The Reformed Perception of Sex in Society as Put in Thinking Sex


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In Thinking Sex, Gayle Rubin argues that sex is a “vector of oppression” (Rubin 160), namely that sex and desire are not a private entity as it has been transformed and exploited as a public agent in order to repress certain groups of people; sexual oppression can act independently of racial and gender oppression. She systemically theorizes common principles underlying historical sex panics. Specifically, Rubin argues that during certain periods of history, humans have renegotiated the sexual order (Rubin 143); these periods have rearranged the sexual sphere, producing laws, institutions, and norms which govern sexuality for decades after. The #MeToo movement and its social impact in changing the discourse and consequences around sexual violence indicates that we are living in one of these periods today. In this essay, I will argue that there are people who exist on the fringes of the #MeToo movement – those who do not perfectly conform to the citizenship ideal of the movement who has been completely victimized by her abuser. Specifically, I will be using Monica Lewinski’s unpacking of her experience within the context of this larger #MeToo moment and the events surrounding Representative Katie Hill’s recent resignation. I will use these cases to highlight how this moment of reevaluating the sexual order has left people on the fringes behind to continue to be attacked by these structures that the #MeToo movement hopes to eliminate or is itself reproducing these structures. Lastly, I would like to emphasize that I am not trying to critique any of the immensely courageous voices who have come forward within this movement.

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In a 2018 article in Vanity Fair, Monica Lewinski unpacks her experience being outed in the most public manner for a relationship she had with President Bill Clinton in which the possibility of consent across the most extreme of power dynamics is discussed within current context of the #MeToo movement. Twenty years from the scandal, Lewinski is still being asked about her experience within the larger #MeToo movement (Lewinski, 2018). In this article, Lewinski frequently goes back and forth as to what degree her experience fits within the movement. Lewinski is being forced to repeatedly reexperience and reevaluate the trauma she experienced and is continuing to struggle with in the form of “PTSD” (Lewinski, 2018). Lewinski explicitly acknowledges this in her response to these questions:

I am in awe of the sheer courage of the women who have stood up and begun to confront entrenched beliefs and institutions. But as for me, my history, and how I fit in personally? I’m sorry to say I don’t have a definitive answer yet on the meaning of all of the events that led to the 1998 investigation; I am unpacking and reprocessing what happened to me. Over and over and over again (Lewinski 2018).

Lewinski was violently traumatized for existing on the fringe of larger political warfare and is being retraumatized and punished again today for the same reason. In the face of #MeToo, society is trying to reevaluate sexual order, however, it seems to just be reproducing the structures that violently traumatized her in the first place because her experience is considered to be publicly owned. In Lewinski’s own words: “My trauma expedition has been long, arduous, painful, and expensive. And it’s not over” (Lewinski, 2018).

Representative Katie Hill was able to win the California’s 25th congressional district – a traditionally very conservative district which has been a republican stronghold since 1993. However, over the last few weeks, Hill has been subjected to unapologetically politically motivated attacks which have weaponized her nonnormative relationship: namely a non-monogamous, bisexual, interracial relationship with a campaign staffer. The attacks have taken the form of naked pictures along with allegations of a different relationship with Hill had with a male Congressional subordinate which is a violation of recently written House rules which target relationships which occur over large power dynamics (e.g. a politician with their employee). It is important to note that there is no evidence at this time that the allegations, of her relationship with a congressional staffer which Hill denies, are true. Instead, quite credibly, Hill argues that this was a targeted politically motivated attack combined with the violent crime of revenge porn caused by a vengeful, abusive ex-husband. The article making these accusations is clearly politically motivated as it was written by the campaign advisor of the representative who Hill defeated in 2018 on the publication Red State. Further, the nature of the (unfounded as of November 2019) allegations given led to a congressional ethics investigation into Hill which further exposes the political motivations. However, her other relationship, which Hill has acknowledged, which still transgressed a clear power dynamic has led Hill to be abandoned by the democratic establishment which is explicitly concerned with the consent implications of this situation but is very much implicitly concerned with the non-normative behaviors which Katie Hill was forced to be private about. For example, Hill’s powerful resignation speech which called out revenge porn and spoke of the intense pain and fear that has forced her to resign, was only witnessed by a handful of congressmen. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who had until that moment been a very close ally of Hill, immediately distanced herself and the democratic party from Hill and defended Hill with a vague statement warning the public of taking sexual pictures in the first place. In not calling out the violence being inflicted upon Hill, the democratic establishment is reproducing structures that it strives to attack against. It has abandoned someone who claims that this situation is a clear example of her ongoing abusive husband and has led to thousands of threats on her life. She argues that her resignation has been forced by this. Therefore, the shame, stigma, and fear that comes due to being out about an abusive relationship and a nonnormative one is still being inflicted upon Hill because of an unethical relationship that she as. The movement here is requiring a perfect aggressor and a perfect victim within a much messier world.

How does the this #MeToo moment of reevaluating the sexual order movement work for those on the fringes of citizenship within the #MeToo movement. Namely, those who are not perfect victims or those who are not willingly coming forward about their experiences but are forced to reexperience their trauma because their record is public knowledge. Further analysis, would engage further with Gayle Rubin’s argument within Thinking Sex. It would question Rubin’s argument that a separate analysis of sex is required separate from gender, before analyzing and dealing with gendered sex. Specifically, whether this separate analysis would reproduce further the structures which police sex.

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