Monday, July 16, 2012

Lesbian Dalliance "Shocking"? SRSLY?

As much as I’m tempted to engage in a certain amount of schadenfreude when it comes to Republican sex scandals, there are several levels of FAIL in this HuffPo story, not least of which is my general observation that, all too often, the main thing that makes sex scandals scandalous in the first place is that our culture still treats sex itself as inherently scandalous.

But leaving that broad sociological question aside, this particular story is a catalog of troubling language and approaches:

 First, it’s yet another case of HuffPo’s habit of using misleading, over-the-top link text on its front page to overhype stories. While the headline of the actual story reads “Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll Denies Lesbian Relationship Claims,” the link text on the Politics front page hyperventilates, “GOP Lt. Gov Denies Shocking Sex Allegations.” Really? With Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell dead and gone, DOMA on its legal deathbed, and increasing numbers of states embracing same-sex marriage, does a whiff of lesbianism really still make a story about sexual behavior “shocking”? I suppose some might think marital infidelity on the part of public officials is inherently shocking, but in this headline, does “Shocking Sex Allegations” really tell us anything that “Sex Allegations” wouldn’t tell us just as well?

But by now, I’m not at all surprised by yellow-journalistic headlines from this particular corner of teh intertoooobz. This would just have been another check in that box, if it weren’t for the quotes from accused Florida Lt. Gov. Carroll herself, including “Black women that look like me don't engage in relationships like that” (delivered with a giggle).

Huh? What does what she looks like have to do with it? I don’t even know what she means by that: Is she suggesting she’s not attractive enough to have a lesbian affair? Too attractive? Too “normal” looking? I can’t help wondering what she thinks people who “engage in relationships like that” are supposed to look like? AFAIK, people who look all kinds of different ways have all kinds of sex, and I’m at a loss as to why Jennifer Carroll might think otherwise. 

I’m also at a loss as to what she thinks her race has to do with it. I totally get that there may be some broad cultural differences in what sorts of sexual behavior folks engage in, and sometimes culture tracks closely with race (to the extent that concept has any meaning), but isn’t applying that sort of broad generalization to individuals the very definition of stereotyping, if not (in this case) racism?

Actually, taken together, “Black folks don’t do that” and “people who look like me don’t do that” sound to me like what Ben Bradlee¹ would’ve called a non-denial denial: Though the HuffPo story (based on a local TV news report) quotes her as referring to the accusations as "blatant lies," what she doesn’t clearly say is “I didn’t do that.”

She does point out that her accuser is single, as if that had anything to do with her veracity, and then says...
The problem is that when you have these accusations that come out, it's not just one person you're attacking. It's an entire family. My husband doesn't want to hear that. He knows the type of woman I am. I mean, my kids know the type of woman I am. if either her husband's discomfort or her family's knowledge of "the type of woman [she is]" would have the power to change the accusations from true to false.

I don't know where the truth lies in this story, which has apparently been going on for some time. There may be genuine scandal here: spousal betrayal, perhaps (though perhaps not, as we have no way of knowing the private parameters of Carroll's relationship with her husband), and maybe workplace sexual harassment, since Carroll's alleged trysting partner was her aide. Or it might all be the vindictive fabrications of a disgruntled former employee, who was fired and is being prosecuted for allegedly leaking confidential materials.

What I do know, though, is that we shouldn't think the sex of Carroll's alleged lover is what would make this a scandal, and we shouldn't imagine we know anything about Carroll's sexuality based on what she looks like.

Both HuffPo and Carroll herself ought to know better.

¹ Or his movie incarnation, in any case.

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