Why Female Politicians Have Fewer Sex Scandals

06/14/2011 2:32 PM |

Nancy doesnt have to care if you think shes hot.
  • Nancy doesn’t have to care if you think she’s hot.

The newest iteration of the Weiner story (sorry, I know, it will be over soon) is the question of why male politicians get embroiled in sex scandals so much more often than female ones. The Times offered a few suggestions, including that women are too busy being moms to bother:

“While I’m at home changing diapers, I just couldn’t conceive of it,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the New York Democrat, once said.

Or that women are inherently more altruistic when they run for office, so are less likely to want to screw it up:

“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.

They also point out that there are fewer women in politics over all, that more is expected of women in the public eye, and suggest that maybe chicks just know how to keep it on the DL:

Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers, said her studies on adultery show that, at least under the age of 40, women are equally as likely to engage in it as men. She theorizes that perhaps women are simply more clever about not getting caught.

Yesterday in Good, Nona Willis Aronowitz took some issue with the whole “women run because they care” thing. According to her, it’s just another way the double standard for women and sexuality presents itself.

People are shocked when women step outside of their prescribed roles, especially when it comes to sex. So not only do powerful women realize the precariousness of their positions, they probably realize that the fallout from these scandals would be far greater. Female politicians are less likely to cheat because they know it’s much harder for them to bounce back.

Over on Double X, Amanda Marcotte wrote a smart piece debunking gender essentialist arguments like “powerful women can’t get laid” and “strong women prefer working to sex”:

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.

And ultimately concludes it’s a numbers game:

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.

Of course the numbers thing makes sense, but I think it’s more complex than just that the consequences of being caught are worse for women. I mean, they are, but I have to imagine that the men who engage in sexually scandalous things assume they won’t ever get punished. Anyone truly considering the career-ending consequences of a sex scandal wouldn’t put a picture of their dick on Twitter.

My theory—because that’s what we need, more theories, right?—is that the way sexual identity is constructed in our society, sexual availability is a low-status position for women and a high-status one for men.

Straight men are taught to view sex as a conquest. Banging a lady confers status to a man. A powerful man who suddenly has lots of women making themselves sexually available to him sees getting that sex as an emblem of his power, proof that he is a big shot.

Women, on the other hand, have traditionally had to use their sexuality as a way of gaining power. Fuckability is a basic requirement for any woman in the public eye. Sleeping your way to the top is an inherently female act. In Tina Fey’s recent piece in the New Yorker, she wrote about how studio executives reject a show because there’s nobody onscreen they’d want to fuck. Women have to be sexually acceptable to a straight dude audience just to be seen.

So for a woman, not having to give a shit whether anyone wants to sleep with them is the power position. Whether or not they are actually screwing around on the side is irrelevant. Being powerful enough that men have to listen to you regardless of whether they want in your pants is power. There’s a reason people talk about women “giving it up”—straight sexuality is constructed as women giving and men getting. Men fuck. Women get fucked. In that construction, sex for women is inherently low status.

Of course, as we get more female politicians we’ll see more sex scandals from them, because of course, women gotta get laid too. I’m not disagreeing with any of the previous arguments. I’m just saying, unless there’s a big shift in the way sex and power is portrayed in our culture, you’re not going to find women acting like Clinton or Weiner or Spitzer, using their powerful positions to get laid. Not because powerful women aren’t sexy, but because it takes power for a woman not to have to be sexy.

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