Johnson’s saucy post sparks debate about double standards in politics

New York City Councilman Corey Johnson.
New York City Councilman Corey Johnson.
Photo by William Alatriste for the New York City Council
New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

Johnson’s saucy post sparks debate about double standards in politics

Would a female politician lose their position for posting something similar? Probably.
August 9, 2019

Looks like New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson is a fan of late night snacks – and no, we’re not talking about food.

After Johnson posted a photo of a topless man on his personal Instagram on Thursday night, former campaign spokeswoman for New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and current CEO of the women-only workspace The Wing, Audrey Gelman called him out (in a now-deleted tweet), sparking debates online regarding the double standards for men and women in politics. “Corey Johnson, the NYC Council Speaker, posted this photo on social media at midnight. If a woman elected official did this, they wouldn’t have a job in the morning,” said Gelman.

Reactions to Gelman’s criticism of Johnson’s photo left people divided. Some agreed with Gelman’s point and took issue with Johnson’s lack of professionalism, while others felt that she didn’t understand Johnson’s personal brand, which is built on a Millennial-friendly, intimate and informal social media presence. (It’s also worth considering that Stringer and Johnson are gearing up to be rivals in the 2021 mayoral race, in which they will be competing for the same lane as Manhattan-based progressives.) 

Other Twitter pundits noted that because Johnson is gay, he doesn’t have the same privilleges as a straight male politician. Critics argued that Gelman’s chiding of Johnson pits straight women and gay men against one another.

Gelman isn’t wrong for bringing attention to the fact that a woman in politics would most likely not post a similar picture – and that she probably would be widely criticized if she did. In fact, we can’t even think of an example of a female elected official who has done something similar – though, two examples of male politicians posting risqué photos of themselves do come to mind.

In 2011, then-Rep. Chris Lee, a Republican from Western New York, resigned from Congress after it was discovered that he had sent a shirtless photo of himself to a woman who had posted an ad on Craigslist's "Women for Men” section, despite being married and having a young child. And then, of course, there’s former Rep. Anthony Weiner, the Brooklyn Democrat who accidentally posted a lewd photo of himself on Twitter in 2011, resulting in his resignation from Congress. In 2013, Weiner’s comeback came to a screeching halt when “sexts” and nude photos sent to women (who were not his wife) were leaked in 2013 during his mayoral run. 

However, neither Lee nor Weiner’s scandals are remotely analogous to what Johnson did. As a single man, Johnson is not cheating on a partner. He’s simply posting a photo of a topless man. Johnson is known for speaking openly with the public about his sexuality, history of struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, HIV-positive status and dating life

Even Republican Councilman Joe Borelli stood up for the Speaker, saying that his vulnerability is seen as a “positive” in the eyes of many politicians.

“For Mr. Johnson, a Democrat who is exploring a run for mayor in 2021, the political has always been personal,” wrote The New York Times’ in its profile of the Speaker in June.

So, is it any wonder that Johnson posted a picture of his hot date? Not really. Would a woman in politics be able to skirt criticism for doing something similar? Probably not. But perhaps the public is warming up to the idea of politicians revealing their more human side and Johnson is helping to alter people’s expectations of elected officials.

Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
is City & State's web reporter and social media editor.
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