Please, for the love of god, will someone get what’s wrong with Eliot Spitzer?

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, April 21, 2009 16:07 EDT
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Eliot Spitzer’s trying to make a comeback. Many dudes are on board. Others say, “Lay off the man, he was just horny“. Women, who spend much of their lives trying to tease out “just horny” from “woman-hating freakazoid” (which are sadly conflated in our culture) for their own safety, are much more likely to have reservations.

I, for one, object to letting Spitzer get off by pretending to be too stupid to know what this is about. He’s a smart man, and I’ve read his writing. He’s good at understanding systems, and puncturing through certain sacred cows of our culture. Which means he’s got the chops to realize that the sacred cow of fucking women and then viciously punishing them for the crime of being sexual* isn’t cool. Isn’t cool at all. But he’s going to play dumb.

Among the many odd traits of political animals is that while they tend to find themselves fascinating, they have little aptitude for, and less interest in, analyzing themselves. Spitzer is no exception. I asked him recently if he’d read any of the theories about why he was so reckless with Ashley Dupré. “No,” he said, clearly not wanting to say anything more. I started to recite some of the most common ones—that with the chaos of his governorship, his illicit sex life was a last refuge he could control; that he had been reckless and risked punishment because a part of him felt a need to be punished for never measuring up.

His face flattened, as if in great pain. “One thing I’m very bad at is being publicly introspective … The human mind does, and permits people to do things that they rationally know are wrong, outrageous … We succumb to temptations that we know are wrong and foolish when we do it and then in hindsight we say, ‘How could I have?’ “

Those are some theories, but not the ones I subscribe to. My theory is that it’s something even darker than most people want to admit—I think, and said at the time, that Spitzer is a sadist. I think many to most men who hire prostitutes are on some level, and the rationalization is that the money makes fucking someone who really doesn’t want to fuck you okay. And in a sense, it does, on the rare occasion that the prostitute is fully consenting to this lifestyle and not driven by violence or poverty into it. But the problem with Spitzer is that his sadism wasn’t limited to getting off by having sex with a woman who is technically consenting but wishing she didn’t have to be at work right now. (Sex as a form of snapping your fingers at the waiter.) Awash in the sexualized misogyny of our culture, he also had to make sure that prostitutes were tossed in jail for having the courtesy to fuck douchebags like him.
That many men think like this is no surprise, since our culture is swimming in punish-the-slut messages, which feminists like to call the “rape culture”. It’s why the virginity fetishists actually believe they’re helping women, because sex is automatically degrading to women in their eyes, which is evidenced by their investment in the auto-punishment of unintended pregnancy. It’s why what she was wearing or drinking is considered relevant in a rape case. It’s definitely why the routine humiliation of women who reject the protagonists to sleep with other guys in movies like “Observe and Report” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” feels mandatory to sell the movie to a young male audience that might be turned off by fears that romance in it makes it a “chick flick”. And of course, it’s eroticized, and all you need to do is watch depressing pornographic products like (the perennially favorite classic example) “Bang Bus” to see how that works. What’s surprising is that so many men manage to make it past all that and not develop crippling madonna/whore complexes.

Which is why Dan Savage is being way overly defensive in his post, where he insists that the outrage over Spitzer’s actions is rooted in anger at men for their “natural” inability to be monogamous.** That said, the post is instructive, because Dan busts out a rumor that, if true, confirms my suspicions.

And like a lot men out there he had the means to hire someone to act out a “difficult” fantasy—choking apparently—that either his wife wasn’t willing to indulge or that he was to ashamed to ask the wife to indulge…..

And about the choking action: many men have sexual fantasies that involve ritualized sexual violence and it’s often difficult for these men to incorporate their fantasies into their marital sex lives—their own madonna/whore hangups; their wives’ inability to see incorporating kinks as a kind of lovemaking—and many of these men seek the services of pros.

Look, I’m with Dan insofar as I think a lot of men are completely fucked up by cultural messages that eroticize misogyny, particularly the madonna/whore thing. Getting sexual scripts out of your head is nearly impossible, and the best solution is to find a relationship or even a set of them where you can turn those things from fucked up scripts into playtime, which often has the effect of getting it out of your system. If nothing else, learning the ins and outs of truly consensual, scripted, super-duper consented-to BDSM may have the effect of getting men used to negotiating with women on an egalitarian level. But this wasn’t a game to Governor Spitzer. If this woman’s story is right, Spitzer enjoyed springing violence on women in bed, probably because their genuine fear turned him on more than faux fear. Rape fantasies and role play stop being that when you start springing stuff that someone hasn’t consented to on them.

But even setting that aside, he busted up prostitution rings. He sent women to jail for being dirty girls. He wasn’t playing around at punishing women for being sexual and sexually available to him. He did it for real.

This, of course, is a danger when it comes to politics. Politics attracts domineering personalities that are power-hungry, and some of them are going to find misogynist sexual fantasies about overpowering and raping women to be very exciting indeed. But so what? It’s their responsibility to find non-oppressive ways to act out their fantasies and deal with their issues regarding women, not ours.

Just one more quote to show that what’s going on here is rooted deeply in fucked-up attitudes about masculinity, femininity, and the grossness of the latter:

Now he has a new companion. When he was a young politician with a tough-guy reputation, he preferred to walk only James and leave Jesse, the other family dog, at home. Jesse is a bichon frisé, the kind of dog that blue-haired women leave their fortunes to. “I wouldn’t take her out in public,” Spitzer recently explained. “I thought James was the better image for me.” Now, most any weekend, he can be seen trailing after both animals. “It’s like, OK, I have a bichon, a little white ball of fluff … I don’t care. What do you have to lose?”

*He was just as hard for throwing prostitutes in jail as he was for fucking them, remember?
**Dan is suffering from selection bias. He doesn’t get a whole lot of letters from people who are like, “I don’t have any problems, my partner and I have been together for a gazillion years and we make each other happy, thought I’d let you know.” Thus, I think he thinks there’s more dysfunction in relationships on average than there probably is.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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