Much of the maligning of Susanna Gibson is rooted in misogyny
You’ve probably heard Susanna Gibson’s name mentioned a lot this week.
Headlines blared the torrid news about Gibson, a Democratic candidate running to represent the 57th District in Virginia’s House of Delegates: She performed sex acts with her husband for an online audience and asked viewers to chip in tips, a violation of porn site Chaturbate’s rules.
This information about Gibson was first shared with The Washington Post by an unnamed Republican operative and has since traveled worldwide, blared in headlines from here to India and plenty of places in between.
The Post and other media juxtaposed Gibson’s racy online activities with the fact that she is a mother of two children, a nurse practitioner and a married native Virginian who enjoys meals and board games with her family. All of this information was publicly available before The Post’s story broke, but the media glare now starkly contrasts it with her X-rated online romps with her husband.
The question is, why should it matter that this married mom engaged in consensual sex with her husband and invited others to watch online? There’s nothing illegal about adults live streaming sexual acts and there’s no evidence Gibson or her husband were coerced into doing so. The pearl-clutching and head shaking that the revelation of Gibson’s videos were meant to prompt stem from a bedrock of American culture: patriarchal standards that dictate what morality means and how it is exemplified in our ideals and practices – with a special laser focus on women’s behavior.
I smell more than a whiff of misogyny in the social media comments circulating like wildfire about Gibson, and sadly, women appear to be some of the chief water bearers.
“I hope she is removed from her employment…don’t think I’d ever want her to [be] anywhere near my health-care,” wrote one user of X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. Another X user said of Gibson, “Oh gross! Filthy! What is she doing with a white coat on?!”
That people are disqualifying Gibson’s educational credentials and years of professional health care experience because she chose to make porn online with her life partner is absurd. Calling Gibson filthy is tantamount to so-called “slut shaming,” defined as “the action or fact of stigmatizing a woman for engaging in behavior judged to be promiscuous or sexually provocative.”
Maybe you or I wouldn’t do as Gibson did; that’s our preference, and that’s fine. We all have the right to think and believe differently, as long as we’re not harming others or infringing on their rights. Likewise, no one was harmed and no rights were violated by Gibson’s preference to film and broadcast her sexually explicit videos.
For her part, Gibson isn’t slinking into the shadows or hanging her head in shame. In response to the scandal, she told the Post: “It won’t intimidate me and it won’t silence me. My political opponents and their Republican allies have proven they’re willing to commit a sex crime to attack me and my family because there’s no line they won’t cross to silence women when they speak up.”
While I don’t agree with her that the revelation of her videos was a crime (after all, she chose to post them on a publicly accessible porn site), I commend her courage in speaking up for herself in what would be a truly humiliating and terrifying situation for many of us. And I think she’s right that there is a very real, sustained effort to silence and diminish the voices and experiences of women, from within and without the Republican Party.
We need look no further than the raging inferno of abortion access and reproductive rights debates to see that. Despite 55% of Virginians, over half of them women, believing abortion should be legal in all or most cases, most Republican messaging, candidates and leaders (including our governor) support a 15-week ban on abortion; some continue to tune out women’s voices to maintain their pro-life proclivities.
The Virginia chapter of the National Organization for Women reiterated their support for Gibson Thursday and in a statement said her stance on abortion likely fueled the firestorm she’s now embroiled in. “It’s clear to us she is being attacked because she is an abortion rights advocate who is gaining momentum in an election that is increasingly about maintaining Virginia as the last Southern state with access to legal abortion and which offers safe harbor for girls, women, and pregnant people facing crisis pregnancies,” said Virginia NOW president Lisa Sales.
The gender pay gap hasn’t closed over the past two decades, the Pew Research Center reported in March; on average, American women earned just 82% of what men earned last year, with disparities even worse for women of color. The most recent data available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in 2021 in Virginia, women earned just 80% of what men earned. It’s an issue that many women’s rights groups, including Virginia NOW, keep ringing the bell about. Still, Republicans in the U.S. Senate in recent years blocked a bill to redress the pay gap. (Virginia’s Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine supported the bill.)
Susanna Gibson’s online sexual forays should have no bearing on her ability to make positive civic contributions and to serve Virginians. Could making porn possibly right before or in the early days of launching a political campaign show poor judgment on Gibson’s part? Maybe. It will be up to voters to decide that come November.