Yes, Anthony Weiner is a total scumbag and we’re all relieved that Huma Abedin finally mustered the fire to dump him after this latest sexting scandal. Yes, he reached a new low by sending a dick pic that included his sleeping baby son in the background. Yes, his seemingly-endless series of sexting scandals almost feels like self-parody at this point, and it’s really hard to feel bad for someone who clearly does not learn from his mistakes.
But does all of that make it ok to plaster his sexts on the cover of the New York Post?
Weiner’s latest sexting scandal comes on the heels of the very public harassment of Leslie Jones, which caused a lot of discussion of the right to keep one’s private photos private. When Jones’ website was hacked and her private nude photos were leaked, it was classified, accurately, as harassment, and is currently being investigated by the Department of Homeland Security. The leak, which was the culmination of a barrage of abusive tweets, inspired a plethora of think pieces and op-eds calling this the ultimate example of ‘mysogynoir‘ – that insidious intersection of sexism and racism – and proof that we need to take online harassment of female celebrities seriously. #StandWithLeslie started trending on Twitter, and even Hillary Clinton tweeted her support.
Of course, these two situations are far from identical: Weiner is married, Jones is not. Weiner has had multiple sexting scandals (this is his third), Jones has not. And, most importantly, Weiner’s photos are arguably newsworthy, since this is basically a continuation of the same scandal that cost him his political office, whereas Jones’ were shared with purely malicious motives, as part of a long-standing onslaught of abuse. But despite those differences, important as they may be, both Weiner and Jones are public figures who took revealing photos of themselves for private use and are now suffering as a result of the dissemination of those photos. Despite those differences, it’s hypocritical of us to decry the leaking of Jones’ nudes while laughing at Weiner’s being printed by the Post.
The Post could have carried out a perfectly effective public shaming without showing the actual images, but by now we feel entitled to the proof of scandal; so entitled that we’ve forgotten about the slippery slope that puts us on. We’ll never be able to end the kind of cruel harassment that Jones endured if we cherry pick and say it’s ok to make someone’s private pictures public sometimes, when they’re “asking for it,” when they should’ve learned their lesson by now, when we feel entitled to sit front-row at their rock bottom.
Jones is a much more sympathetic victim, undeniably. But if we want to set the precedent that it’s never acceptable to share sexual images of someone without their consent, it has to truly mean never, whether we’re talking about celebrities, disgraced politicians, or private citizens.
Some may argue that Weiner brought the publication of his sexts on himself, that he should have known better. But people said the same thing about Jones. In addition to a huge outpour of support for Jones and outrage at her harassment, there were also those on the Internet asking, “Why do people even take nudes if they don’t want anyone to see them lol?” and even arguing, “The question shouldn’t be, ‘Why would someone hack Leslie Jones and leak her nudes?’ it should be, ‘Why did Leslie Jones ever take nudes?'”
This is a classic, and flawed, defense. Why take nudes if you didn’t want them to get out? Why wear a short skirt if you don’t want to be catcalled? Why get drunk at a party if you don’t want to get raped?
No matter how much disdain we may feel for Weiner, we have to be careful claiming that he brought this on himself. It’s tempting, since he’s been through this three times now and it’s truly difficult to imagine how he thought this would end any differently. It’s easy to revel in Weiner’s humiliation, to feel bad for Huma while we vilify her thoughtless, reckless, hapless, soon-to-be-ex husband. It’s hard to think of Weiner as the victim when we’re so used to talking about him as a degenerate, a compulsive sexter who ruined his career – and now his marriage – just because he couldn’t keep his tighty whities to himself.
This is not to say that Weiner has done nothing wrong here – a married man who sends dick pics to strangers, especially when those dick pics include his sleeping baby, might deserve for his wife to leave him; and to take the house, the kid and the money with her when she goes. But by saying that Weiner deserved to have his sexts leaked to the press, and by reveling in his humiliation, we leave the door open for the next hacker who wants to target a celebrity they don’t like.