“Tiger cubs”?! Really?
I’ve been somewhat amazed that there hasn’t been more feminist-baiting on this whole, overblown Tiger Woods scandal. Or maybe there has, and I haven’t seen it. Usually these prominent infidelities give conservatives an opportunity to adopt their all-time favorite stance: disingenuous outrage. Disingenuous outrage over the sex, and disingenuous outrage over feminist indifference. It’s a very weird kind stance they take, which was at its height during the Clinton impeachment. They define feminism for feminists and then get mad when we do what we want to do, instead of what they’ve told us we want to do. Feminism is about organizing women and male allies to fight for women’s equality—in the home, in the workplace, in the government and even in the church. We support equal pay, reproductive rights, education—things that make it possible for women to have real power in the world and real control over their own lives. But conservatives act, during these infidelity scandals, like feminists are mainly (or should be mainly) organized to lay claim to the penises of America, and make sure they’re only dipped into approved holes. And that this goal should naturally eclipse any work done to make women’s lives better. Ironically, the work that we do to achieve women’s equality actually does probably have the effect of discouraging male infidelity to a degree, since a man who can’t trap his wife with financial dependence is likelier to think twice about cheating on her. But that’s not why we fight for equality—we do it, because it’s the right thing to do.
Anyway, there’s a predictable pattern of bad faith outrage at feminists for not being outraged when some public figure cheats on his wife. We’re accused of thinking it’s just great, or of being partisan because the target is usually someone conservatives already have problems with, since of course feminists will totally go after conservative politicians who restrict other people’s sexual rights while doing whatever the fuck they want. Eventually, some feminists take the bait, out of a combination of that liberal tendency to want to prove they’re fair-minded by occasionally letting the other side score a point, and often because they’re genuinely annoyed at the man’s behavior and want a political hook so they can talk about it. And conservatives feel great, because they’re reinforced the idea that feminism is not about equality for women, but about controlling men like men have always controlled women. And we lose more ground.
Since this Tiger Woods thing was so big, and the angles were in place for conservative grousing (Woods, being non-white and non-Christian, is exactly the sort of target that conservatives want to eat up while making baseless accusations against feminists that we’re scared to speak up), I was sort of surprised to see that conservatives were being a little more reticent about feminist-baiting than usual. And this morning it occurred to me why: Because this entire media circus has been so overtly misogynist that even conservatives can’t pretend that feminists should take part. Most of the coverage has been about the media types titillating themselves and the audience by shaming Woods’ lovers for being bimbos (which is something of a profession in this modern age, but many of the women he slept with don’t actually have that as a profession). There’s calendars. Cutesy, sexist nicknames (the “Tiger cubs”). What we have here is an old-fashioned media frenzy of slut-shaming craziness, all under the guise of “concern” and “outrage” aimed at Tiger Woods.
Pamela Merritt has a piece up at RH Reality Check pointing out what is sort of amazing: even as the media frenzy tears apart every tiny detail of this ridiculous scandal, the issue of the serious dangers of doing what Woods purportedly did—have unprotected sex with dozens of women—is being studiously ignored. I’m hesitant to suggest that the media grab at one more angle to chase on this story, but Pamela’s right. It’s a glaring omission. And a dangerous one, since 99% of Americans are aware of this story, which means that most of us are consciously or unconsciously absorbing the idea that it’s normal to think of infidelity in emotional and social terms, but to ignore the health risks.
But if you think of this story as a misogynist feeding frenzy, the pointed ignoring of the condom issue becomes a lot easier to understand. While a lot of us did absorb the post-AIDS crisis message that condoms are primarily about preventing STD transmission and therefore important for everyone to use, regardless of gender, that’s still not really the popular conception of what condoms are and what they’re for. They’re still in the general category of lady stuff, and are associated with protecting women’s health and interests specifically, at least when it comes to heterosexual sex. And since the general theme of this feeding frenzy has been misogynist titillation, bringing up the question of safety would be a mood killer. Who wants to think about the safety of the bimbo parade, besides the boring feminists who think all women deserve respect and safety?
It’s this sort of nasty misogyny that’s in play when it comes to the way that women carrying condoms is still being criminalized in places like D.C., San Francisco, and New York—in all these cities, having condoms on your person is being used as evidence against women accused of prostitution. Talk about driving home the message that sexualized women don’t have a basic right to health and safety! You would think that even if the government is indifferent to the health of outcast women, they would still be interested enough in men’s health not to discourage health measures that could reduce STD transmission, but I think the Tiger Woods example shows that by and large, most people don’t really think of condoms that benefit men as well as women.