A 1972 essay by Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is getting some attention today, because it’s weird as fuck. Bernie opines that men masturbate to images of women who are “tied up” and abused, while women fantasize about “being raped by three men simultaneously.” Oh, you’re paying attention to the election stuff now, huh?
The essay, written in an alt-weekly called the Vermont Freeman, was uncovered by Mother Jones and embedded in a profile of Sanders as a young, semi-aimless radical who grew into, as Tim Murphy puts it, a legislator who’s “unafraid to raise hell about the corporate forces he fears are driving America into the ground.”
But what’s up with this rape stuff? It’s not like rape fantasies make for especially shocking discussion today — or even in the freeballin ‘70s, i.e the Golden Age of Porn — but it’s still a creepy little essay. Here’s how it begins:
A man goes home and masturbates his typical fantasy. A woman on her knees. A woman tied up. A woman abused.
A woman enjoys intercourse with her man—as she fantasizes about being raped by 3 men simultaneously.
The man and woman get dressed up on Sunday and go to Church, or maybe to their “revolutionary” political meeting.
Sanders is trying to say something — in the typically bloviating style of the Artist as a Young Radical — about how changing gender roles are both important and fostering resentment. I think. It’s not the best essay:
Women, for their own preservation, are trying to pull themselves together. And it’s necessary for all humanity that they do so. Slavishness on one hand breeds pigness on the other. Men and women — both are losers. Women adapt themselves to fill the needs of men, and men adapt themselves to fill the needs of women. In the beginning there were strong men who killed the animals and brought home the food — and the dependent women who cooked it. No more! Only the roles remain, waiting to be shaken off. There are no “human” oppressors. Oppressors have lost their humanity. On one hand “slavishness,” on the other hand “pigness.” Six of one, half a dozen of the other. Who wins?
Conservatives are desperately trying to make this into a controversy, like this post on MRCTV, which argues that Sanders “shared his thoughts on male and female sexuality in ways that would cause a media firestorm if it had been penned by any current GOP candidate. Even one with as little chance at grabbing his party’s nomination as Sanders currently has.”
The reason those ideas would cause a “media firestorm” might be because a GOP candidate talking about BDSM would be a lot more surprising than an aging hippie who — theory — might have been stoned out of his gourd while writing this thing. Ted Cruz talking about BDSM and rape fantasies, for example, would square interestingly with his views that there should be no legal abortions ever, even for victims of rape or incest. Hell, the fact that Ted Cruz was a Take Back the Night supporter in college did garner some media interest, including from us, because it’s so profoundy misaligned with his public persona today. Sanders’ essay in no way conflicts with his beliefs today; it just talks about sexy stuff, and some people want to believe that’s enough to sink him, somehow.
In other words, this isn’t a real controversy, but we are about to read some read-hot takes on it regardless:
Not from every corner, though; even the often-shrieky National Review agrees this is kinda silly:
Nobody honestly believes that Bernie Sanders is a sexual pervert or that he is a misogynist or that he intends to do women any harm. Nobody suspects that he harbors a secret desire to pass intrusive legislation or to cut gang rapists a break. Really, there is only one reason that anyone would make hay of this story, and that is to damage the man politically.
Sanders hasn’t responded to any of the ongoing debate over his weird sex stuff.
Sanders shaking hands in New Hampshire, May 2015. Photo via AP Images