April 6, 2021

"To me, this is something you do, ideally, zero times. You never experience the impulse to do it, and you lead a pleasant life."

"You travel. You eat lunchmeat sandwiches. Maybe you do a marathon, or climb something. You lead a blithe existence for many decades, you die in your bed in your mid-nineties surrounded by your cherished relatives, and in all that time, you never walk up to a colleague on the floor of the House of Representatives and out of nowhere present him with a nude photograph of someone you claim to have had sex with. But if you can’t do it zero times, then ideally it happens only once. It happens only once, because the moment you do it, the person you show it to responds the way a person should respond. You produce your photograph to your colleague, and your colleague looks at you and says, 'Never show that to anyone, ever again. Go home and rethink your life. I do not feel closer to you. If anything, I want to have you removed forcibly from my presence by strong gentlemen whose biceps are tattooed with "MOM." The fact that you thought this would make us closer makes me question every decision in my life that has led me to this point. Leave now and never come back.' But we can probably suppose that this is not what happened, because life is regrettably unstingy with moments like this, when a small awkward 'no' seems too costly. Perhaps the person to whom this was shown emitted a sort of uncomfortable, nervous laugh, and this was viewed as acceptance enough. Or worse, he leered at it, encouraged it. Or, still worse (a scenario alleged to have existed during Gaetz’s time in the Florida state House), he joined a fun little club with Gaetz and others to assign themselves conquest points."

Writes Alexadra Petri in "Opinion: This should not happen more than once" (WaPo). 

She's talking about the way Matt Gaetz "used to wander around and show his colleagues nude photos of people he had slept with." Strange use of the word "people." These were all pictures of women, I think. I don't know why Petri would want to downplay that this is something a man was doing to women. 

Perhaps a new political correctness urges her to refrain from assuming that the human beings you're talking about are the sex they appear to be. But that diffidence drains power from feminism: We're all just people. In a culture that rejects colorblindness as the answer to racism, it's inconsistent to structure sex-blindness (gender-blindness?) into the discussion of issues of sexism. 

Petri is calling for good men — and men who'd like to think of themselves as decent enough to deserve the company of women — to say "no" to the male camaraderie that comes in the form of nudging to casually enjoy the graphic depiction of the naked female body. In that view, it's up to all men to create the environment where somebody doing what she's saying Gaetz did would get the message that he's a creep. 

Petri, perhaps unintentionally, points to a way out of cancel culture. The colleagues don't have the credibility to encapsulate and excise just the one person. They're all responsible. They must change. 

But I don't know what Matt Gaetz did. Consider this, by former Congresswoman Katie Hill: "Matt Gaetz Defended Me When My Nudes Were Shared Without My Consent/Now He's Accused of Doing Just That/Matt and I forged an unlikely friendship in Congress, and he was one of the few colleagues who spoke out after a malicious nude-photo leak upended my life. But if recent reports are true, he engaged in the very practice he defended me from—and should resign immediately" (Vanity Fair).


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