Jun 18, 2011, 08:48AM

It's Called Control

On Weiner's resignation and Andrew Sullivan's apologetic commentary.

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Anthony Weiner is gone, and most of us don’t care. It was fun to talk about his thing, but now we must move on to other scandals. So long and thanks for all the tweets.

There are some who mourn, though, at least briefly. In particular, Andrew Sullivan has been profuse in his sympathy. For Sullivan, Weiner is the victim here—of rank partisanship second, and of that hideous scourge we call testosterone poisoning first and foremost. As Sullivan rhapsodizes:

...especially when young, surging testosterone offers unparalleled sexual excitement, constant no-strings-attached adventure, risk, ecstasy, thrills, passion and a form of psychological escape from the ordeal of consciousness that is, to my mind, unmatched. I suspect that's especially true for men, gay and straight, under stress or in the public eye constantly. To be something else for a while, to be purely an id, must be a particularly powerful relief for those required to be civilization's super-egos.
In a more saddened mode, Sullivan adds:

...what ended his career was the fact that he had been humiliated by the demands of his own considerable cock. That "too big to fail" organ beat the other one in his cranium. In men, that happens sometimes, in case you haven't noticed. In men fueled by testosterone and power—and just look at him, he's a strutting rooster of hormones—the combination can be overwhelming. I feel pity not disgust.

Sullivan’s point is that Weiner’s actions were biologically determined by the fact that he’s a man. Male sexuality, hormone-fueled, demands release. Weiner was just, as Sullivan says, “texting while male.” It’s a guy thing.

This is wearisomely familiar. It’s the language of women’s magazines and men’s magazines, the empty-headed, tell-it-like-it-is wisdom of self-help books. Indeed this article on Weiner seems like it desperately wants to be in some kind of understand-your-man relationship advice column.

We didn’t ask for it, but we men are programmed to be overtly sexual. Masking it in any way is somewhat unnatural. We control it, to the extent we can, by having an excellent sex life with our spouse (which rarely happens) and by daily mindfulness. But it’s sort of like being an ex-smoker asked to never smoke another cigarette again. You can follow strategies to reduce the likelihood of smoking, but the craving will always be there.
Yes women, it’s true. Most of us men have an almost irresistible craving to send pictures of our cocks across the Internet. I am barely restraining myself from taking such a photo right now for this very article. And yet, somehow, I have resisted. How did I do that? Perhaps it’s because I am not a real man like Anthony Weiner; maybe he just has more hormones to deal with. Maybe his libido is so tumescent that it is almost, say, half as potent as that of Janis Joplin.

Or, possibly—and this is just a thought—possibly he is a stupid dick, not in the sense that his nether region is out of control, but in the sense that he is a powerful, egotistical, entitled jerk whose impulse control sucks not because he’s a man, but because he’s that lowest of life forms, a politician.

Or perhaps that’s unfair. Women politicians, after all, don’t usually get caught up in sex scandals.  As The New York Times points out, though, this is not because they are sexless, but because woman politicians have to be better than their peers to even be in the room. There are, obviously, far more male politicians than female ones, and women still have to prove themselves in ways men don’t. From the Times story:

Celinda Lake, a Democratic strategist, says female politicians are punished more harshly than men for misbehavior. “When voters find out men have ethics and honesty issues, they say, ‘Well, I expected that,’" Ms. Lake said. “When they find out it’s a woman, they say, ‘I thought she was better than that.’"
In short, it’s not biology… it’s stupid assertions about biology by pundits like Andrew Sullivan. It’s not testosterone poisoning; it’s biological determinism poisoning. Everybody has decided that men are less culpable for their sexuality than women are, and, with that rule established, men behave as if they’re less culpable for their sexuality than women are. Someone like Joe Klein will even heap disdain upon his own gender, declaring “As I get older, and farther removed from my own hormone-addled salad days, I find maleness—the blind, bullish insensitivity of it—to be as much a disease as a gender.” It doesn’t seem to occur to him that blaming that blind, bullish insensitivity on hormones is a way to excuse and perpetuate it.

I don’t really think that Weiner committed a great sin, and his resignation is largely a matter of indifference to me. But sin or not, sending lewd pictures over social media is not a biological reflex. It’s something you learn, perhaps in part by being told over and over that you can’t help yourself.

—Noah Berlatsky can also be found at hoodedutilitarian.com

  • "Everybody has decided that men are less culpable for their sexuality than women are" EXCEPT that everyone is beating on Weinfer's ass.

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  • Well, not everybody is beating on him; as I said, he's got a fair amount of sympathy. But you're right that the article should have been clearer that he's taking from people who are not Andrew Sullivan and like-minded folks.

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  • And the people who aren't Andrew Sullivan (and the like) make up the vast majority. If they didn't, Weiner might have been able to hang on. Also, if I remember right, a key though understated part of the Sullivan/pro-Weiner take on the issue is that Weiner didn't do any harm. Those women weren't complaining, he didn't harass or threaten them, he didn't come on to the teenagers he was tweeting w/. So he doesn't have all that much to be culpable for. When Sullivan, etc., say Weiner was being harmlessly male, that's where the harmless part comes in.

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  • Another point is that Weiner was desperate to keep his antics from coming out, whereas the women went right ahead and spilled what they had done. Interesting to find out what happens to them, but it sure seems like they didn't feel anyone would hold them responsible for their activities.

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  • People like Glenn Greenwald argued that there wasn't any harm. Dan Savage did too, to some extent. Sullivan really focused on it being about testosterone. //I don't know that the vast majority of americans are particularly upset at Weiner. His constituents overall supported him, it seemed like. //As for the women..how exactly would they be held accountable? they don't hold public office...? From what I've read, it sounds like Weiner was sometimes sexting with women who hadn't exactly asked for the attention...it doesn't seem like you should be held repsonsible for getting a dirty picture in your inbox.

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