It boils down to this: Don’t pose nude for the camera
Return with us now to those titillating days of yesteryear. Or yester-month, anyway. It’s been at least that long since a name-brand Washington politician was forced to resign due to a sex scandal. And everybody’s favorite kind of sex scandal at that: nude photos of an attractive young congresswoman, California Democrat Katie Hill, in intimate association with another woman.
“Revenge porn,” they call it. “Bisexual,” they whisper.
Actually, there’s nothing particularly erotic about the photos published to date, although the basics are clear: An embittered ex-husband peddling his wife’s intimate secrets to rightwing mischief-makers at Red State. Who, along with Britain’s Daily Mail, claims to possess hundreds more naughty images. Just about the cruelest, most classless thing a man could do to somebody he supposedly once loved.
The man should be horsewhipped and forever banished from polite society -- assuming such a thing as polite society exists anymore.
Not to mention the “journalists” who printed them. In many jurisdictions, Washington, D.C., among them, publishing what the law calls “nonconsensual pornography” is a crime -although it wouldn’t take much of a lawyer to argue that the images, which don’t depict sexual activity, aren’t technically pornographic, even if Red State’s openly acknowledged motive was to wreck the congresswoman’s career.
This boundary once crossed, we’re almost certain to see more of it.
Hill herself, a charismatic Democratic star once seen as California’s answer to Alexandria Ocasio-cortez, and whose sexual orientation was never a secret, cast the blame widely in her farewell speech on Capitol Hill.
“I am leaving,” she explained, “because of a misogynistic culture that gleefully consumed my naked pictures, capitalized on my sexuality and enabled my abusive ex to continue that abuse, this time with the entire country watching.”
OK, fine, although I’m left with a couple of questions. First, who took the photos? Assuming it was Hill’s jealous rat of a husband, did she ever think it was a good idea? If so, she’s been extraordinarily foolish, basically a political time bomb waiting to explode. Just as well that it happened early during her congressional career rather than later, when there might have been greater collateral damage to persons and issues greater than herself.
Hill was her own worst enemy.
I’ve been surprised to learn how strongly older women I’ve spoken with about this issue feel about Hill’s folly. Maybe it’s generational. After all, my wife and I grew up in an era when priests sat in darkened confessional booths encouraging teenaged children to confess “touching impurely.”
So posing for such photos strikes us as deeply self-destructive, politically speaking. If that’s your hobby, find a different profession. Maybe men shouldn’t be so interested in gazing at images of naked women, but a visit to any art gallery from the Louvre to the Arkansas Arts Center shows it’s been a major human preoccupation since forever. Expect no changes.
Indeed, back when digital photography and the internet first became a thing, I distinctly recall warning a group of college girls to be cautious. “I don’t care what promises he makes or how much he begs,” I remember saying. “If you let your boyfriend take naked photographs, your father will end up seeing them on the internet.”
You see, I know a thing or two about old dad.
One time I wrote a column empathizing with TV sportscaster Erin Andrews after a Peeping Tom shot naked video of her through her hotel room keyhole. A distinguished gentleman of my acquaintance messaged me wanting to know how he could see it.
That’s old dad for you.
Even so, I remain relatively unmoved by rhetoric about “slutshaming” and efforts to “weaponize women’s sexuality against them.” Nobody made Hill resign. Presumably, she couldn’t stand up to what she feared would be coming if she didn’t. She was blackmailed, yes. Too bad she didn’t think she could face it down.
Writing in The Washington Post, Molly Roberts opined that if nude beefcake photos of a male congressman appeared, “he’d probably earn accolades for his virility instead of attacks for his wantonness along the way.”
Well, former Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott Brown did some R-rated male modeling as a lad, but no candid camera stuff. Otherwise, I don’t think so.
Fellow Post columnist Christine Emba feared for her entire millennial generation, citing “one 2015 study [that] found that 82 percent of adults have sexted in the past year.”
Editor, please: If that were even remotely true, Hill wouldn’t have a problem, now would she?
Look, Washington sex scandals are as old as Congress. True, Alexander Hamilton wasn’t a congressman when his adultery came to light in 1797. He was secretary of the Treasury.
Hamilton lived it down. Too bad Hill couldn’t.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at eugene[email protected]hoo.com.