For the most part, I side with Ross Douthat in his exchanges with Michelle Goldberg and Andrew Sullivan on the subject of internet sex scandals and Rep. Weiner. Goldberg seems to be overstating the threat to privacy resulting from coverage of Weiner’s situation, and Douthat is correct that most people would be able to pursue “fantasies” on the internet without sending ridiculous pictures of themselves to unintended recipients. Unlike Goldberg and Douthat, though, I’m not particularly “disgusted” by Weiner’s actions. I just feel sorry for his wife and the student to whom he sent the pictures, and think he showed himself to be rather pathetic. I mean, if you’re going to tweet sexy pictures of yourself in such a stupid way as to create a public scandal, is this the best you can do for sexy pictures? Pretty sad.
On the other hand, Andrew Sullivan’s excuses for Weiner’s behavior as the natural result of “texting while male”–even if Sullivan subsequently qualifies this as “texting while male and horny”–are equally pathetic. Sullivan’s attitude towards male sexuality and self-control is not much different from those who excuse rape because, after all, “the horned up male mind is not something to be trifled with.” When it comes to stupid sexual things one can do on the internet, Sullivan thinks his formulation implies that, “no one would be free from temptation or from giving into it.” However, I’d venture that most men I know have enjoyed at least some variety of pornography on the internet without tweeting silly pictures of themselves or otherwise doing stupid things to embarrass their families in the process.
The entire dynamic of “temptation” and “giving in” strikes me as but one way of experiencing desire, which may be irrelevant for many people. Does looking at a racy picture on the internet necessarily involve any sense of temptation or transgression, for example? These things seem relevant only if there is some boundary or rule against the behavior in question, and in those cases men seem perfectly capable of avoiding transgression. It seems pretty insulting to men to suggest that, when “horned up”, we can’t really expect them to consistently exercise self-control.