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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