The XX Factor

Northern Ireland’s Female Cad

We’ve spent a lot of time at DoubleX in the past few months contemplating the way men seem to be more likely than women to trash their lives and careers at the urgings of their nether regions (or, in the case of Mark Sanford, “love”). We racked our collective brains trying to come up with a woman to add to our list of Top Cads of 2009 and failed. Now Northern Ireland MP Iris Robinson-mother of three grown children and wife of the country’s First Minister Peter Robinson-goes to the top of the list for 2010 scandals thus far-she resigned late last month, but it’s only in the first days of 2010 that the details of her affair with a 19-year-old and her misuse of her position to help her lover fund and open a business have come out. We don’t have many women-centered political sex scandals to compare her with, but when it comes to “taking it like a man,” she’s already shown that female politicians-or at least this particular, not otherwise overly sympathetic Irish female politician, do things differently.

Instead of waiting for the news of her financial and family troubles to break, Mrs. Robinson (known in Northern Ireland for her anti-gay stance-she described homosexuality as only slightly less “vile” than “sexually abusing innocent children”) resigned in late December, and apparently attempted suicide. She didn’t take the stage for the inevitable press conference, stoic husband by her side, to apologize to the nation and her family and attempt to weather the storm. Instead, she’s issued an apologetic statement, but left the appearances to her husband, whose political career is also in danger because of allegations that he knew about and didn’t reveal her financial transgressions. So far, he’s supporting his wife and defending his marriage, but this one-a new kind of a problem for a relatively new style of political partnership-has yet to play out.

Granted, Iris Robinson is a sample of one, but it’s notable that so many male politicians, faced with far more dramatic scandals or at least equally embarrassing ones, tied on their striped ties and let the media and the public take a swing at them-even while, in some cases, offering mental stresses, depression, and other excuses for their behavior. It’s not necessarily more admirable, but it’s certainly a different way to handle the fallout from stepping into this particular pitfall of power. Meanwhile, Mrs. Robinson, so far, stays home. Is she retiring from the spotlight to give her husband a better chance at keeping his position? Does she feel more personal guilt over her behavior-or does she believe that any form of brazening this out would only make things worse for them both? Northern Ireland’s press will surely be all over this, but a little meta-scrutiny is appropriate from this side of the pond.