Forget Jeffrey Toobin, the REAL scandal was Lisa’s Green Tights (a story about Himpathy and how professional standards are about punishing women)

If you have been fortunate the past few weeks, you will have missed the news that New Yorker legal correspondent Jeffrey Toobin, was suspended for being caught masturbating during a Zoom meeting. This caused quite a stir, including the inevitable backlash of “stop being so prudish, everybody masterbates, get over it!” nonsense epitomized by essays like this little testimony to male privilege right here. (Where, naturally, we can just put aside Toobin’s history of bad conduct. No, actually, friend, we can’t.

Toobin was fired, leading inevitably to the comments about cancel culture, and honestly if people had the same level of angst about right-to-work laws as they do about whether Toobin’s firing, the world would be a better place. People are in general right in that we should stop being collectively shocked about masturbation, but I don’t think anybody in the collective is actually shocked by masturbation. I think a lot of us are instead shocked at Toobin’s judgment in a world where people are fired and/or treated like garbage professionally for much, much less.

To wit, everybody masterbates, but it’s not good professional conduct. Nobody really wants to watch Toobin do his thing, just like everybody poops, and absolutely nobody wants a to watch you do it.

What we have here around Toobin, more than any real prudery-busting, is what Kate Manne called “himpathy” in her wonderful book, Down Girl. Himpathy is the process society uses to make excuses for men’s bad conduct. The problem with himpathy is that it’s a built-in safety net for men that is simply not applied to rest of us. Imagine if Michelle Obama had been caught masturbating during a Zoom. The result is that men remain less accountable for their bad conduct, while the rest of us, particularly women and Black people, get punished again and again and again for our mistakes with no mercy at all.

A further example may help illustrate. Once, when I was a young consultant, I wore green tights to a client meeting. OMG! My dusty old white boy dinosaur boss said he when he saw what was an objectively cute outfit with green tights. THAT is SO unprofessional, we’ll stop on the way and get you PROPER NYLONS , but alas, Other Moldy Dude was 20 minutes late meeting us so that we could arrive to the meeting as a group (something Dinosaur insisted on, largely so that he could control our interactions with the clients lest they get to thinking (rightly) that Dinosaur didn’t in fact know how to do all the technical stuff he was charging his gigantic salary to them for “managing” us as we actually do the work they needed.)

So because Dude was 20 minutes late, we couldn’t stop to get pantyhose to correct my OUTRAGEOUS professional lapse of my green tights. It was a disaster before the meeting even started. My luck being what it is, the clients were really unhappy with the project—not my part of it, but various different parts, including that of the Dude who had been 20 minutes late. As we rode back in car together, I was roundly blamed for the disaster of the meeting. The clients, undoubtedly seeing my green tights, had taken us for “kids” and “amateurs” instead of the SURIOUS EXPERTS we were, and it was all my fault for not looking “professional” that day. (Keep in mind: I was a wearing knee-length skirt, a blazer, a shirt, and a scarf in addition to the INSUBORDINATE tights.)

The deal is this: nobody but my dinosaur of a boss was likely looking at my legs or if they had, they probably thought “huh, tights. Smart. It’s February in Chicago, after all.” The Dude was responsible for making us late; The Dinosaur was responsible for demanding we all show up together and for demanding we do so that we could brief him on the way so that he could take credit for our work. The Dude was responsible for the work they didn’t like; the Dinosaur, as the “manager” was supposed to be “managing” the Dude to what the client wanted. NONE of ANY of that, supposedly, made us unprofessional, except that, of course, it did.

Instead, it was the green tights, the tights that granted a hint of individuality to me in a world where pantyhose were the done thing.

When my yearly performance assessment came up SEVERAL MONTHS LATER the green tights came up AGAIN “you need be more aware of your professional appearance.” Professional dress is about making people spend money and controlling them, and it’s especially controlling and punishing to women of color whose bodies do not conform to white expectations. I feel a great deal of empathy for this. I can’t tell you how often, as a busty woman, my Dinosaur of a boss stared and glared if button went wonky or my shirt shifted so that a bit cleave showed. I LITERALLY CAN NOT HELP THAT BUTTONS AND SHIRTS shift.

So you will need forgive all of us women whom have been bludgeoned for years and years and years for our “failures to be profesh” if we don’t think Toobin merits all the grace in the world. You see, at the same time that people are lecturing us on how we simply mustn’t, mustn’t be judgey about Toobin and his needs, we are still being subjected to horsepoop from the WSJ (not linking; they can get their own damn clicks) lecturing us on how it’s not longer “cute” when children and pets interrupt Zoom, and now professional conduct demands children be put away. One wonders what those without live-in help do: it’s generally frowned upon to handcuff children to the water heater in the basement to preserve one’s professional image, but I dunno we wouldn’t wanna be unprofessional. Rolls eyes.

Look, women are already working themselves to death during the pandemic. They are doing the best they can to keep kids/dogs from interrupting your precious PowerPoint presentation that nobody is listening to anyway. Telling us we need “understand” some old guy’s showing his junk while granting us NO allowances for the same natural, meaningful homelike interruptions is gaslighting a major scale.

The Four Seasons Total Landscaping Company parking lot is everywhere/nowhere, and that should interest us (at least for a moment)

I have to admit, like many an urban eeeelleette, I enjoyed the utter shitshow of Rudy Giuliani rolling up a presser to announce the president completely and totally magotally won the election by a lot of legal votes in the suburban parking lot of a landscaping company. There was something so delicious about Donald Trump, the silver-spoon billionaire faux-populist who swanked around luxury hotels and resorts at every opportunity having to have his bananas-as-a-basket-full-of-fruit-bats personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, speak to the press from a scubby parking lot.

There has been much speculation about how, exactly, this came about. The Trump campaign, trying to save face, hints that they intended to have the presser not in glitzy downtowns, the stronghold of elites (yeah, right, like the corporate developers that have gotten rich off downtown developments are Democrats) but in a good, wholesome Republican stronghold. I think it’s more likely that they assumed the Four Seasons Hotel would simply drop everything and book the presser for them when they said they wanted it. I’ve stayed there; it’s gorgeous (the whole plaza space is) and it’s way more along the lines of the gold escalator vista that Trump used as an accessory for when he announced his candidacy.

Then when the Four Seasons hotel staff had to say “no” because they likely have 18 wedding parties and/or they just didn’t want a Trumpers/Biden mess outside their lobby (I wouldn’t), I suspect that everybody in the PR squad was “unavailable” and probably left Intern Jeff alone, who had neither the experience or the authority to just call the whole damn thing off, combined with campaign teams who have no more f*cks to give, scrambling to make something work. With nobody wanting to be the one person to say to Giuliani and/or Trump “no” the dominoes just kept falling so that Rudy is, once again, the object of jokes, giving a nonsense of a presser in parking lot by a sex shop named “Fantasy Island.” (Thank you forever to whoever came up with that business name, I haven’t laughed like that in years.) With, notably, a crematorium across the street.

The thing is, Four Seasons Landscaping is an insult to Donald Trump because it’s so utterly ordinary. There’s nothing really wrong with it as a place, unless you are really snobby about your places. It’s just not a space of any kind of statement or distinction—not a space of poverty, ethnicity, luxury or distinction. It’s a place that could be, and is, everywhere because it is planned only by toss away zoning and cheap rents. We could (and I will, a bit) scold planning for being so utterly disinterested in these unsightly but necessary places because, honestly, the sustainable city of the future is likely to require at least sex shops and crematoria if not landscaping businesses.

And that’s irony. While it might be tempting to yell at snobby planners like me who chortle with derision about the banality of suburban parking lot, nothing would be more mortifying to Donald Trump than to be associated with something so utterly ordinary. He has bulldozed and bribed his way into every luxury spot on the planet. He didn’t want an elite education; he wants to be seen as having obtained one. He is by all accounts an excellent golfer for a man his age, but he can’t just be that; he has to be the Ur Golfer, a Golfing God, winner of all winners. He wants his name in gold on the glitziest building on every urban skyline. Donald Trump is a uniquely potent candidate because he appeals simultaneously to the dirt poor culture warrior cursing the urban elite and the actual urban economic elite. The former see him as a Rodney Dangerfieldesque nouveau rich thumb in the eye to an imagined group of establishment rich libs like the Kennedy family. The urban and suburban millionaires know, for all his noise and crap, he’s fully one of them with their interests and nobody else’s.

The owners of Four Seasons Total Lanscaping are, unsurprisingly, Trump supporters; I suspect they have a tv in their waiting room (with mismatched chairs because they have so few office visitors) with FoxNews on. We’ve all been in these places. The campaign should suck up the mistake and do the symbolically smart thing—like having DJT call the business owners and thank them for their hospitality, reassuring one and all that DJT is really on their side and really really likes the Little People who vote for him. That won’t happen because the wounded bully is going to be too busy thinking about all the people he can hurt—needlessly, except to balm his sense of frustrated entitlement—on his way out. I see Esper was the first to go.

My father was a politician and, honestly, disinterested in his only daughter. He preferred men’s company; he used words like “women’s work” with absolute derision. But he did give me excellent advice in life and in politics. The first was “never get puking drunk on tequila”—advice which three decades later I still sincerely regret ignoring on my 21st birthday. The other advice he gave me (actually relevant) is that you have to know how to lose in politics if you want to stay in the game. We’ll see how the next 70 days go.

I suspect Donald Trump will enjoy being a past president so much that he will never run again. I still doubt he really wanted the job in the first place. Just like the first-rate education he could have had due to his wealth and privilege, he didn’t a actually want the work. He wanted the poshness of Wharton, and he wanted the power and trappings of the oval office, not an actual job with real responsibilities that require self-sacrifice. After all, he has the best job in the world already: getting rich by being famous for being a rich guy. But he’ll keep motioning that he’s going to run, to keep the focus on himself and to muddy the waters of anybody looking to investigate him.

I’m back, kids.