It takes a lot to piss me off. But Larry Flynt has managed.
Pundit-phobe that I am, I had never heard of S.E. Cupp until I was confronted with a picture of the pretty young conservative commentator with a penis in her mouth. Apparently Hustler magazine created the cleverly photoshopped image and published it with the explanation that “S.E. Cupp is a lovely young lady who read too much Ayn Rand in high school and ended up joining the dark side. Cupp, an author and media commentator who often shows up on Fox News programs, is undeniably cute. But her hotness is diminished when she espouses dumb ideas like defunding Planned Parenthood. Perhaps the method pictured here is Ms. Cupp’s suggestion for avoiding an unwanted pregnancy.”
More likely, it’s Hustler’s suggested method for getting strong, opinionated women to shut up. As Erin Gloria Ryan commented on Jezebel, “50 years after the beginning of the women’s movement, we’re still trying to silence women with dicks.”
Lest you think I’m resorting to indelicate language for no good reason, let me explain why this photo infuriates me (beyond the obvious vulgarity). This isn’t just a nasty picture–this is a virtual rape, a widely-publicized depiction of a sex act that is NOT consensual. Like most non-consensual sex acts, its primary purpose is not to titillate the perpetrator, but to humiliate and establish a sense of physical or psychological dominance over the victim. It’s textbook emotional abuse, a sick, twisted power-play aimed at intimidation.
The arrow hit its mark. On Thursday, Cupp went on The View, where the hosts unanimously declared their outrage. When they asked Cupp what she thought when she first saw the photo, she replied “I was horrified. It was disgusting. And even though I didn’t really do that, by the end of the day, I felt ashamed, as if I had.” By the end of the interview, Cupp’s lips were pressed together in a way that made it obvious this Ivy League educated, 33-year-old media professional was holding back tears.
Seriously? I bet every American female who has survived junior high can relate to Cupp’s undeserved shame on some level. The whole thing transported me back to the sweat-and-vinyl stench of school buses, where pimple-faced boys tormented insecure girls with taunts about masturbation, menstruation and oral sex, calling them sluts and cunts and lesbos because putting girls down made them feel strong, imparted some sick sense of animal dominance. And the girls? They were expected to laugh it off and go along with it, to be cool about it, because it was “nothing serious, just a joke.” Boys will be boys, after all.
Yeah, sorry, I never DID find it amusing. For some reason depravity never struck me as funny, especially when it was aimed at debasing and humiliating human beings who were created in the image of God. And I never held such a low view of men that I could roll my eyes and buy into the “boys will be boys” baloney.
Larry Flynt has resorted to the junior high defense, claiming that the explicit photo of S.E. Cupp is satire, therefore protected under his First Amendment rights. Just laugh it off, ladies! It’s all in good fun.
Satire my foot. Creating and displaying a picture of a woman engaged in a sex act she did not agree to is sexual harassment, at the very least. It’s humiliating and degrading, a cowardly assault on a woman’s personhood, reducing her to a sexual object that can be manipulated at will for someone else’s pleasure. It’s also a not-so-subtle form of intimidation, a time-tested method of getting women to sit down and shut up. “Disagree with me? Look what happens.”
Put that thing back in your pants, Hustler. (And here’s the self-editing point where I pull an Auntie Em: “For 23 years, I’ve been dying to tell you what I thought of you! And now, well, being a Christian woman–I can’t say it!”)
I’ve ranted about society’s sexualization of women before. I’ve bemoaned Christians’ lackadaisical response to sexual harassment, and pointed out that you can abuse a woman without ever touching her. Hustler’s disgusting treatment of S.E. Cupp wraps it all up in one neat package, with a flashy neon bow on top.
So, what are we going to do about this? Are we going to roll our eyes, declare that “boys will be boys,” and let it go? Or are we going to begin taking the sexualization of women seriously, calling it out when we see it, teaching our sons to RESPECT women, and giving our daughters the tools they need to recognize and resist the forces that would demean them?
I vote the latter.