The XX Factor

What If Sanford Were a Woman?

“We careened… from not having enough information about the governor to having too much. Way too much,” says Ruth Marcus at the Washington Post. “There was Sanford talking about ‘that whole sparking thing’ and ‘serious overdrive.’ Really, if Sanford’s sparking, I don’t want to know about it, whatever drive he’s in.”

Well, neither do I. But you can’t blame Sanford for the fact that Americans demand their married, male politicians report any deviation from a “normal” sex life. He gave us an epic, fall-from-grace religious narrative because the governor of South Carolina, for whatever reason, is held to a particular standard of sexual conduct-one that does not allow for meaningless dalliances. The remarkable thing about Sanford is how fervently he seems to buy into the justness of this demand; unlike, say Bill Clinton, or Larry Craig, he never seemed bitter at some perceived violation of privacy. If it seemed more like a therapy session than a press conference, perhaps its because Sanford gave so willingly what his audience was demanding.

Looking over the Double X gallery of post-coital apologies , it occurs to me that we don’t really have a model for unfaithful politicians of the other sex. Would a woman in Sanford’s place, with four boys and a saintly husband at home, have had to confess on national television? Would we be comfortable with the press policing the sexual behavior of a young and powerful female politico?