Politics: Its All About The Boobs

BlogHer Original Post

A little over a week ago, Meghan McCain, columnist, blogger, quasi-conservative and daughter of former Republican Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain posted a photo of herself in a tank top on Twitter and set off a firestorm of anger that almost threatened to put breasts over health-care as the hot topic of debate. Well, almost. At the very least, there was enough nonsensical outrageously outraged outrage from the usual, Puritanical suspects for Meghan to feel the need to pen a column, questioning why it's so inappropriate to post a photo of oneself in a tanktop on a social network.

On Wednesday, I posted a hastily taken self-portrait on Twitter—which I thought was funny and silly—and within a few hours I had caused a minor media scandal. I spent most of the next day thinking about what exactly was so shocking about the picture, why there was such an immediate and nasty overreaction. After all, it’s not like I was caught making a sex tape. I certainly didn’t pose nude for Playboy. And I hadn’t even exposed a nipple.

Could it be it's because I have breasts? Because for those of you who didn't know, I have two. They're larger than some women's and not as big as others. I don't usually show off my cleavage—as I did in the photos I posted—which I will admit is not the smartest thing I have ever done. But it’s just not worth the drama it caused.

I know Meghan is new to this game, so I'll go easy on her, and as a firm believer in avoiding the circular firing squad, I'll only mention in passing that she's not the first and won't be the last to feel the wrath of the anti-sex segments of our society (welcome to the club!). After all, its not like Meghan did anything wrong. Well, other than, say, having the breasts in the first place.

To tell the truth, I agree with Meghan in principle (not really so much in practice, but I'll get to that later). Americans have a problem with breasts, and not just Meghan McCains. And before anyone starts pointing fingers about who is currently responsible, this is nothing new to the United States. We are a Puritanical nation. Sex and anything associated with it is and has been a dramatically divisive topic, and without exception, Americans think more about the political implications of sex and nudity than anyone else in the world; whether they are "for" it or "against" it, the mere topic of sex brings out the most animalistic political instincts in anyone. Compared to the rest of the world, we're sex-obsessed.

Trevor Project Gala

Hugh Hefner, founder and editor of Playboy and possibly the world's foremost expert on boobs (perhaps in more than one way depending on who you ask), once penned in the Playboy Philosophy that sexual liberation was only possible in a society that valued individual rights above all else. Sexual freedom only grows naturally in a free society where individuals were free to pursue their own interests and where the state refused to interfere in their personal business. Republicans, content to protest on ideological grounds even the slightest whiff of the smallest tendril of government interference in the boardroom are more than happy to poke their noses in the bedroom, and Democrats, while faring marginally better, are still guilty of censorship and mere lip service to more serious issues of individual liberty.

Puritanism and a harsh perception of what is "right" and what is "wrong" in matters of sex is deeply embedded into the American psyche. The earliest Americans were notoriously tough on sex and throughout history, humans have always had a Gnostic streak. Europe had a long time to get over it, and the Enlightenment, a period where we were more concerned about the pressing issue of earning our political freedom. As a consequence, everyone gets excited, defensive and impressively worked up about sex. That's the political landscape in which we live. When you press your boobs to a camera and put it out on the internet while presuming to be political, you naturally enter into this landscape and if you're not schooled in the ideological debate, you'll pay the price in angry mail. And its going to take a lot more than personal outrage in response to change the way that this sort of situation is handled. Its going to take a massive cultural shift for Americans to fully accept people who think differently about sex. Not that that shift isn't happening - it has been since the Thirties and continues unabated, despite the best efforts of both sides - just that that shift is not going to be easy for a society that is so self-conscious about its own liberty, for a society where sexual shame is inextricably linked to its intimate personal history. Meghan and I are of a generation for whom this sort of thing (posting personally revealing information in a quasi-pubic forum) is considered if not "normal" almost "boring." We wouldn't have that attitude if it weren't for our mothers' commitment to earning equal rights for women, our grandmothers' fight for independence, and the tireless work of activists whose sole focus was individual liberty of any sort.

Was it right for people to call Meghan McCain a slut? No. It's not. Could I have told her that would happen? Maybe. In practice, I'm a bit less sympathetic to Meghan, but only because I tend to believe that she enjoys being at the center of a fuss. I don't blame her. I do, too (though, to be truly honest, my tiny boobs wouldn't cause much of a fuss were I to don a tank top and take a photo even with a push up bra, three socks and a roll of duct tape). Those who attacked her are being outrageously silly, over the top and incredibly reactive. But they're being, quintessentially, American.

Now, I said I disagreed with Meghan McCain in principle and I'm not going to leave that hanging, though Noreen Malone of Double-X explains myself better than I can.

It all gives her a reason to write, of course, manufacturing for herself digital straw men who she can take down in her column. After the Thursday onslaught, she rushed to press with a Friday morning Daily Beast response that parsed the sentiments of her Twitter feed...

It might be a brave new world, but you still don’t see Gail Collins or Peggy Noonan flashing cleave in their author photos. That’s not because they’re old or unhip or because we’re all prejudiced against unbridled feminity. It’s simply that often, especially in a field like media, in which image is paramount, form really should follow function.

Boob scandals would be fantastic for the GOP. It would move the argument forward, discuss the ideas that drive their double-edged approach to individual liberty and perhaps move the party in a fresh, more libertarian direction. But the controversy seems to have been made to be all about Meghan McCain and not at all about the psyche of the people whose outrage drove her to apologize.

She has, in her hands, a teachable moment about the shortcomings of the party she seems so intent to rescue from the depths of George Bush-era social conservatism. But really, instead of standing up for what she did and hold her ideological ground, because - and this is key - no one who agrees with her politically believes what she did was wrong she backed off, gave in, and is now whining about how she was treated while others, like the similarly-demographic-ed conservative commentator Ashley Herzog , try to come to her defense and use her situation as an exhibit of how far we still need to go to truly consider ourselves free. Meghan had nothing to apologize for - as Evil Slutopia put it, "Meghan McCain has boobs. Get over it" - but it would be great if she would stand up and say that. Use her powers for good, if you will.

I hope she will in the future, because I think she could do a lot of good.

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