The response to Ted Cruz’s Twitter porn gaffe demonstrates a dangerous hypocrisy in American liberalism

If elected officials are participating in sexual abuse, we shouldn’t be joking about it.

 

The internet erupted into hysterics last Monday night after Texas senator Ted Cruz (or, as he claims, a staffer using his account) publicly “liked” a pornographic video on Twitter. The collective laughter lasted into Tuesday, and by Wednesday, comedians like Jimmy Kimmel, Samantha Bee, and Trevor Noah had all joined in. At the Emmy Awards on Sunday, Stephen Colbert joked:

“These days, everybody loves streaming video — just ask Ted Cruz! (But knock first, you’re not going to want to just walk in…”

It seemed like this was Republican Twitter’s best gift to comedy since “covfefe.” But I wish everyone would shut the hell up.

It’s easy to see why this incident entertained so many — especially Democrats. Cruz is known as a conservative Christian Republican — he has a horrible voting record on social issues. I think he’s an asshole, just like everyone else. But my current gripe is not with Cruz, per se — my gripe is with the response: it was all too predictable.

Jokes about porn are everywhere. But few people seem to get that jokes about porn are actually jokes about sexual violence. While a lot of people who laughed about the Cruz Twitter incident would not laugh at a joke they perceived to be about sexual abuse (which is a good thing!), if the violent act was filmed, it’s apparently fair game.

What an astounding case of mass cognitive dissonance. When American liberals took to the streets after the 2016 elections, they demanded that the government begin to represent its citizens earnestly. They wanted elected officials to respect women. They insisted that otherwise, “pussy grabs back.” But less than a year later, a senator’s misogyny is just a punch line.

If mainstream feminism really had teeth, perhaps it would call for Cruz to resign (or to fire the staffer who Cruz claimed actually liked the video on his behalf). Anyone who deliberately abuses others, even indirectly, has no place in our nation’s highest legislative body. By supporting the porn industry, Cruz is failing to support and protect 50 per cent of his constituency. Indeed, whenever a man watches porn, his perceptions of women and sexuality become a little bit more distorted, and the women who suffer from this are not just the ones in the videos, but the man’s girlfriends, wives, friends, mothers, co-workers, and daughters.

Statistically speaking, Cruz is not alone. It is very likely that many of our elected officials consume porn. This should make our stomachs churn, as it impedes our ability to achieve feminist legislative goals. According to Dr. Mary Anne Layden of the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school, porn “can take [men] down from 71 per cent acceptance of women’s freedom to 25 per cent acceptance of women’s freedom.” We cannot trust male elected officials — Republican or Democrat — to vote in ways that benefit women, knowing that many of them contribute to women’s abuse.

Kate Millett wrote that sex “is set so deeply within the larger context of human affairs that it serves as a charged microcosm of the variety of attitudes and values to which culture subscribes.” A society where sex and porn are interconnected does not bode well for women. Conservatives do not claim a desire to advance women’s rights, but liberals cannot work toward ending male supremacy so long as they are unwilling to examine sex and power critically, either.

True progress arises under a basic tenet of democracy: citizens and civil servants operating in conjunct. Current officials must be held accountable for their participation in the sexual abuse of women, and we must elect principled ones in the future. Otherwise, there is little hope for women — and that is no laughing matter.

Rose Meltzer is a graduate student based in Washington, D.C.

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  • Christine

    It’s a lot funnier — though also profoundly sad — when Republican bigwigs are caught trolling for sex with men in public washrooms.

  • calabasa

    Note: This entire comment is U.S.-centric, so I apologize for that, but still relevant, I think.

    I got into a fight with my elderly aunt because of this issue (granted, dismissiveness has always been a part of her personality).

    At my parents’ dinner table, she brought up a man she used to be involved with, someone emotionally abusive. We began talking about abusive relationships and I mentioned that it was sad that my best friends with kids have them with abusive men. I mentioned that studies show millennial men are more sexist than their Boomer fathers, and that there is a backlash against feminism and that women now face some issues in relationships that women in her day did not as much because of the ubiquity of Internet porn, which was a public health crisis. She said “that’s interesting” but then proceeded to imply we are a coddled generation of women who have no real oppression like she faced, because she could not get an abortion when she was nineteen and tried unsuccessfully to induce abortion herself. She also claimed this right was NOT in danger (a rather laughable claim as she is a lawyer, and should know better; Ruth Bader Ginsberg has written about what a shaky precedent Roe V. Wade is, because it is based on the right to privacy between doctor and patient, rather than women’s sex-based human rights; this means it’s not guaranteed and one response has been for states to simply get rid of all the doctors by closing down all the clinics. It also means that if Ginsberg dies and we get another conservative appointee, the decision could be easily overturned, as it’s a weak argument). I told her states were getting rid of Planned Parenthoods, effectively criminalizing abortion for poor women, and that self-induced abortion is still a crime punishable by jail time.

    I also said I was sorry for what she went through and recognized I enjoyed some hard-won rights she had not, or else I would have had a child at the same age and would have had to be tied to the child’s abusive father for life. However, I said, women now face pressure from men sexually, because of pornography; violent acts like choking, spanking, hair-pulling, and sex acts like deep throating and anal sex and facials, etc., were not normalized and widely available for viewing then as they are now. I explained how saying one is a progressive and watching the violence that is mainstream pornography is like saying one is progressive but likes to watch movies about POC being abused by police, and watching them for fun and enjoyment. (I know some people don’t like this parallel and say it’s racist, but explain to me how it is not an apt analogy). I would not date a person like that either.

    She said “good luck finding a guy who doesn’t watch porn” (similar to a liberal woman poet friend of my parents’ who, when I tried to explain the Nordic model and abolitionism, said “but there will always be prostitution.” It made me so angry. It’s as stupid as saying “but there will always be murder, why not legalize and regulate it!” And so utterly thoughtless, from a position of such privilege). Then my aunt said, “My partners all watched porn. I went to theater houses with them. I don’t care if my partners watch porn about anal sex. Pornography isn’t a problem for me.” I tried explaining that women are being groomed not to have boundaries and to relax their boundaries, and she said, “If you don’t like it, just leave! You can always walk away.” I said, “No you can’t,” and she said, “That would imply some crime of violence is being committed against me,” and I said “exactly,” and she said, “Well, then I would just leave.” And I said, “But the crime has already been committed,” and then gave up on the whole conversation in disgust.

    This is on my mind because of my rape, and I feel horrible dread whenever I get to escape this town and have to come back to the place that is not only triggering but where my rapist is a constant presence in the community (I have decided I need to leave).

    However, I did not talk to her about how the notion of “if you don’t like it you can just leave!” is very simplistic when it comes to something like social grooming (grooming women to be men’s sex toys on the left), or about the trafficking and abuse within the porn industry, or about how porn makes all the men who view it regularly more misogynistic, affecting all of society, or about its effects on sexual health and functioning, or about how porn IS violence and is incompatible with a civilized society and should not be protected as free speech any more than child pornography. She railed at me that she was talking about “policy concerns” and women’s rights and that porn was a private concern. I said it affects every woman who is dating, as that is what I was thinking about; how it can be dangerous now, to date as a woman on the left, if you have boundaries. She said I “didn’t need to interact with any men except my dad and my brother,” as if this should be acceptable to me, or as if it were even true, and other men would not affect my life. This was such a strange thing to say I did not bother responding and left it at that.

    She also had said at dinner that she had never been physically abused in a relationship, but I know from stories both my parents have told me that this is not the case (at ALL; she has been badly beaten up by men she was dating or married to). She said the men she has married and divorced were not abusive but “just assholes,” like there is a qualitative difference. She is defending these men (which I understand, but which was disheartening).

    Her generation and its “free love movement,” which was really a “sexual coercion movement” and which Hugh Hefner and others of his ilk cashed in on, is directly responsible for liberal “feminism.” It was second-wave women like Dworkin and MacKinnon who spoke out against porn and prostitution. The “free love” crowd stole what they wanted (abortion rights, the right to work) from the women’s movement and ignored the rest in favor of being “empowered” by being “cool” for their boyfriends, watching porn and having all the sex they (the boyfriends) wanted. Hef and his ilk directly contributed to this co-opting of the feminist name by rebranding stripping and pornography as “empowering.” The pill “liberated” women to experience awful hormonal side effects and be sexually available at all times for their boyfriends’ prodding.

    Women’s “liberated” sexuality looks a whole lot like doing whatever men want and centering men’s orgasms, and catering to their desire for dominance, while receiving no nice perks like protection from rape, for example.

    I understand that she was victimized by this, by something she considers her liberation, and so she doesn’t want to admit that’s what this was–grooming. The sexual revolution wasn’t “revolutionary” at all.

    I also hate the way that people claim pornography reduces rape and violence against women.

    A)Pornography IS rape and violence against women, so it’s a nonsensical claim and b)when they make that claim they are referring to the only kind of rape that matters in this society: violent stranger rape.

    As far as I know, there has been no wide-ranging study about whether sexual liberalism has increased acquaintance, date and especially intimate partner sexual violence. I would bet my first million that a study of women from the right and left ranging in age from 18 to 80 would find that sexual violence (and likely also other forms of domestic violence) against women in relationships has increased since the “sexual revolution” and especially since the rise of Internet porn, especially on the left.

    The study would need to be worded properly to ask if women had been pressured, coerced or physically forced into a variety of acts with either casual or long-term sexual partners, as well as asking about other forms of relationship violence (carefully worded because many women will admit to being forced to have sex but not to being raped, just as many men will admit to forcing sex but not to rape).

    I GUARANTEE such a study would prove that rates of intimate partner sexual violence (and likely other forms of domestic violence) have risen along with the rise of porn. GUARANTEE.

    TL;DR: Great article. Spot-on. Pornography IS violence.

    • M. Zoidberg

      I watched this dreadful documentary on Netflix, “Rocco,” about an Italian porn star. Five-ten minutes in, there is a woman talking about loving abuse to Rocco’s handheld camera (she’s not very convincing). He then sticks his fingers down her throat, shoves her head back, and uses his fingers to fill her mouth with her own hair, making her answer in muffled tones as he grabs the back of her neck.

      This is normal sex, now. Young women are being groomed in adolescence by their porn-sick boyfriends to do all this shit and more. Parents, meanwhile, are either oblivious, or they don’t think it’s a big deal, like most mainstream liberals.

      A few years ago, my friend (28, a few years younger than myself) and I had sex, and just as we were starting, he immediately began twisting my nipples really hard, completely out of nowhere. He didn’t even ask, he just did it. I kicked him out of my bed and made him go. We haven’t spoken about it since, and though he’s still my friend, that “thing” hangs over us.

      I want to approach him about it, but I’m not sure how. Like, should I start with, “why did you think that was something any woman, anywhere would want?” or “did you ever stop think of what it would have been like out of nowhere, me giving you iron-grip purple-nurples during sex?”

      It’s such a pity… I enjoy speaking with him, but something in man-land (likely a steady diet of violent porn) has fucked him, and a lot of other men right up. If Millennials are in fact having less sex than previous generations (as the news organisations claim), I say it’s because young men and women think sex is beating up the female partner, then jacking-off on her bruised body. What young woman dreams of that being her first time? That’s fucked up!

      I’m sorry about you aunt, calabasa. Even with all the work her generation has put into fighting for our human rights, we’ve still got a long road ahead of us. Patriarchy is the saboteur drilling holes into the bottom of our boat. Every time we think that we’ve plugged the leak, three more spring up. So, ladies, keep the boat afloat until we can get that damn hand drill away from patriarchy!

      • calabasa

        Oh God, how awful. I don’t know if I could remain friends with him without those talks you mentioned, honestly. Such an action bespeaks an incredible amount of animosity. Good for you for kicking him out of bed.

        I feel bad for my aunt, but the grooming women of her generation experienced has fucked up all of their children. My cousin, the daughter she tried to abort (who is about 16 or 17 years older than me and is a member of Gen X), grew up largely unsupervised; she hitchhiked to school in the seventies and eighties, and was raped at knifepoint on a date with a Hell’s Angels type when she was 16. She is now a highly successful woman, but does not want to be married (have a serious LTR), preferring her independence, and she raised her daughter *exactly* as I will raise mine if ever I have one: she was very close to her, but also strict, giving her a *lot* of boundaries, and telling her exactly why; as a result my second cousin, who is six or seven years younger than me, was spared a lot of what she went through and what I went through as children (the male violence) and has a great head on her shoulders. My cousin loves my aunt but still has a very difficult relationship with her.

        My mother was also brainwashed by the free love cult, into some ridiculous belief about the goodness of most people and the importance of forgiveness, and as a result she also at times failed to protect her daughters. Example: my parents allowed a child molester to befriend them, and only became alarmed when it was apparent he was grooming our family; they let my little brother be alone overnight at his house because they knew he “was not attracted to little boys” (this is true, but wtf); this guy used to kiss my sister and me on the lips in his car all the time (my mother insists we were never alone with him, but I remember this; I was 6). After we moved away, he molested my best friend from that town for a year, when she was 10. When he went to prison for this, my mother urged us to make cassette tapes of us talking about our lives to send to him in prison; it wasn’t his fault he had such urges, he must be lonely in prison, she had tremendous compassion. He began sending us gifts, including days of the week underpants for my sister and me, and my mother stopped. (Why didn’t she have us call my best friend Gabby, or write her letters telling her we loved her?)

        Another time, at the beach in Mexico, when I was 9 and my sister 7, in the ocean we were surrounded by a group of drunk men who fondled us. They stuck their hands down our swimsuits and tried to stick their fingers in our vaginas. I dove and swam away, and left my sister (for which I feel terrible now). When they let her go, she ran up to the beach and told my parents immediately, crying hysterically. They dismissed her with “Oh, they were just playing with you.” She still feels betrayed by that to this day.

        I, on the other hand, began my loooooong history of pretending nothing had happened and not telling my parents anything about men who molested me.

        I know we were a handful as teenagers, but I REALLY wish my parents had placed strict boundaries on us. I also wish my mother had ever said to me, “Men target adolescent girls. You NEVER deserve to be touched inappropriately or threatened. Get out of that situation and tell an adult IMMEDIATELY. Also, watch out for older men trying to get you to do things you don’t want. Watch out for boys your age trying to get you to do things you don’t want. Sex should be about affection, but boys are raised to think it is about dominance. Make sure you trust someone first, have sex with someone you trust. Take it slow. Say “no” if you feel uncomfortable. Someone who loves you will respect this. Respect yourself and make sure you are respected. And if anything happens, it is NOT YOUR FAULT and you should tell me or your father immediately.”

        I don’t remember any sort of talk like this, and my parents were incredibly permissive. I was molested by older men and raped as a teenager. These experiences, as well as another childhood trauma, helped set me up for a long cycle of being abused and assaulted by men.

        The permissiveness of my parents’ generation because of their ridiculous Pollyannish views about humanity resulted in the helicopter parenting of Gen X’ers and Millennials (which can be just as bad), but it’s the identity politics that began with the Boomers which specifically translated into telling kids they are “special” and pushing competition which I think has contributed to the rise in the narcissism among today’s youth, along with the rise of the Internet, porn, and social media, which also contributes to that.

        I wouldn’t want to have a kid now because it would be so hard to keep them off the goddamn Internet.

        But yeah, I feel like the grooming of my parents’ generation on the left led to irresponsible, permissive parenting and a failure to protect their offspring. My mother had experienced sexual abuse as a young woman and so I wonder why she did not do more to protect us from it, except that I think she felt it important to “forgive” and “see the best” in humanity, something I internalized, often to my detriment. (She wants to strangle the man I dated in early 2016 who then raped me on and off after our breakup; I still feel sorry for him, even though what he did has led to nearly two years now of horrible suffering).

        The “sexual revolution” had a lot of fucked up, terrible consequences, as did the embracing by that entire generation of neoliberalism. The civil rights and anti-war movements of the era unfortunately did not go on to be the Boomers’ defining feature.

      • Yisheng Qingwa

        WHY are you still “friends” with that POS??!

        • M. Zoidberg

          I will admit, I do get the “why are you still with him?!” comments a lot (concerning not just my friend there, but most of the men in my life.)

          Men who respect women as complete human beings are few and far between in my experience. I live in Bible country. For the ones who actually read books, have a post-secondary educations, and aren’t drowning in personal debt, I… umm, do that terrible thing some women do and I try to fix them, hoping they’ll see my… humanity? To be honest, I’m not sure what I’m doing. It should be no woman’s job to fix anybody. But it beats being alone, YQ… All my female friends got suckered into marriages/LTRs, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s only ever my male friends who have time to catch a movie or dinner, completely independent of whether they are in a relationship or not.

          Trust me, when I was a kid, I did not expect my relationships with men to be the motherly-custodian bullshit it is now…

    • Alienigena

      “… women now face pressure from men sexually, because of pornography; violent acts like choking, spanking, hair-pulling, and sex acts like deep throating and anal sex and facials, etc., were not normalized and widely available for viewing then as they are now.”

      I think it is naive to think that people in the past had it better. In my grandparents’ lifetimes perversity seemed to reign. In the early thirties (a hangover from the roaring twenties I guess), wife swapping was in. My grandfather was physically and emotionally violent and apparently forced his wife to engage in these activities. He threatened her life when she returned to her home town (after leaving him) once to play cards with friends. His own family members were afraid of him but apparently expected my grandmother to hold her own with him. My grandmother left her children with their grandfather when she left her husband. She had no family resources (she and her siblings were sent to live with their relatives at young ages (and didn’t maintain contact) when their parents became ill and later died, the mother from TB). She had no likelihood of gaining custody of her children, she would have different options now even without family, e.g. women’s shelters, children’s services (maybe the best option but better than an abusive father), education, welfare, universal medical care (which didn’t come into existence until 1960s in Canada), access to contraception and abortion, etc.

      As to Boomers it is convenient to blame them for all the ills of the world and assume they are monolith but that would indicate a kind of idiocy. I never liked their music or their attitudes or understood what their values were. So this quote (below) I groan at.

      “She said “good luck finding a guy who doesn’t watch porn” (similar to a liberal woman poet friend of my parents’ who, when I tried to explain the Nordic model and abolitionism, said “but there will always be prostitution.””

      I think your aunt’s comment is really sad. I can’t test its veracity, I know that my grandfather had porn (playboy) in his home as I flipped through some of it as a nine year old girl. But if you say as progressives do, that they respect women, you shouldn’t be watching videos that degrade them and treat them as objects of abuse.

      I was never a proponent or believer in the sexual revolution. I just didn’t participate and as a member of the youngest contingent of Boomers there was less of that going on anyway. A fellow university student from Singapore (mid-1980s) once asked me about western sexual mores which shocked her. I could only say what I believed, that no one has a right to expect you to perform or be ‘available’. Although people on this site suggest that people hate fuck all the time. Not all the people, all of the time. That just seems to indicate a lack of personal integrity and more than quantity of self-hate, as well as other hate.

      I guess I am cynical about people (like your aunt) to a certain extent. I think many more of them are sadists than admit to it. And most people are definitely in the category I call Schadenfreudians, that is, they enjoy the suffering of others and are happy to capture people in their worst moments, post the photos on the Internet and laugh uproariously. Example, a recent wedding brawl in my city that ended with the bride in handcuffs. No need to wait for film at six, images are available on Twitter. I don’t think it is just porn that devalues human life, so much of popular media (movies, violent computer games (I actually developed a serious game, so I am not against games), etc.) devalues human life. The news cycle itself devalues human suffering. As soon as the public’s attention span shifts (at the behest of the media) to another disaster, a prior disaster is dropped from the news cycle.

      • calabasa

        Yes, it struck me that this was naive (to believe this wasn’t prevalent before), and also that it hit a nerve with my aunt, who defended such behavior on the part of men because she’d been through it.

        However, I do think it is MORE prevalent now (because it’s more “acceptable” and less hidden). I didn’t know that about your grandparents’ time, but am not surprised to hear it; *whenever* “progressive values” become popularized (which has happened cyclically throughout history) men have jumped at the opportunity to abuse women in a more socially sanctioned way, under the guise of “progressiveness.”

        I think this is because you cannot declare yourself “progressive” and suddenly eliminate the patriarchal, conservative mores you were raised with, which dictate the Madonna/whore dichotomy. So when movements are socially progressive what it means for women is “it’s okay for women to be whores,” “We should encourage women to be whores,” “We should expect women to behave like whores,” “We should treat women as we would treat whores” (this includes devaluation, abuse, and not believing a “whore” can say “no”). This is all in lieu of examining and dismantling the construct of the “whore” or its opposite, the Madonna. The truth is that many so-called “progressives” are really deeply conservative reactionaries.

        I do stand by my statement that I FIRMLY believe things have begun a steep backslide because of Internet porn. It’s not just magazines, it’s hard core video porn, something that used to have to be hidden or was seen as for “perverts.” It’s totally normalized now, to the point that people laugh at the weird/violent things other people (men) get off on. It’s expected that men will watch porn, and women should be okay with it. It’s proven the effect it has on men’s brains and men’s misogyny (more studies need to be done on how it affects girls and women, though I think the outcome of those studies should be fairly obvious). For some reason, rape porn is not considered to be like child porn (because “consent?” “free speech?”) and hate speech/abuse can be defended if you call it porn (as long as the performers are adults). The most vile racism, violence and pedophilia (“barely 18,” dressed as kids) is defended if you call it “free speech.” Misogyny is now de rigeur and fashionable, on the left.

        The blatant racism and classism of the left disgust me also. They mix it up with denial, reversal, projection, and manipulation–mass gaslighting. They disgust me.

        From women I’ve known from all over the world, Western sexual mores have invaded everywhere considered “modern” (i.e., unprotected by religious mandates that all women be locked up as “Madonnas,” their honor protected until/unless one individual man wants to own them and rape them, if they don’t want to marry him). Islam/Christianity “protect” women from this for the sake of owning them (and sweep their predations on women under the rug). But in other non-religious countries, Western sexual mores are pervasive (by which I mean, women have sex with men, and men “oops accidentally” stick their penises into their anuses during intercourse). Porn–and its influence–is everywhere.

        *My aunt has a touch of a love of Schadenfreude, as it’s a part of her personality, but I don’t think she’s a sadist, at all. I think she’s been tremendously hurt by the men of her generation and has not faced that.

    • Sashimi73

      Brilliant recounting of your conversation. Esp the analogy, “POC being abused by police, and watching them for fun and enjoyment.” I think more people should read it.

  • fragglerock

    That’s what women and women’s oppression are in this society–a joke. Consumption of porn and buying sex are punch lines–not issues that anybody takes seriously.

    Can you imagine what a “bummer” it would be if instead of joking about it, Stephen Colbert actually called Ted Cruz out for supporting an abusive practice? But that would mean recognizing women as people which can’t happen. No, women are expected to accept that they are jokes and participate in the humor.

    I recently wrote a blog post about how porn and liberal attitudes towards sex keep us blind to abuse and women’s oppression if anybody’s interested: https://arainandagale.wordpress.com/2017/09/17/porn-and-sexual-liberation-the-opiates-of-the-masses/

  • northernTNT

    I cannot in good conscience vote for a single one of them. Instead of voting for the “lesser evil”, I think feminists need to massively and vociferously boycott a major election. We can not continue advancing with these crappy choices.

    • Lynn

      Boycotting elections won’t change anything, but neither will simply voting. Feminists can’t just wash their hands of the system and hope someone else will fix it. We need to participate, we need to support candidates that don’t suck- all year round-not just during election, at a grass roots level.

    • Womble Bananaroom

      What about getting our own political party up? lobbying every party to have a women’s officer? Joining political parties en masse and really getting active?

  • kfwkfw

    It also takes a lot of the gravity away. We all know most dudes look at porn & would probably fight for their porn. That’s the universal truth that has become a joke. It takes your attention away from the actual practice to “oh those boys” if you laugh it off.

  • M. Zoidberg

    I think it was more Liberals shaming Republicans because for their “holier than thou” attitudes when it comes to sex. Republicans love trotting out archaic ideas from the Bible when it suits them, i.e. sex is between a man and woman (and God!) and only within marriage. Colbert was simply pointing out Ted Cruz’ hypocrisy by condemning porn in public, while consuming it in private. Were Ted Cruz not a religious Republican nut-job, but a swinging Liberal atheist, the joke wouldn’t have worked.

  • Helena Brors

    We already knew that Ted Cruz is abusive, what with him always bragging about battering his daughters.