By sintecho • March 24, 2008•Sexism, Sexual Harassment, and Other Forms of Discrimination
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.