Thursday, November 4, 2010

Why You Should Care About Christine O'Donnell's One-Night-Stand (And Why Caring Does NOT Make You A Misogynist)

Christine O'Donnell, contemplating the state of her Ladybug

Last Thursday Gawker posted a story titled "I Had a One-Night-Stand With Christine O'Donnell" written by an anonymous Philadelphia man who recounted a 3 year-old fumbling encounter with recent Tea Party candidate for Delaware Senate--and staunch abstinence advocate--Christine O'Donnell. According to "Anonymous" (who has since been identified as Dustin Dominiak) O'Donnell showed up at his door three Halloweens ago with a friend in tow asking to borrow his bathroom to change into her costume. Dominiak barely knew O'Donnell (he was renting an apartment from her aunt) but went along as she, now dressed as a ladybug, persuaded him to accompany her to a bar on Philadelphia's South Street.

Both drank heavily and later that evening/early that morning found themselves naked in his bed, fooling around. According to Dominiak, O'Donnell seemed sexually unskilled, announced her intention to remain a virgin and sported an all-natural pubic bush, all turn-offs for him. Dominiak, who had to get up early for work cut his losses, rolled over and went to sleep. Despite the awkwardness of their encounter O'Donnell contacted Dominiak and suggested that they get together again. He writes, "I didn't see any reason to try and see her again. But two or three days later, she emailed me to ask me if I wanted to hang out again. I made an excuse. But she didn't take a hint and emailed or called a few more times over the next couple of weeks before I was forced to make it clear to her that I wasn't interested."

So, to review:

Two adults have a consensual sexual encounter that leaves one of them unsatisfied and with no desire to see the other again. Happens every day. If you adjusted for the details what sexually active adult with a history of more than one partner hasn't been on one side of this equation or the other? Or, if we are really being honest... both? Speaking of details, most people are focusing on O'Donnell's alleged all-natural pubic hair situation, but for my dollars the image of Dominiak rousting her in the morning so he can get to work, is the gold here. And not only because it involves a still-drunk, panty-free Christine O'Donnell but because the embarrassing banality of this scenario makes it so ordinary. And if this were a story about any two people trying to connect and failing that would be the end of it.

... But the dump-ee in question here is Christine O'Donnell, a politician whose positions (sorry) are largely derived from an extreme interpretation of Christian doctrine that precludes pre-marital sex, a proscription she famously extended to include even masturbation. Under most circumstances I am completely disinterested in the sex lives of famous people (or, anybody really who I am not having sex with) but Christine O'Donnell long ago blurred the lines between her public and private life by continuously using herself as an example in her activism. O'Donnell, a Catholic convert to evangelical Christianity, has said that looking at pornography is tantamount to adultery, that homosexuality is an identity disorder and has argued for the adoption of a "higher standard than abstinence" as an expression of personal righteousness. As a politician O'Donnell's take on sex and sexuality informs her public stance on multiple issues: she is pro-abstinence education, virulently anti-gay, and opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest. So when a person with such a rigid public stance on sexuality is revealed betraying her stated values in private, it is news. There have been many recent revelations of such hypocrisy from conservative politicians in recent years and this is merely the latest example, right?

Apparently not. The negative response to the Gawker article has been overwhelming, even among people who are deeply opposed to O'Donnell's political agenda. The National Organization of Women (NOW) rushed to defend O'Donnell Thursday when spokesman Terry O’Neill issued a statement describing the Gawker article as a "sexist, misogynist attack." O'Neill clarified, "NOW/PAC has proudly endorsed women's rights champion Chris Coons, O'Donnell's opponent in the Delaware Senate race, and finds O'Donnell's political positions dangerous for women. That does not mean it's acceptable to use slut-shaming against her, or any woman." In the New York Times, David Carr characterized the Gawker article as a "drive-by" that feeds O'Donnell into "the digital wood chipper" in an essay pointedly titled "By Any Means Necessary." The reaction online has been even more knee-jerk as Slate's Jack Shafer describes Gawker's O'Donnell post as a "tawdry... sleazy...nonstory" and Jessica Coen at Gawker's sister-site Jezebel dismisses the entire thing to an anti-female witch hunt. She writes,

If the politician in question were a man, this wouldn't be a story — an anonymous woman probably wouldn't even think to contact a gossip site with her story about how she once played spin-the-bottle with Mr. Candidate. Because who hasn't made out with someone? (With apologies to you, over there, looking sheepish in the corner.) Anyhow, big whoop. Wait — let me revise that a bit: perhaps a lady from Mr. Candidate's innocent past would step forward with such a small faux-scandalous tale, and we'd briefly pay attention to it — but only if Mr. Candidate were viewed as patently ridiculous as is O'Donnell. Really, the dude has got to be captivatingly idiotic in order for this kind of story to be of even the most remote interest. And that brings us back to the Would Never Happen column, because even the most absurd male candidates aren't considered half as loony as their female equivalents are.

Um, what? So, a scandal like this would never happen to a man... Except that it would, but only if he were as nuts as O'Donnell, and that wouldn't happen because men are never considered as nuts as women. And then everyone would forget about it right away anyway so it would be like it never happened. Besides, a woman would never publicly reveal embarrassing details of a sexual encounter with a famous man... because that is a thing that never, ever happens, right? Yeah, I am going to have to call bullshit on the pearl-clutch.

I am also going to save this paragraph forever so that when people ask me what I mean by "straw man argument" I can have one at my fingertips. But aside from being based on--literally--nothing, Cohen's argument relies on a purposeful revision of very recent political history: sadly, there is no shortage of male conservatives who are every inch as batshit crazy as O'Donnell. Am I expected to believe that if, say, Glenn Beck were caught in a similar situation it wouldn't become a giant story? (I know Beck isn't technically a politician, but with the rise of Tea Party politics the line between "pundit" and "politician" has been completely blurred, a la Sarah Palin.) At any rate, we don't need to speculate. There are many, many examples of male public figures--conservative and otherwise-- whose private lives did not match their stated public values and were embarrassed by the revelation of their various indiscretions. Like, oh... Larry Craig, Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggert, Mark Sandford, John Edwards, Bill Clinton, Jim Bakker, Randal David Ankeny, Bob Barr, Parker Bena, Ken Calvert, Mark Foley, Phillip Giordano, Matthew Glavin, Bob Packwood, Ed Schrock, Jim West, Michael Duvall, Mark Souder, Glenn Richardson, Daniel Stout, Roy Ashburn, Jim McGreevey, Gary Condit, David Vitter, George Rekers, Eliot Spitzer, John Ensign, Paul Stanley, Bob Bauman, David Dreier, Jim Kolbe, Jim McCrery, Coy C. Privette, Bob Livingston, Dan Burton, Henry Hyde, Don Sherwood, Tim Mahoney, Vito Fosella, John Ensign, Richard Curtis... By any realistic standard then Christine O'Donnell is not being singled out and treated differently because she is a woman. Rather, she is being treated in exactly the same way as any man in her position would, and the same as many already have, which is pretty much the functional opposite of sexism.

And the charges of misogyny (!) leveled at Dominiak for blowing the whistle on O'Donnell by talking about their night together are completely ludicrous. Exactly how is he expressing any hatred for women? By being honest about not being sexually attracted Christine O'Donnell because of her pubic hair? You may find that a shallow reason to become turned off to someone sexually... but that isn't really yours to judge, now is it? A broad coalition of commenters at Jezebel don't get a vote in who Dustin Dominiak does or doesn't have sex with and why. Here's the thing: Adults get to have sex with whoever they want, as long as their partners are willing and of age, even if their choice of partners and rationale for being sexual with them is very different from yours. So if there's slut-shaming going on here it is being aimed at Dominiak, whose sexual behavior is being judged by other people's standards and found wanting. In reality, his behavior toward O'Donnell was pretty honest and straightforward. He hardly cast himself as a sexual James Bond in their story. They both come off like awkward , sexually unsophisticated young people... except that Dominiak was 25 and O'Donnell was almost 40 at the time of their encounter. What emerges from this story is the image of a woman sexually immature for her years, whose repressed attitudes led her to make reckless personal choices : a similar narrative to a dozen other conservatives who have publicly railed against sex in its various forms only to collapse under the weight of taboo temptations in private.

The most bothersome element of this entire affair is the patronizing assumption that Christine O'Donnell somehow requires protecting. She is a grown woman who entered into a consensual sexual encounter that ended badly. It's only newsworthy because of the extremity of her anti-sex positions. And downplaying the explicit danger posed by those positions in favor of a vision of Christine O'Donnell as some sort of victim is utter bullshit. Her famous pronouncement decrying masturbation is a punchline in 2010... but when it was made in the early 90s it was a direct refutation of Joycelyn Elders' assertion that masturbation might be encouraged as part of safer sex education, a position that cost her the job of Surgeon General of the United States. In those deadly, pre-drug cocktail days safer sex education was a life or death proposition for an entire generation and Christine O'Donnell actively worked against it, telling young people , "Condoms will not protect you from AIDS." So lets not get it twisted, Christine O'Donnell's extreme anti-sex positions are NOT a joke. Or worse, the harmless, kooky ramblings of a misguided girl who needs "our" protection. They are the hateful pronouncements of a death-merchant, whose Christo-Nationalist world-view makes her very fucking dangerous indeed.

... And let's be real, would it even be a question if O'Donnell weren't a middle-class white lady, whose apparent distress activated the white-lady-as-perpetual-victim bat-signal?

Fuck her (or don't).

And if you think it is your job to protect her from the legitimate revelation of her hypocrisy, then fuck you too.

1 comment:

  1. If O'Donnell had run on, say, a "bring back Prohibition" platform, and a guy she got shitfaced with a few years ago wrote about it, would that also be considered misogynist? The answer is NO, it would not.

    Adult human women are not angel-fairies made of lace and sugar. They are allowed to both want and enjoy sex, just like all the other adult humans who aren't women. And when they vie for powerful political office and present themselves as enlightened spiritual beings who have moved beyond the base animal desires that the rest of us poor slobs are trapped by, it's perfectly fair to call them on their hypocrisy.

    Which is why running on the "morality" ticket is always asking for trouble.