fact, own, women. They’re judged on virginal innocence and “purity,” especially in North America, where Puritan mores are deeply embedded in our culture.

You must forgive a man his little dalliances (abuse, rape?), goes the idea, because that’s just the way men are; but the unavoidable conclusion is that women are still men’s property, and who wants damaged, or even used, goods?

Women are pilloried when they presume to enter public life. The trope of the dumb blonde emphasizes the role of women as decorative, not useful. You can be pretty or smart, preferably the former, and never both. Incompetence, acceptable if feigned but preferably real, removes any threat a woman might pose to a man’s fragile ego; it’s another infantilizing way to be innocent.

When women refuse to stay in their place, they’re swiftly punished. They’re told to keep their mouths shut, for the sound of a woman’s public voice is always deemed to be intolerable: “strident,” “shrill;” always piercing and unpleasant when she is usurping public space. It’s too much like a harping mother, that original castrator.

Women who insist on being competent pay for that trespass. They’re ugly, they’re lesbian, or, for example, in Michelle Obama’s or Amal Clooney’s case, the rumor begins to circulate online that they’re actually men who’ve had sex reassignment surgery, and their husbands gay, because how could a real woman be so strong ,confident, intelligent and successful? How could a real man tolerate being married to such a woman? (Apparently, not at all, though the assessment ‘real man’ is entirely in the mind of the troll.)

I never stop mentioning, so I might as well continue, my shock at seeing a particular meme of Hilary Clinton prior to the 2016 election. It had been posted by a young male Sanders supporter and pictured her speaking into a cell phone, with the caption, “Shut the bitch up.”

It doesn’t matter what you think of Clinton’s campaign or policies, because obviously that’s not what shut the bitch up is about. It’s about the outrage of a man that arises from the idea of a woman occupying a man’s rightful place.

Forty years of feminism, I thought, seem to have been for nothing. Powerful women are still “bitches” (a female dog, literally; compare “subhuman” and “infestation”) and that imperative to shut them up carried a not-so-subtle undercurrent of violence, because how, exactly, does one shut the bitch up when apparently she has no interest in doing so of her own accord?

I see this happening right now, all over again, with Elizabeth Warren. The Twitter and YouTube trolls are lined up at their computer keyboards like the elves in Santa’s workshop, chipping away at her credibility and character. Who’s she compared to? Narcissistic, unelectable Bernie Sanders, another old white entitled male, because anyone but a woman, although it’s framed as “there’s no money for her policies” i.e. “socialist.” And Bernie isn’t?

She stands head and shoulders above the other Democratic candidates (and I’m gay, if I thought Pete was better I’d damn well want to say so), she’s done her time in the trenches and she’s fierce in speaking truth to power.

That’s the problem.

In a just world, Katie Hill’s ex-husband would be charged for the vicious act of sending these images without her consent, the public would be outraged by his violation of her privacy, and a woman would enter relationships with the same freedom as a man, without it affecting her career prospects or being judged “sinful.”

For make no mistake, workplace ethics and power differentials be damned: this is about sin, and Katie Hill is wearing the scarlet letter with more eyes fixed upon her than Hawthorne could ever have imagined possible. Mike Pence must be singing hallelujah.

In a just world, consensual sex between adults would be seen as natural, normal and good, and unworthy of comment, so that the very idea of shame in this context wouldn’t even arise. Ditto our frail, marvelous, imperfect human bodies. We’d have nothing to hide.

But maybe I meant to say in a perfect world.

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Elizabeth Warren, scrappy pit-bull for justice: a love story

(it’s all about electability, people)


Elizabeth Warren is embraced by a supporter, while another supporter holds a sign reading “Win with Warren”.

I’M A CANADIAN WHO TAKES A KEEN interest in American politics, out of necessity (q.v. “in bed with an elephant,” the phrase coined by Pierre Trudeau, father of Justin, back in the day when Trudeaux — is that the plural? We’ll say it is — still had some clout and even left the house occasionally), and also out of the natural human fascination with fresh train wrecks.

I was in awe of Elizabeth Warren at first sight, as she vilified, to their faces and on live Internet feeds, the big little boys of Wall Street. It was a messy, unpleasant, but essential series of interventions, and as I watched I felt the same kind of sick thrill I felt when I discovered that the source of the nasty smell in my apartment was a pound of ground beef my roommate had hidden in his closet, then forgotten about.

(Sometimes the stench of evil is so pervasive, and the modus operandi so bizarre, you have to become habituated just to save the day and summon up the courage to carry on. “Doesn’t everyone keep a stash of ground beef in their closet? No — ?”)

But my heavenly mind-marriage with Liz was consummated on the day, sometime back in the Golden Era, the misty, nostalgia-glazed Arcadia that was pre-November 2016, when she declared Trump

 a loud, nasty, thin-skinned fraud...

In normal circumstances, whatever those look like and if there even is such a beast anymore, Warren would justifiably be accused of making an ad hominem attack. But these are tryin’ times, oh yeah, and in making this statement she’d laced up her boxing gloves and stepped into the ring, having simply revealed herself as a shrewd judge of character with a refreshing lack of inhibition.

With a presidential candidate who had exactly zero qualifications for the job, in fact, negative qualifications that actively screamed about how completely unsuited he was to be President — six times bankrupt, business fraudster, classic misogynist (and, it would be revealed, sexual predator), white nationalist, lack of any experience whatsoever in any government role and lack of understanding that he was not going to be running a business but making decisions in the public interest — with his qualifications hovering at around minus thirty-eight, what was there to work with except his character (assuming that having no character is, in itself, a kind of character)?

Warren has a passion for justice, the zeal of the convert (as a young woman she was, by her own description, fiercely conservative), a lawyer’s ability to summarize evidence and build a convincing argument, and a constructive, righteous anger that makes her speeches electrifying.

And she is focusing on an issue — the financial terrorism perpetrated by the cowboys of high finance on regular, middle-class Americans — that the 99% (that’s us) can understand, and that avoids the trigger topics of religion / sex / gender / race (not that those issues aren’t of primary importance, but we’re talking electability. Let’s save the polarizing arguments for when we’re all tucked up safely in bed).

If there’s one thing the Dems need, it’s focus. Oh, Minerva! Focus, and a compelling, unifying narrative. They’ve been stuck, for what seems an eternity but is probably just decades, in a reactive position, always limited by the intellectual boundaries imposed by an increasingly illiberal and intolerant right, or hampered by internal disagreements and the self-serving machinations of narcissistic old men (a.k.a. Bernie Sanders, The Great Spoiler).

(And what irony that, in his insistence that his way was the only way, all or nothing — offering the total Scandinavian Social Democratic smorgasbord with lingonberry sauce to a population that goes apoplectic at the mere thought of universal health care — Sanders showed himself to be just as intolerant and polarizing as the buffoon he more or less single-handedly put in office.)

Every time Warren explains, » as in this article on Medium, the blunt, ad hoc strategies of the financial sector, those make it up as you go along cash grabs they’ve tried to convince us are the arcane, untouchable workings-out of eternal laws, I find myself gobsmacked anew by how much Washington is in thrall to Wall Street, up to its withers in dirty money and daily, normalized corruption.

And I’m mystified by how much America, self-proclaimed land of prosperity and opportunity for all, regardless of origins, seems to have bought the neoliberal economic horse droppings of that other obnoxious bargain-basement Messiah, Milton Friedman, Mr. Trickle-Down.

The problem is one of heuristics, those mental short-cuts that enable us to make snap decisions without starting every dilemma with Adam and Eve and working forward. What is most available in our minds becomes our preferred solution and availability is determined by how often we have it pounded into our brains. That’s why marketing is a never ending competition to be the most salient brand, what advertisers call “top of mind.”

What do we have available? For years now we’ve heard the mantras of small government, de-regulation, austerity, and the dire warnings about socialism (forever associated in people’s minds with autocratic communist regimes such as Soviet Russia, in actuality a form of state capitalism). We’ve absorbed the sneering pejoratives “PC”, snowflake, libtard, social justice warrior, so thoroughly that many progressives themselves, suffering from insidious Stockholm syndrome, begin to babble about the terrible chilling effect on freedom of speech caused by the use of respectful language towards minorities.

The relentless focus of the right wing has caught progressives sleeping, and cast us as the villains of their narrative. What we’ve been missing is our own narrative and a voice as passionate for economic and social justice and inclusiveness as conservative voices have been for the status quo and status quo ante.

Elizabeth Warren has spun a personal and political narrative that reeks of common sense, and in a voice that means business; it’s your mother about to scrub your face really, really hard with a rough, damp face cloth. It’s a voice even grown men can’t discount. The only comparable voice I can think of is that of Maxine Waters. Hail to the Giga Moms!

Ms. Warren, you are the scrappy pit-bull of justice and may your bite be as sharp as your bark; you are the middle class’s fierce Emmeline Pankhurst, hurling rocks at the tinted privacy glass of the elite’s limos; you are the liberal pundit’s unlikely seventy-year-old pin-up girl. You are sublime.

If you don’t get the nomination, I think I will lose hope — not for Americans, never for Americans, but for America.


THE YouTube-IVERSE IS ALREADY BEATIFYING Sanders, Mr. Me-or-Nothing, and excoriating Warren as being in the pockets of “the Establishment.”

Now, I ask you. Why would Liz be courted and artificially pumped up and promoted by the very establishment she is hell-bent on taming and regulating? Does this make sense to you? Of course it doesn’t!

“Why is Joe Biden in first place?” asks one confused lady.

Umm, because he’s an old, white male. Next question? Old white males gotta run, gotta sing, gotta dance. Old white males are the flavor of the past, and the past — when men were men, women were seen, whistled at, slapped, pinched, tickled, assaulted and condescended to but not heard, people of color knew their place, and The Gays were thankfully invisible — is Shangri-La, the lost Promised Land.

Joe’s a Regular Guy, having already played the warm-hearted doofus to Obama’s patrician straight man, in an uncomfortable role-reversal: Now Obama was the plantation owner and Joe, in white face, the comic field hand and simple light relief. Joe was suitably butch enough to counterbalance Obama’s ever-so-slightly-gay reserve, intellectualism and faint yet unmistakable ever-present air of fastidious distaste at having descended to the earthly plane.

Joe’s still at it: Fondling women, making inappropriate remarks about women, and wondering where the good old days have gone where a man wasn’t called on the carpet for every little off-color joke or well-meant love pat, however undesired.

Joe Biden has been on the wrong side of history much of the time: he was for the Defense of Marriage Act, for banning LGBTQ in the military; subsequent reversals notwithstanding; for capital punishment and increasing capital offenses; for abortion partial bans and the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funds going to providing abortion.

Is this really the antidote to Trump?

And Sanders! Sweet mother of Liza! Sanders single-handedly handed the U.S. four years of Trump because his ego kept him hanging on, incensed that Hillary was touted as the more attractive option. Too late he told his followers to back Hillary, in a passive-aggressive, thinly veiled plea for loyalty to him and him alone, voiced as a plea for party unity — but with oh so much patent insincerity. It’s like his mom told him to stop being so mean to the mentally-challenged girl who wrote him mash notes and kept trying to hold his hand after class.

Guess what? Misogyny rears its tired old, white, male head. And it’s feeling uncomfortably like the beginnings of déjà vu all over again.

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