Women, Judges, Sex and Responsibility

Maggie Gordon's picture


This week, one of the major Canadian news headlines was that a Manitoba judge, Lori Douglas, was embroiled in a sex scandal. According to the published stories, she engaged in “kinky” sex acts and had photos documenting this. Her husband, Jack King, then posted these photos online. This information came out when a client of King’s, Alexander Chapman, filed a complaint against both the spouses alleging that King had sexually harassed him when Chapman had engaged the husband as legal counsel. According to CBC.ca, Douglas did not know that her husband had shown these photos to anyone, or that he had posted them online.

Reactions to this story have been swift and mostly negative. While many journalists and commentators have expressed sympathy towards Douglas and the fact that she is facing such difficulties because of the thoughtlessness of her husband, most are also blaming her for even engaging in such activities at all. Her decision to even allow nude photos to be taken of herself has been seen as foolish and representative of an immature mind. In fact, according to Sébastien Grammond, Dean of Civil Law at the University of Ottawa, “if pictures of you naked end up on an internet site, it’s quite difficult to say you have the credibility to be a judge” (Quote taken from the above cited CBC article).

Douglas has been a judge since 2005 and none of the articles I have read have questioned the reliability of the decisions she has made in her tenure. However, the instant these photos became public knowledge, somehow her years of legal experience and just sensibilities were voided. Suddenly, her ability to be a judge was compromised, even though the photos and her judicial decisions existed simultaneously. Douglas is supposed to be the embodiment of the entire judicial system and represent a wise, sage individual. According to public opinion, this means that she can make no personal errors as judges must be above such indiscretions. Or, at the very least, cannot let said indiscretions be found out. Furthermore, photos of sex are considered a folly. If someone’s sexual side can be seen by the public eye, this immediately strips them of public legitimacy and honour. When Douglas was seen as a sexual being, she could no longer be a judge since judges are not fully human in this sense. They are foreboding presences which do not engage in such trivial human things such as sex. They are neutered and have evolved past the mundane follies of humanity. Douglas reminded society that this assumption is not true and for that she has forced to step down as a judge and renter the sinful, messy life of an ordinary individual.

Douglas is being derided for allowing such a terrible thing to happen to her. Aside from the fact that naked photos are certainly not the worst thing to happen to a person, I would also like to point out that Douglas did not put them online herself. She trusted her husband to keep them confidential and private and, according to commentators, this was her greatest mistake. Women should never trust their partners. Women should be the eternal gatekeepers of their sexuality and if it gets out, it is always their own fault. Never has the idea that the husband breached a personal trust been the primary issue in this story. Such actions on the part of men (and partners in general) are expected. The temptation to post private pictures is obviously too great a burden for one person to bear, therefore, no photos should ever be taken unless a person is “seeking the wrong sort of attention”. Furthermore, if a woman ever desires to have a career which takes her into the public eye, particularly a career traditionally dominated by men, then she should never ever engage in anything remotely sensational or scandalous as this could destroy her career. In this case, sensational or scandalous really means having anything to do with sex.

It seems ridiculous to assume that, in today’s world of digital cameras and webcams, a single nude photograph is enough to destroy any career. It seems even more ridiculous that someone would need to refuse to ever partake in what might be a mutually enjoyable act between partners simply because such personal acts are not fitting of the image of a certain career. Whatever happened to the division between public and private lives? Furthermore, the personal decisions of a mature adult, wise and respected enough to become a judge, should never be used against her career unless said decision has direct connection to her ability to continue doing her job. In this case, sexy photos do not negate one’s ability to make good, just decisions. Engaging in bondage and oral sex do not mean that an entire life of legal training is meaningless. Most judges, I assume, have sex, and yet we do not, as a society, hold this against them or find ourselves unable to think of anything else in their court room. Sex is simply a human activity like any other, yet it causes us to be exceptionally judgemental. I think it is time we lose the grade school mentality of giggling over genitals and just let Douglas get back to her career and life.

There is also a lot of discriminatory attitudes surfacing over the mention of kinky sex that this story has brought to light. Even though it is rather likely that almost every individual will engage in sex that goes beyond missionary with the lights out, somehow society still has a rather kneejerk negative reaction to the idea of different types of fun in the bedroom (or kitchen or living room or kinky sex retreat). The only people who engage in such acts (and admit to them) are seen as silly, immature and socially irresponsible. They are labelled as deviant in as many ways as society can come up with.

Furthermore, when a judge, a person with a lot of power, decides to engage in power play and give up that power in a specific context, suddenly we are supposed to think that this means something about the rest of her life. We are supposed to assume that she is weak, abused and unfit for such an important and authoritative position. I call nonsense. Complete nonsense. The enjoyment of consensual power play cannot be used to create an entire profile of a person. If someone likes being tied up, this does not preclude them the ability to be a judge or to act in a dominant or confident manner in the rest of their life. People are complicated and multi-faceted and therefore should not be judged based on one personal, harmless, individual preference. The only person (or persons) who should be concerned about an individual’s sexual preferences should be the partner (or partners) involved with said individual. That being said, a judge can be a strong and disciplined when they need to be, but they can also enjoy having someone take control and guide them sexually in another part of their life. These two realities are not mutually exclusive.

Finally, I question the fact that rarely do sex tapes or photos come out concerning men, and when they do, they are often forgotten about soon after or even considered positive. Admittedly, I would predict that if a man was seen as submissive in a sex scandal, if would damage his career and life much more than if he was simply engaged in sex acts or dominant sex acts. As a submissive, he would be too feminine and that is a threat to the all-persuasive societal impressions of sex being divided between dominant males and submissive females.

The main focus on this case should be on Jack King, the man who supposedly harassed a client and posted his wife’s photos online without permission. Yet all we can talk about in the Canadian media is Lori Douglas. Her “greatest mistake” was simply marrying someone she loved and trusting him. Her enjoyment of sex and her nude photos should not be our primary concern. Had King shown Chapman photos of an unrelated woman, how would society have reacted? Would we have cared nearly as much? Would it have made front page news?

Cross-posted from Maggie Gordon's Blog.

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Fantastic post, Maggie!

arvan's picture

The public license of permission that we grant to the topic of sex as a means to vilify women is abominable.  From tut-tut's that religious & pious people use to shame women to the tabloid smears regarding women's bodies, dating and sexiness - it is everywhere.  Schoolyards, magazines, TV, movies, coffee shops, family, work...everywhere.

And for men, there is a comletely separate set of judgments.  That someone's sex life is a factor in their ability to judge the law - is a joke.  This is a hit-job on a woman for taking control of her life and having 'the gall' to take what men are freely given: autonomy.

Thanks for posting here!   I hope to see a lot more of your great work.


Yes, yes and more yes to your

Maggie Gordon's picture

Yes, yes and more yes to your comment! Thanks for the encouragement!

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