Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Biblical Secrets: King David, the Secret Service and Male Privilege

Rep. Peter King, Chairman of the House Committee that oversees the Secret Service, in response to the Secret Service scandal, says the key question is whether the prostitutes gained access to "any data or information that could have compromised the president of the United States or made an enemy force aware of the practices and procedures of the Secret Service." I disagree. This is an important question. However, the key question for me is what made these men think that they had the right to access these women’s bodies? What made these men think that they were indeed so privilege that they could break the contract—a commitment to pay for services rendered?

As I listen to this unfolding scandal, I’m reminded of the Biblical tale of King David. 

In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem. One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then  David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her.” (2 Samuel II 1-4, New International Version)

 Fast forward to 2012

11 Secret Service men, on a recent trip to Cartagena, Colombia, visited a brothel and decided to buy the services offered by the women. Prostitution in some areas of Cartagena, Colombia is legal. At the end of the transaction, at least one agent refused to pay the agreed upon rate. Being mindful of her rights, the young lady sought restitution and reported the theft to the authorities (maybe a story of female empowerment).
This notion that women’s bodies are simply available for the pleasure of men is as long as history itself. We see this in the story of King David and in the story of the Secret Service men “behaving badly” in Colombia. There are a number of underlying similarities connecting this story of Biblical times and the recent behaviors of the Secret Service in Columbia. For one there is the story of the “sex scandal”. The “so-call” male bound is also present in both these stories/events. Also common in these stories is the rationalization of behavior. Finally, connecting the stories is male privilege. My primary focus is on male privilege and how it seems to encourage an ideology that women are property and as such have no rights.

Like King David, the men of the Secret Service “went on the roof” saw what they wanted and decided that they were entitled to possessing and using these women. In both instances the men had some relevant information that they ignored. David knew that Bathsheba was married, he even knew her lineage. The Secret Service men knew the cost of the services. Regardless of this background information, a decision was made. The women were to be used for their pleasure with little thought to the needs of these women. 

The Secret Service men, like King David, flaunted their perceived power.

The Bible does little to tell the story of Bathsheba and whether or not she willingly went to David (some speculate about Bathseba’s motives). Regardless of such speculation we do know at least one thing about Bathsheba. We know nothing of her feelings. She is often rendered invisible in the tale of David’s desire to conquer and possess another man’s wife. The female sex workers in this story of the Secret Service also remain relatively tangential to the unfolding story (sans the pictures of her “voluptuous body” as depicted among some news services). 

George Stephanopoulos, on the ABC show “This Week”, aired April 22, 2012, asked about the representation of women in the Secret Service, to which Maloney replied,

And I can’t help but keep asking this question, where are the women? We probably need to diversify the Secret Service and have more minorities and more women.”

This is but one example of how the female sex workers have become tangential in the development of the Secret Service sex scandal.  When we leave out the women, we are leaving out a critical question: what prompted this man/these men to behave in this manner? What might be an underlying factor that encouraged this man/these men to believe that they could simply use women’s bodies for their pleasure with little thought of the consequences? 

President Obama characterized the Secret Service men as "knuckle heads" and then asked "what were they thinking?" They like King David were thinking that they had the right to these women. Did they feel a right to access these women because they are sex workers, women, or a combination there of? Simply saying that they are knuckle heads does not allow us to have a conversation around these questions. It simply suggests that the men misbehaved as opposed to that they subscribed to an ideology of male privilege. Introducing male privilege into this conversation adds another layer of complexity to the story of the Secret Service. Adding diversity to the Secret Service without explicitly and systematically addressing male privilege will do little to change such behaviors.

There are other reasons for bringing women, not in a symbolic manner but in a substantive manner, into this conversation. If we bring women into this conversation, we can also explore why for many women prostitution is their means of economic survival and not simply a desire to have sex.

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