Leave it to Gloria Steinem to raise the million-dollar question out of all the media gold that has been spun out of Anthony Weiner’s latest sexting scandal:
“I mean, just imagine if there were a woman who had photographed her pubic area and sent it out on the phone,” Steinem recently told The Cut. “Would she be a candidate?”
If we may, let us dwell on this for a moment and imagine just how the world would react to an explicit photo of Christine Quinn’s ladybits surfacing on the Internet. Or raunchy texts between Hillary Clinton and a male admirer about porntastic sex acts.
I’d venture that a good number of you can’t even think about a Quinn crotch shot without cringing. But let’s pretend that an image of her nethers had recently leaked in the media. Even if the speaker of the City Council was a more appealing mayoral candidate who happened to look like a supermodel—or, say, Huma Abedin—her qualifications would be instantly and indelibly overshadowed by the exposure of her hoo-ha. New York City may be ready to embrace an openly gay woman as mayor, but an openly gay female candidate whose lewd selfies were floating around cyberspace? Likely not.
Let’s face it: any female politician whose vagina was splashed all over the Web would have a hard time weathering the derision that image would inevitably generate. The fact that we’ve never seen crotch shots of a prominent woman (Kim Kardashian's sex tape doesn’t count) would of course make the first one all the more shocking. This is why it’s so difficult to wrap our heads around the notion of seeing a female politician’s labia. Anthony Weiner was leading in the New York City mayoral polls before the most recent round of sexts surfaced—and a full two years after the entire nation had access to pics of his dick. And yet the idea of Christine Quinn’s mons pubis turning up on some gossip website is so unfathomable that her campaign (and the Internet along with it) would spontaneously combust if it did.
When Weiner’s namesake appendage reared its head back in 2011, it prompted a few predictable jokes about size, shape, and grooming habits—but nothing like the scrutiny and vitriol that seem to be specially reserved for women when it comes to their looks and sexuality. Take, for example, the nasty comments hurled at BBC presenter and author Mary Beard by Internet trolls earlier this year, who ranted about her pubic hair, posted pictures of her supposedly hairy legs, and called her a “vile, spiteful excuse for a woman who eats too much cabbage and has cheese straws for teeth.” Similarly, Jezebel’s Lindy West was hit with a torrent of hateful tweets after she talked about the politics of rape jokes with a male comedian. Many of the attacks were about West being a “fat bitch” who “deserved to be raped.” One can only imagine the hate speech that a close-up of Quinn’s vagina would provoke.
When a 28-year-old Krystal Ball of Virginia ran for a Democratic seat in Congress in 2010, photos surfaced of her wearing a “naughty Santa” costume and fellating a reindeer nose at a Halloween party. She lost the race but left behind a manifesto of sorts for her contemporaries. “Society has to accept that women of my generation have sexual lives that are going to leak into the public sphere," she wrote. "Sooner or later, this is a reality that has to be faced, or many young women in my generation will not be able to run for office.”
It will probably not happen in this election cycle, but given the age we live in—when what's posted to the Internet exists forever—we may well see a female politician’s sexts in the not-so-distant future. She will be judged more harshly than her male cohorts—but she shouldn’t be.