Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Indulge me, if you will, a lengthier post than usual. I have been up all night haunted by my thoughts and, worse, feelings and if I read one more thing before I write something, I may be sick.
The papers these past days have been flooded with accounts of the State Attorney General of New York's involvement in a high-cost (not high-end, as that is impossible) prostitution ring called the Emperor's Club (their website is shut down, or I would provide you a link so you could see the women, faces covered, whose prices were determined based on an evaluative system with one diamond being the least expensive and seven diamonds being the most). Everyone is freaking out. Good heaven's, they shriek, this man was nicknamed Mr. Clean! He campaigned against immorality, he made enemies on Wall Street under the guise of a crusade for integrity, he even shut down a prostitution ring himself in 2004. And how this?!? Unconscionable!
Prostitution is age-old and, to my mind, truly heinous. To read the news yesterday, initially, you would think I was not alone in my estimation. I have been told I hyperbolize the problem, and that I should not allow the crisis of sexual disparity to rock me as it does. I truly lay awake nights envisioning what, to me, is an exploitative, degrading, and wholly pervasive problem so huge it is invisible. I am instructed to settle down, realize that men will be men, and, besides, perhaps on occasion such a system will offer me a crumb of flattery, but I can't. The Emperor, you see, is naked, and I know it.
And, for just a second, I thought everyone else might have picked up on it, too. The media's rebuke of Spitzer has been harsh and extensive, and I was frankly shocked at the kinship I felt. Hooray, I thought. They are catching on. Sexual objectification and inevitable exploitation of women is evil, but not necessary, and folks are rallying to stop it.
But I kept reading, most profitably between the lines, and I realized that the intolerance for Spitzer's acts was not what it seemed; his acts were not considered problematic in their own right, but because they had been committed by a man who professed to eschew them. The General's hypocrisy brought about his downfall, not his lust.
Speaking of lust, I have a few thoughts on the topic. It seems a general consensus (especially in Mormon culture, so please excuse me if you are unfamiliar) that damnable lust is destructive when it is acted out. Soliciting a prostitute is thus damnable, while ogling women's bodies when those bodies have no relational meaning to one's own, is not. To lust after a stranger is a function of masculinity, to refrain from acting on that lust is a function of heroism.
I beg to differ. As I perceive it, the ignominy of lust exists in lustful acts, such as using a prostitute's (or any other woman's) body in an attempt at gratification, but is not restricted to such acts. To observe and objectify the body of another human being is to disqualify her as such, relegate her to another, lesser class, and perpetuate a culture generally inhospitable and violent to women.
Which brings me to my next topic: pornography. Had Spitzer spent those two and a half hours using pornography, would his crime have been worthy of mention? I ask, what is the difference? A female body used as a tool for the sexual arousal and the (likely impossible, given the cultural clime) sexual gratification of men, at the cost of her dignity. What's the difference? Yet, would using pornography incite a media riot, and cause all the Governor's aides to appear "visibly shaken" and one of them to weep outright? I somehow doubt it.
This man is a husband and father--of three teenage daughters. Perhaps the emphasis on Wall Street's celebration that the wicked old witch is dead should take a backseat to the responses of these young women. Did this information come as a true surprise to them, or do things make more sense now? Could they feel a change in their father's responses to them as their bodies became more like those he clandestinely used? Were they barely aware of an uncomfortable sensation when their teenaged friends came by their house? Perhaps one of them has a friend who is an "American, petite, very pretty brunete, five feet five inches and one hundred five pounds", like Kristen, Spitzer's escort. How do they feel about themselves and their bodies? What does this mean for their lives? Or mine?
No matter the damage done by their father, it is only of penultimate importance. Even if Spitzer's kids had an angelic father who had never thought of a female body as a commodity (good luck finding such a father, by the way), the rest of the world would make clear his disparity from the norm. They would still hear, though perhaps not quite so shrilly, the truth about what America thinks its women are good for.
Perhaps one day men will not be set up so badly, confused and deceived and told that some answer might lie in a an image on a computer screen, a body walking down the street, giving him a haircut, or knocking on the door of his hotel room; bodies without faces, people without souls. Perhaps. But, meanwhile, if you need me, because I can't help it, I will be lying awake in my bed crying.
Happy Women's History Month!