It seems when it comes to the Anthony Weiner situation, we’re winding down Sex Scandal Phase I (postures of moral outrage at the perversion accompanied by demands for more pictures and details to gawk at), and moving on to Sex Scandal Phase II, the John Gray phase, during which the scandal is exploited in order to make sweeping claims about how men and women are total opposites, different species really. The form Phase II is taking in light of the Weiner scandal is the question, “Why don’t women have sex scandals?” or at least, “Why do the vast majority of sex scandals involve men, when men are only half of the population?”
Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times does manage to avoid the trap of trying to establish some dramatic differences between male and female sexuality. (Sadly, she’s alone in this. Variations on this theme include claiming women with power aren’t sexy and women prefer working to screwing .) But she replaces the stereotype of the oversexed man vs. the asexual woman with another stereotype: the ego-driven man vs. the servile woman.
“The shorthand of it is that women run for office to do something, and men run for office to be somebody,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “Women run because there is some public issue that they care about, some change they want to make, some issue that is a priority for them, and men tend to run for office because they see this as a career path.”
I don’t doubt that men and women give very different reasons for running when talking to researchers and journalists. But I’d argue this doesn’t reflect a real difference in how men and women are , but more how they’re treated . Women know very well that the public is less forgiving of a woman with an ego than a man with an ego, and so women protect themselves by downplaying their egos. Ironically, one of the reasons women strike the pose of the selfless giver is to preserve their egos from the criticism that they get if they’re perceived as ambitious. I would say that the problem with Walsh’s statement is it creates a false dichotomy. I imagine most people run for office both because they want to be somebody and because they care about the issues. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Look at Weiner, who is certainly ambitious, but who I do believe cares very much about the progressive causes he’s always on TV promoting.
A lot of negative stereotypes of women are giving a positive-sounding gloss so we’ll swallow them without feeling insulted and even enforce them on others. Gillibrand’s statement that female politicians don’t cheat because they’re “in the middle of diapers and bottles and bills and votes and markups” sounds pro-woman on its surface, but if you examine it more closely, she’s just regurgitating social stereotypes about women being disinterested in sex so that they assign it a low priority. And the idea of women as selfless crusaders sounds great, until you remember that this image of women as living for others and not for themselves has been wielded for thousands of years to stick us with the poorly paid scuttle work.
In truth, women have always been more than capable of risking their careers and reputations for sex. I would point out that not only is this true, the entire human race exists in no small part because women throughout history were willing to risk often-deadly childbirth in order to get laid. Perhaps contraception and medical childbirth have caused us to forget this. The word bastard only exists because women are quite capable of being stupid for sex. The main reason there aren’t more frequent sex scandals involving women in politics is that there just aren’t many women in politics. The second reason is that women do face sterner consequences for getting caught, and fear of that may work against women who are sexually more aggressive from considering politics as a career, since your average would-be cheater has probably colored outside the lines a few times long before she ever considered running for office.