Until a few days ago I had never heard of Jeffrey Toobin. When I saw his name trending on Twitter, I did a quick google and learned that he is a well-known lawyer who writes for The New Yorker and works as a legal analyst for CNN. I also learned why he was trending: he had been caught masturbating during a Zoom call with coworkers.
Reading about why Toobin was suspended (yes, suspended, not fired) from The New Yorker was kind of like scrolling through one of those stories on Twitter that gets crazier with each tweet. Was he in his underwear? Worse. Was he naked? Worse. Was he touching himself? Worse! At first, I read that he’d accidentally exposed himself to co-workers. But then more details emerged. I learned he’d been caught masturbating on camera during a Zoom call because he was simultaneously engaged in a separate call. Toobin thought that his camera was muted and since the work call was on a break, he saw no issue with angling his camera to his crotch and jerking it while talking to his partner (it’s still not clear who that partner is).
Since the incident made headlines on Monday morning there’s been no shortage of cis men coming to Toobin’s defense to argue that what he did was totally innocent. Just another embarrassing Zoom call! As the kids like to say, these men are telling on themselves. None of these people seem to have taken into consideration the issue of consent. Whether or not Toobin’s camera was off, he was masturbating during a work meeting! This is simply unacceptable and constitutes workplace sexual harassment.
In all the bad takes I’ve seen, none has been so outrageous as this one from one Jonathan Zimmerman, in which he argues that the real reason our tongues are wagging about Toobin is because we are all prudes who are uncomfortable with masturbation. Zimmerman posits that America’s puritan roots are why, even to this day, Americans shy away from admitting to masturbation, which is the reason for the controversy surrounding Toobin’s incident. Zimmerman suggests it would be less scandalous if Toobin had been caught having sex with someone on camera instead. Insert giant record scratch here. How is it that even now, in 2020, after Anita Hill, Monica Lewinsky, Harvey Weinstein, and #MeToo, we still have people who don’t understand the basic principles of what is and is not appropriate workplace behaviour?
I am very open about my sexuality. I write essays about it, and have even stood on stage in front of a packed audience to talk about my orgasms in great detail. Heck, this summer I had regular Zoom calls with a small and select group of women and non-binary people where we talked openly about sex, sensuality, and masturbation. Somehow, even when sex was the topic at hand, I was able to avoid masturbating on the zoom calls. The issue has nothing to do with being prudish and everything to do with consent. Zimmerman’s assertion that we’re all just a bunch of prudes makes my blood boil. I am a certified freak.
I’m sure we’ve all done something embarrassing or unintentional during a Zoom call. I’ve guiltily scrolled through the Sephora website while pretending to pay attention. I’ve seen friends excuse themselves for eating or even having a beverage. I once blew my nose loudly without muting myself first. These are all normal things that happen on Zoom. What’s not normal is someone deciding that they can do their real-life job and engage in sexual activity at the same time.
Look, I get it: we’re human and these are trying times. And sometimes you just need to rub one out. But there is a time and a place for that and it’s not on a call with your co-workers, even if you think your camera is off. I have nothing against masturbation, just ask my Magic Wand. I do, however, have something against people in positions of extreme privilege who think that basic rules of decency and consent don’t apply to them. And that doesn’t make me a prude.