sintecho

Girls Being Girls: A Lot Less Steamy Than Boys Being Boys

Julia Baird's article, Girls Will Be Girls. Or Not. Why aren't more powerful public women caught up in sex scandals?, explores an interesting side of the gender power imbalance: why "are so few women in politics embroiled in tabloid tales?" There are few obvious female counterparts to the Eliot Spitzers and Jim McGreeveys (aka "Luv Guvs") of the political world. Of the "handful of minor scandals involving women in public office in America," the majority arise from "love affairs, not casual—or commercial—liaisons." The lack of "indiscretion" by female politicians leads to a call for more women to be elected to office. For example, former White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers, states: "I'm confident predicting there would be fewer sex scandals if women were in power … I don't think Hillary Clinton is going to be hitting on the intern."

Is it just that women dislike cigars and blowing four grand on casual affairs, or are the lack of female power peccadilloes telling of a deeper gender imbalance? For example, Baird notes that "while there are 86 women in Congress, and one in four state politicians is female, few are prominent enough to attract savage media scrutiny" in contrast to the men who fill the majority of elected positions. If it's not about the numbers (fewer powerful women, fewer high profile scandals), then maybe it's about the stigma. As Baird notes, "historically, women who stray have suffered more than men who do. Men are often forgiven more easily—their dalliances are considered a lapse, an uncontrollable urge." This stigma can have a higher cost for powerful women. When Edwina Currie, a British politician, disclosed her affair with a male politician, "only a third thought worse of him, half thought worse of her."

Over at Jezebel, another theory is put forward that "men don't find female power erotic": "female politicians don't have more affairs because men don't see them as more powerful, or find that power to be attractive. Young guys want nothing to do with Hillary Clinton because power and experience and age are not valued in women in our culture." The conclusion being that it isn't "a question of whether women cheat less or are better people; it's that a female politician would have less opportunity to cheat in the first place, as the men around her are unlikely to throw themselves at her."

It's interesting that you do see May-December couples with an attractive younger man and older woman, but most if not all of those couples involve a very beautiful woman (Ashton and Demi, Eva and Tony)--it's not like these guys are grabbing onto decrepit sugar mamas. On the other hand, there are still too many examples to list of rich, older, unattractive men with beautiful younger women (Donald and Melania, Anna Nicole and 90-year-old husband, etc.) I for one am not really in the market for a much younger man who wants to live off my fortune, so I don't much care if poweful women isn't an image that plays well while shopping for arm candy. But, on a deeper level, it is troubling that powerful women are sexual kryptonite and that women pay a higher social price for "being girls" in the way that boys like to be boys.

3 Comments

veronica

I am not surprised that women in power have rare scandals and of a qualitatitively different type. Isn't that totally in line with what we see in the general community, so why would politicians be that different? For example we know that men are more likely to commit violent crime than women, men are more likely to engage in sexual offences than women, men are more likely to hire prostitutes than women. So why would it be surprising that women in power would be less likely to engage in workplace harassment (especially nearer the assault end of the spectrum) or to engage in hiring prostitutes?
I don't want to suggest a causal relationship between testosterone and crime or commecial sexual purchase but since we don't fully know why these imbalances exist in the wider community I'm not surprised they exist and are unexplained in the corridors of power.
Or maybe I'm too lacking in curiosity and missing why this should surprise me? I guess it comes down to whether women in power are more like men in power than they are like women outside power. I guess I assumed they would be more like other women than like men in power. Is there a good reason to change that perspective?

veronica

<font size=“3” face=“Times New Roman”>I thought about this again in terms of reaction to female sex scandals rather than incidence. But I still don't really see it as an example of gender bias.</font>
 
<font size=“3” face=“Times New Roman”>I am not sure that Currie suffered much more than other male conservative politicians whose “family values” campaigns turned out to be shams behind which lurked infidelity and more. But if she did it can be explained in non-gendered terms.</font>
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<font size=“3” face=“Times New Roman”>The case was remarkable for the fact that she did the revealing and she was deliberately graphic in her description. Most political sex scandals break against the wishes of the politician and with fewer salacious details. In this case she made it public for commercial gain about herself and a much more senior politician. Even at the time of the affair Major was much more senior and by the time she told the story he was Prime Minister. She certainly wasn’t the relevant politician in the story as far as readers were concerned as the focus was naturally enough on the then Prime Minister. And remember there had been a female Prime Minister during the affair itself.</font>
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<font size=“3” face=“Times New Roman”>I suspect her actions in publicizing it, the manner of revelation (Monica Lewinsky would never say 'I wish I was warm and sticky' would she?) and the fact she was talking about an affair with a much more senior politician who was now the leader, might overshadow gender bias.</font>
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<font size=“3” face=“Times New Roman”>I think the point is well taken that men sometimes aren’t as damaged by sex scandals as they could be. I think sometimes (as with Major) the men were thought so boring as to be incapable of being attractive, so the revelation of an affair actually makes them sound more interesting, even if not in a positive way. If women did achieve an equal boredom factor in their public image they probably would get some upside to a scandal as Major did, though I think in general it did damage him but not as much as it might have done. </font>
<font size=“3” face=“Times New Roman”></font><font size=“3” face=“Times New Roman”>Gareth Evans/Cheryl Kernot and Janet Powell/Sid Spindler are two sex scandals in <country-region w:st=“on”></country-region></place>Australia involving female politicians. In those cases I don't think that gender bias was really a factor. It was alleged at the time in relation to Kernot but there were once again other factors involved too.  </font><font size=“3” face=“Times New Roman”></font>
<font size=“3” face=“Times New Roman”>Even amongst men the effect of sex scandals varies. I don’t think that Spitzer’s popularity survived hours of the scandal yet Bill Clinton’s popularity endured for years. In comparing them to John Major perhaps there is a cultural difference between the British and American public that needs to be accounted for?</font>

iowa

Equality need not mean that women are as depraved when faced with sexual opportunity as are SOME men.  Loyalty??  Maybe women are ahead of the evolved men if you just count the number of "offenses".  "News" coverage of people in power—celebrity—is difficult to ludicrous.  I heard Olberman criticize Clinton for hyperbole—and hyperbole is all he does—all the time—24/7.  Maybe women can and are doing better.

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