Saturday, March 15, 2008

Sex, Lies & The Gender of Power

New York lost its governor, he who rode to victory on 70% of state votes. Eliot Spitzer, who was reputed to be the scrubber – he would clean corruption out of every aspect of state politics – resigned after revelations of sex trysts with (a) prostitute(s) which reportedly cost him as much as $80,000. Shocked New Yorkers went around for a day or two asking “what was he thinking?” Friend Mirk and I agreed, over phone lines stretched between New York and San Francisco, that it would be more correct to ask “with what was he thinking?”

Actually, when the news first broke out, my immediate reaction was to say “stupid!” Why’d he use his cell phone? Why not a prepaid disposal one? Why not ask his aide to make the arrangements? In other words, my shock came from his inability to finesse the illicit act – in other words, to get away with it, not to get caught. Goes to show that even someone like me who examines her thoughts constantly for “constructs” falls prey to the assumption that among the accouterments of power is sexual access to the object(s) of one’s desire; that a rampant libido is part and parcel of leadership.

The roots of this assumption lie in history, of course, leading back to over 10,000 years ago when sexual dominance over women began humankind’s experiment with large-scale marginalization of portions of itself, and preemption of community resources (including women) based on strength, eventually institutionalized into class divisions based on property. This is one of the basic reasons why power has had a male gender in class society. We can posit as well that power became synonymous with strength, since the idea of dominance was embedded in the hierarchical and quasi-military formations at the beginning of human history. Thus leadership equals power equals dominance, strength and an enhanced libido.

New Yorker shock lasted only a few days and then, former Governor Spitzer became fodder for the worst jokes ever in the political scene. The song Love Potion Number 9 was rewritten to become Client Number 9 – the pseudonym by which Spitzer was identified in court papers when the management of the high-class prostitution ring was sued. Speculation was that “Kristen,” the woman given over $4,000 by Client Number 9, had to take the train instead of flying from New York to Washington D.C. because she was carrying toys. Uh. She’s reportedly making a lot of money from the scandal – underscoring the message of U.S, pop culture to young women: you can have it all by selling yourself.

Despite huge advances in concepts of women’s equality and women’s rights, we still can’t seem to end the view of women and sexual indulgence as accessories of power. Solomon’s harem of hundreds of women was written up as kingly virtue; the emperors of Rome gathered women, men and children for their sexual proclivities, as did the emperors of China. In more recent times, there were the Kennedys, Bill Clinton and that guy who was soliciting congressional pages via text messaging. The irony is that political leaders are brought down by sex scandals in this bourgeois society where women are as much a commodity as anything else. I can’t remember any similar event happening in the socialist bloc, when it still existed. Chiang Ching, the wife of Chairman Mao, allegedly indulged in orgies of drinking and watching Western films with her colleagues in the Gang of Four – but that was mostly rumor. She committed suicide after decades in prison in China.

Some supporters of Hillary Clinton floated the opinion that the Spitzer scandal underlies the importance of gender in the selection of leadership. I tried to recall if there ever was a woman leader who linked power with sex as much as men often do. Catherine The Great, if accounts are to be believed, could fall into that category. But by and large, women of power were more linked to cruelty and excess in spending than anything else. Like Imelda Marcos, who’s just been cleared of money salting, while 10,000 human rights victims of her husband’s dictatorship remain bereft of compensation. The Philippines, it seems, has a long history of allowing injustice to go un-redressed, like the peasants killed at Hacienda Luisita, the thousand activists murdered since 2001, the union leaders killed at various factories…

I would agree to some extent with Hillary’s supporters but for different reasons. First and foremost is the need to de-genderize power. For over 10,000 years, the gender of power has been male; decisive work has to be done to end that. Second reason would be to end the assumption that women are accessories of power and wealth – an assumption that continues the historical objectification of women as possessions or as objects to be conquered. Third reason is that, despite all good intentions, the highest representation of women in government has only been 26% -- and that was in former Soviet Union, China and various governments of the former Eastern bloc. This view that women are to be governed, not to govern, is linked to our historical and social definition of woman. We cannot leave that view unchallenged; part of the struggle for women’s emancipation is the need to redefine what a woman is, should be; indeed to redefine what gender is, socially. Otherwise, we accept the proposition that a woman is she who works for the interests of profit-makers, exploiters and oppressors. The new definition, which we need to uphold in all our actions and pronouncements, must come from the women’s struggle and women’s movement toward their emancipation and the people’s liberation. -- ##


Anonymous said...

Voting for a person because she's a woman doesn't cut it. Look at all the disappointing women leaders the world over, beginning with your country, the Philippines, which had Corazon Aquino and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Anonymous said...

This is so conventional -- especially the last line. Since when did liberation movements care about women? There's no female in the pantheon of left leaders. So you can't argue that redefining the concept of woman should come from them.

Karen said...

When my girlfriend first told me the news regarding the NY governor's, um, indiscretion, my first question was: What did the woman (Ashley?) had to do for that amount of money?

perla said...

hi ninotchka, thanks for adding me to your mailing list for your blog. I just read this entry on spitzer. glad you pointed out that concepts of power are connected to concepts of sex... and under patriarchal thought and programming, this includes now the objectification of sex. before and outside of patriarchal religion and societies, sex was and still is sacred. why else is the ancient practice of lighting candles romanticized---for love and sex that take place at the same time IS sacred and creates power from within... but within patriarchal institutional thought, the sacred is now perverted---considered only as a release, reward, indulgence or deep, down dirty secret. yup... in this manner of power and sex---why didnt spitzer cover his tracks?! idiot.