Alexis Grenell

Anti-Spitzer Attacks Patronize Prostitutes

Just days after jumping into the race for New York City comptroller, Eliot Spitzer was interviewed by Susan Arbetter, who asked him: “You solicited prostitution. Does your candidacy send a positive message to women who no longer want to be seen as objects?”

Although provocative, the question assumes an attitude about sex work as inherently degrading to women. The theme has been repeated by Spitzer’s opponent, Scott Stringer, and his supporters, as well as by the National Organization for Women.

Public advocate candidate Reshma Saujani has even started a campaign called “Up to Us” to oppose candidates like Spitzer and Weiner, claiming, “It’s up to us to stand up to the misogyny and change the conversation so women are empowered.”

But whom exactly did Mr. Spitzer victimize with his male privilege?

Ashley Dupré, a woman he slept with once, was paid handsomely for their liaison and now owns a boutique in New Jersey where she lives with her fiancé and child. According to the documentary Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, Spitzer’s preferred sex partner, “Angelina,” is now a commodities trader and says that her colleagues at the Emperor’s Club VIP were well paid and willing. And Kristin Davis, the “Manhattan Madam” whose connection to Spitzer remains unsubstantiated, worked on Wall Street before providing escorts and is a supporter of legalizing prostitution. Although it’s undeniable that Spitzer caused great personal injury to his family, particularly his wife, it’s hard to claim the same about the women he paid for sex. These are not victims of human trafficking; these are fully empowered and well compensated women who made a socially unpopular choice.

Essentially, the “Spitzer as antiwoman” argument is an argument against prostitution, which plays into the stigmatization of women who do sex work. The situation is not unlike the never-ending debate about women who work outside the home versus those who do not. After winning key victories for women’s equality in the 1970s, the feminist movement shifted away from its previous stance that all housework is oppression and instead turned to a rhetoric of respect and tolerance for women who choose not to work outside the home. It was a defining moment whereby a movement born of Betty Friedan’s desire for liberation from bourgeois boredom had earned the freedom for women to stay home if they wished. NOW’s accusation that Spitzer and Weiner “mistreat women” and view them as “objects” ignores the fact that their sex partners were willing playmates (with the notable exception of the college-age woman to whom Weiner sent unsolicited photos), just as similar accusations decades earlier invalidated the choices of women who stayed home.

Not all women agree, of course. Although she’s supporting Stringer, feminist icon Gloria Steinem told The Wall Street Journal that she doesn’t personally view Spitzer’s actions as a disqualifying factor to his candidacy, describing them instead as “self-destructive” rather than harmful to others. Likewise, polling consistently shows Spitzer’s support among men and women to be nearly identical. Neither an Aug. 9 New York Times/ Siena College poll nor an Aug. 14 Quinnipiac poll showed any gender gap at all.

Yet when Lena Dunham, the star and creator of HBO’s hit show Girls, endorsed Scott Stringer, she strongly suggested that Mr. Spitzer was an unsuitable candidate for women, citing the need for “someone with a record of respecting women and the issues that matter to them.”

At root, feminism is about ensuring economic, political and social equality for women. There are plenty of valid reasons not to vote for Spitzer, but his record on women is a weak point of criticism. The employment discrimination cases he pursued as attorney general, the legislation and policies to increase penalties for human trafficking and protect reproductive rights that he implemented as governor, and his history of hiring women for senior positions are a better indication of his views on gender equality than the scandal that eclipsed his career.

Frankly, the more relevant debate about prostitution in the comptroller’s race would be whether to legalize, regulate and tax it to create a new revenue stream for New York City, as in Amsterdam or Nevada. However, while the political establishment may be uncomfortable acknowledging sex work and talking about sex, the women whom Spitzer engaged and the broader industry of high-end escorts are not. It seems particularly patronizing to attack Spitzer on their behalf.
 
 
Alexis Grenell (@agrenell on Twitter) is a Democratic communications strategist based in New York. She handles nonprofit and political clients.

NEXT STORY: Lhota Must Be His Own Man

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.