Public shaming for God & country

September 15, 2014 Originally published on San Francisco Chronicle | SFGate

That limp hacker imp who swiped all those female celebrity photos from private iCloud accounts, then gloated about it all over the Net and, in so doing, promoted a particularly insidious type of ideological rape of women?

I’d be OK if that guy were publicly shamed. I’d be fine with hearing that, after a bit of jail time, his (or their) photo was plastered all over Facebook, a red circle of “do not date” slashed across his face, a portion of his personal appendages compared, unfavorably, to raisins.

Does that sound cruel? Inhumane? I’m not so sure.

How about the scolds? The trolls? The savage bullies and malicious homophobes who stalk and threaten writers, gays, women all over the Net, now more than ever? Would public shaming of the nastiest and most potentially violent among them do any good?

It might be worth a try. I’ve become increasingly horrified of late by the attacks I’ve seen on some of my female colleagues, particularly those who cover some of the most provocative feminist issues of the day (YesAllWomen, rape culture, sexism in the media, tech, pop culture) – writers like the Guardian’s always-terrific Jessica Valenti, or Slate’s Amanda Marcotte, or feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian, or longtime author Rebecca Solnit (Men Explain Things to Me), et al.

I’ve never seen anything quite like the savagery these women endure – which is saying a lot, given how I’ve received literally thousands of pieces of appalling, vicious hate mail over the years from the hardcore conservative Right, the best/nastiest of which I published in my first book.

Like this. Only for trolls. And misogynists. And Ray Rice.

Like this. Only for trolls. And misogynists. And Ray Rice.

But even I’m unfamiliar with the level of brutal misogyny, threats and outright harassment these women receive at the hands of so many cowardly, hateful males, simply because they dare to write with progressive wit, intelligence and grace about the myriad issues facing modern women. It’s sort of heartbreaking. I wish I knew how to apologize for my entire gender.

I have no idea if it would do any good – and it is, at present, technically impossible to ‘out’ them – but I think a rough justice would indeed be served in seeing these contemptible humans shamed in public for spewing as they do, for threatening these writers’ friends and families, for a dangerous, hurtful kind of harassment you and I simply cannot fathom.

But here’s where it gets a little weird. Do you know who probably should not be publicly shamed? Who doesn’t really deserve to have their scruffy, dumb-guy mug shots plastered all over a public Facebook page in a sad attempt to embarrass them into pseudo-moral compliance – but who are, in fact, being thusly publicly shamed, right now, anyway?

Guys who patronize prostitutes.

I know! But it’s not as contradictory as it sounds. I was bemused to see the story about Bay Area cops resorting to public shaming (via Facebook) to “embarrass” a bunch of hapless-looking johns for soliciting hookers, women who turned out to be female cops in disguise. (Fun gig! Good use of police time and resources!)

What a silly waste. What a stupendously misguided, inept way to use this most valuable and underutilized shaming tool.

What’s that you say? Yes, yes, I realize some of these guys might very well be cheating jerks. I realize a few might be contributing, somehow, to the problem of human trafficking, though the amount to which they are and to which the cops’ silly shaming tactic addresses it seems negligible at best.

And yes, it’s true that these guys (and the sex workers they patronize) are, technically, breaking a very old, useless law that has no place in the modern era and which, like drug law, does absolutely nothing to stem the cash-flow coursing, quite healthily, through the world’s oldest profession.

But, see, this is 2014. This is San Francisco, home of and Grindr and Tindr and more fetish/sex/poly/orgy parties per square block than Caligula-era Rome. This is an era when sex work (and sex workers) strive toward legitimacy, when porn stars are writing for the New York Times and Stoya has more Twitter followers than the US Senate. In other words: Sex work ain’t what it used to be. And it never was.

Not going to work. Maybe try Instagram?

Not going to work. Maybe try Instagram?

Clearly the police don’t read Dan Savage. Clearly the cops aren’t aware that, for many, turning to a professional sex worker can be valuable solution to a wide array of woes – personal, psychological and marital. Dan’s column and my sex-worker friends frequently confirm: Patronizing a skilled pro can, in the right circumstance and with the correct agreements, be a terrifically helpful tonic indeed.

Do not misunderstand. Abusive men who patronize risky street prostitutes, not to mention their violent pimps, can create an ugly scenario. The illegality of sex work creates a nasty underbelly indeed.

But this isn’t about adultery. This isn’t about drug abuse, human trafficking or broken families. These guys aren’t being shamed for that. Just look at them – they’re being shamed over a dumb, lingering remnant of Puritanism that declares sex for money to be grossly immoral no matter what.

How unutterably silly. Particularly as, meanwhile, 1,000 other far more deserving atrocities dance right by, barely scathed and unashamed.

Hey look, there goes the NFL’s Ray Rice, the Baltimore Raven who punched his fiancé in the face in a casino elevator and knocked her out cold. Ray should be in jail. Ray should be publicly shamed for a long, long time, as should his coach and assorted NFL apologists. Instead, CNN reports Ray is in “good spirits” (seriously, CNN?) And no wonder! Despite his wife-beating ways, Ray will be keeping about $25 million. Good job, NFL!

Look over here. It’s fundamentalist Christian homophobe and godly sexist Mark Driscoll, the infamous Seattle-area “bad boy” pastor who, among other theological delights, calls women “penis homes.”

Mark is, apparently, having a little trouble keeping his churches open, now that word is getting out about his alleged abuses and moral psychosis. But is Mark being sufficiently publicly shamed? Do you see his face on a police “shame page” due to insidious ignorance? Not quite.

Vivian and Alice! There they go, ruining the social fabric.

Vivian and Alice! There they go, ruining the social fabric.

Which brings me to perhaps the most heartwarming tale I’ve read in ages. It’s the story of Vivian and Alice, both just over 90 years old, who’ve been together as a couple for – get this – 72 years.

The best part? Vivian and Alice just got married. In Iowa. Because Iowa was one of the first states to legalize gay marriage, back in 2009. “This is a celebration of something that should have happened a very long time ago,” said the happy presiding reverend, who was most certainly not Mark Driscoll.

Can you imagine? Do you wonder how many years these amazing women had to lie, pretend to be something they’re not, hide their true emotions?

Do you know what I’d like to see publicly shamed, embarrassed, humiliated beyond recognition? The ethos, the toxic social mores, the God, the church-sanctioned homophobia, the cruel and ugly fundamentalism that kept these women from expressing their love for all those decades. That made them hide and cower. That perhaps made them feel less than human.

Paying for sex? Big deal. Violence, threats, abuse, harassment, centuries of fear and guilt? For shame.

Mark Morford

About Mark Morford