Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Bad Week for Sex in the News

So does it surprise anybody that the Republican presidential nomination contest is focused on sex? Beyond the "guilt-by-association," slut-shaming stories about Karen Santorum's youthful affair with an abortion-friendly obstetrician (which I've already addressed), we've heard Newt Gingrich's third (and current) wife attacked as a "mistress" while his second wife is quoted as claiming Newt asked her for an "open marriage."

The problem with all this is not that it gives Republican candidates a bad name — they're pushing hateful, evil policy ideas based on a hateful, evil ideology, and they deserve as bad a name as they can get — nor that they are false: AFAIK, Karen Santorum did shack up with a much older doctor for years, and Callista Gingrich manifestly was Newt's long-time mistress, and while characterizing what Newt was asking for as open marriage is deeply problematical (just ask Dan Savage or JT Eberhard's co-blogger Christina), I have no doubt that conversation took place, no matter how vigorously Newt whines at being asked about it.

No, the problem is that all this Republican sex obsession is that it gives sex a bad name... and that really is undeserved. It's also indicative of something deeply troubled about our politics: The fact that they choose sexuality as the weapon with which they shame and attack each other reflects the sense — false, IMHO, but woven deeply into the fabric of our culture — that pleasure, and sexual pleasure in particular, is corrupt and immoral. This ultimately religious commitment to the idea of the innate depravity of the flesh contributes to the right's attacks on gay rights, women's reproductive right, and general freedom of sexual expression. More indirectly, I think it contributes to the broad meanness of right-wing policies.

But it's not just politics: Yesterday I read a sad little story about a woman who offered sex in return for a McDonalds drive-thru customer's order of Chicken McNuggets. The woman, Khadijah Baseer, described in reports as being "known as a local panhandler [emphasis added]," apparently was opening customers' car doors, I assume seeking food or cash. One man called the police and complained that she'd offered him sex (some sources say oral sex) in return for his chicken bits.

So the most parsimonious interpretation of a woman offering sex in return for a couple dollars worth of food is that she's desperately poor, right? Or starving, or mentally ill, or strung out on drugs, or perhaps some combination of all of the above? Certainly she requires some sort of assistance, right?

So what did the cops do? They arrested her on suspicion of prostitution. Because it seems so likely that an actual prostitute would take payment in processed chicken. And because this woman is so much more likely to be a threat to society than someone who needs society's help.

Or maybe it's just because any story that has sex in it has to have a slut. It makes me sad that we think this way.

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