Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Sexual Politics of Gavin Newsom's Wiener

The local reaction to Gavin Newsom's affair has been overwhelmingly bleh. Bay Areans, seemingly, are unusually adept at distinguishing political decisions from personal choices, and, with a few exceptions, San Francisco voters will probably be ready to forgive and forget by the time Newsom runs for re-election in November. Come to think of it, the news is only four days old, and Gavin's not even appearing above the fold in the Chronicle.

Is this evidence of our metropolitan area's liberal attitude toward sex? Many of Newsom's defenders have repeated that, well, everyone needs sex, he was going through a divorce, and his partner was a consenting adult, so what's the big deal? I wonder, if the mayor of a small conservative city had admitted to having sex with a married woman, if his constituency be so lenient. And if Newsom had slept with his campaign manager's husband or boyfriend, would locals be less tolerant? Even more tolerant?

Or maybe Gavin's getting the wet noodle because he's so unforgivably hot. This sounds miserably shallow, but I'm guessing more than a few women and men responded to news of the affair with a blithe, "I wouldn't kick him out of bed."

What intrigues me most, though, is that almost all of those giving the mayor their invective are disapproving for the same reason: the woman he had sex with is married to his friend. Not cool!, declares a gaggle of furrowing voters, most of whom are men. The Chron has a telling column on this phenomenon, explaining that Newsom's critics have caught him in an inexcusable breach of "Man Code." In short, according to Man Code, cheating on your partner is pretty bad, but cheating with your friend's wife is totally off limits. (This sentiment is echoed in many of the comments of the "Two Cents" articles linked above.)

This discussion brings to light some inherently sexist facets of the sexual politics of cheating. The woman he had sex with (what's her name again?) hasn't been saddled with any of the responsibility in this situation, even among critics. Somehow this triangle has been reduced simply to two masculine points: Newsom and Alex Tourk are duking this out mano y mano while Ruby watches passively from the sidelines. This quote is especially revelatory:
Hello?" wrote Mike Mulholland, 43, who grew up in the Bay Area before moving to San Diego County. "Newsom slept with his friend's wife. What if he stole from a friend? Or tried to frame a friend? Would that also be nobody's business?"
Well-stated. Ruby Rippey-Tourk is her husband's property, and Newsom desicrated his buddy's property by sticking his penis in it. It's like he stole from his friend, or broke his lawn mower and didn't bother to fix it. Neither the "Man Code" article nor the "Two Cents" articles even mention Ruby's name. Women are treated as voiceless and faceless as men-folk butt heads in a decisive battle of Bros versus Hoes. Again, I wonder how this dynamic would play out if he had had sex with his male campaign manager's boyfriend.


Thinker said...

Tommaso, did you mean to type "should not have premarital sex because ...."?

Tommaso Sciortino said...

Reposting corrected version:

The Man Code thing reminds me of the purity balls for boys where they're told that they shouldn't have premarital sex because your girlfriend may be some other man's future wife.

Diego said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Diego said...

A man code definitely exists, but I don’t think it’s sexist per se. It’s a tacit understanding that you shouldn’t too seriously flirt with, go after or have sex with a woman your friend is married to, dating, or really into. But I don’t think that implies that men seriously believe they have ownership over girls so much as they don’t want to hurt each other’s feelings.

It’s possible that the man code actually recognizes women’s freedom. In being a code among men, it acknowledges that women are going to do whatever they want to do. It could be seen as a code among male friends to deter behavior from each other that might promote behavior from their girlfriends that you would expect from them as rational and free.

Imagine if you were buddies with Gavin Newsom. You could reasonably expect that your girlfriend/wife/date would find him objectively attractive, especially if in addition to his good looks he had a cool personality. A girlfriend or wife you couldn’t do this with, but any rational guy would probably choose against introducing a girl he’s either merely dating or just really into to Gavin Newsom with his unforgivable hotness, unless that guy were equally or more unforgivably hot or reasonably confident that his date was genuinely into him. Again, this seems to me to represent the recognition among men that women will do what benefits them most in rational calculations of their, in this case, sexual interests. All else being equal, I’d have sex with the hotter girl. All else being equal, a girl will have sex with the hotter guy.

Why would it be necessary to saddle “what’s her name” with responsibility? She is responsible, and I’m sure she knows that. There’s no need to assign it to her. This affair is only getting attention because in our society the media foster celebrity politicians, and in this vignette Newsom is the only actor with star power. Spinning a man-code story off of this is probably one of the few publishing opportunities this otherwise insubstantial story offers.

Aaron said...

Hmm, maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but I think that adultery committed by either gender (and let's not forget that it's always committed by both) is generally kind of a big deal. A woman cheating on her husband with his best friend is equally as bad as a man cheating on his wife with her best friend; the overarching issue has to do with breaches of trust. The man code may well be substantially different from the woman code (and surely it is), but some things transcend gendered distinctions.

This all said, I also don't think that we should generally visit our private sexual mores upon the personal lives of our politicians.

Rebecca C. Brown said...

Maybe a useful point of reference would be the Clinton-Lewinsky tryst. There, more attention was put on Clinton's mistress because she didn't "belong" to anyone. And when people talked about Clinton "betraying" someone, the general attitude was that he'd betrayed his country and voter base (a sort of Man Code in itself) more than he had betrayed his wife. Even worse, more than a few commentators suggested that the affair was Hillary's fault because she failed to "please her man." Both the Clinton and the Newsom stories reveal what I consider sexism.

What would the reaction be if a notable woman had had sex with her campaign manager's husband? It's hard to tell. For some reason, women in positions of power tend to have the good sense not to sleep with their friends' husbands. I guess the closest thing to a comparable situation would be the Denise Richards-Richie Sambora-Heather Locklear thing. In that story, just as with Newsom, Denise got all the flak and Richie got off easy. (Of course Heather and Richie weren't married or even dating when Denise slept with him. But work with me, people.) But the Heather-Denise relationship was treated less as a betrayal and more as a back-stabbing "catfight." Whoa nelly do the media like to call any scuffle between women a "catfight." Even congresswomen.

Aaron said...

Hmm, given that Newsom seems to be getting all the heat for this latest event, I think that it's a tough sell to argue that it reveals latent sexism. Prudishness perhaps, but I don't really see how double-standards apply here.

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