POLITICS
12/06/2016 03:12 pm ET | Updated Dec 06, 2016

David Petraeus' Comeback Highlights The Sexist Double-Standard We Can't Escape

While Petraeus could represent the U.S. around the world, Paula Broadwell hangs in limbo.

Lucas Jackson/Reuters
Former CIA director David Petraeus arrives to meet with President-elect Donald Trump in New York on Nov. 28, 2016.

As David Petraeus lobbies for a position in President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet, poised for a near total reputation rehabilitation, his counterpart in scandal, Paula Broadwell, remains in limbo.

The Army is still deciding whether or not to exact further punishment upon Broadwell, currently a reserve major, an official confirmed to The Huffington Post, citing a detailed article in The Hill.

The clear difference in their situations is just the latest shameful chapter in the Petraeus scandal, at every turn a case study in the ways women and men are treated differently in the media and in culture ― as well as by the incoming Trump administration.

As is now widely known, Petraeus shared highly classified information with Broadwell while he was running the CIA ― even the names of undercover agents. It was 2011, she was writing a book about him as part of her doctoral work at Harvard and the two, both married, were having an affair. Broadwell was an Army reserve major and an intelligence officer.

The Army quickly demoted Broadwell, rescinding a promotion to Lt. Colonel and taking away her security clearance, but has so far declined to accept the resignation she offered up this summer. The FBI did not charge her; Broadwell’s lawyer argued that she was protected because she viewed the secret information while working in the role of an author/journalist. (The classified bits never made it into the book.)

It was a pathetic biblical storyline in which men are innocents in the garden and devilish women are everywhere, dangling forbidden apples in their faces.

Petraeus apologized publicly, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information, paid $100,000 and received two years of probation. He’s about halfway through it now.

But unlike Broadwell, Petraeus gets to keep his rank ― and the $220,000 annual pension that comes with it. (He was running the CIA and retired from the military when all this went down.)

Earlier this year, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said his department would not demote Petraeus. This move came after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) both spoke up in Petraeus’ defense.

While some senators said they’d have a difficult time approving Petraeus for an administration position ― he’s just one of many contestants in Trump’s “Apprentice: Cabinet Edition” ― McCain and Graham have publicly said he’d be a great pick. So, although he’d have to let his probation officer know about any Cabinet appointment, the general is moving on.

Neither senator responded to a request for comment from The Huffington Post on Broadwell’s situation. 

Photo by ISAF via Getty Images
Gen. David Petraeus with Paula Broadwell in 2011 when her biography of him was released -- and before the scandal broke.

The military, meanwhile, is weighing further consequences for Broadwell ― specifically for her role in mishandling classified information and for allegedly sending threatening emails to a friend of Petraeus in 2012, right before the scandal broke. 

The official would not say what kinds of actions the military is considering, but defended the differential treatment by saying that the FBI had already exacted its punishment on Petraeus, but Broadwell hasn’t been punished. (While it’s true that the FBI did not charge Broadwell, recall that she has lost her rank and security clearance and isn’t being allowed to retire.)

It’s hard to begrudge Petraeus his second act; he’s a widely respected general with a long and storied history.

But his stellar character and background has been noted throughout the scandal. Broadwell, meanwhile, has been characterized as a “mistress,” a demeaning word for which there is no male equivalent. She’s been accused of bringing a man down and destroying his career because he was forced to give in to temptation; her physical appearance was detailed and dissected.

It was a pathetic biblical storyline in which men are innocents in the garden and devilish women are everywhere, dangling forbidden apples in their faces.

I’d consider accepting Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Equality if asked. Paula Broadwell

Broadwell has degrees from several prestigious universities and a stellar career history of her own. Yet she has had trouble getting work because of this scandal, The New York Times reported earlier this year.

As if to reinforce this cruel double standard, the Times placed its lengthy and substantive profile on Broadwell in the paper’s Style section, which often features stories on notable women that have little to do with fashion.

Imagine a profile of Petraeus there.

Undaunted, Broadwell has founded a nonprofit, Think Broader. Its mission is to highlight sexual discrimination in the media ― dropping the use of “mistress,” for example ― and to share data on how many male versus female experts reporters cite. Recently, the group teamed up with Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s nonprofit Lean In to produce a video drawing more attention to women in the military. 

Broadwell declined to publicly discuss her current situation with HuffPost, citing its ongoing nature. But with Petraeus so often in the news lately, she did tweet about it.

Since everyone is asking, I’d consider accepting Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Equality if asked,” she wrote, alongside an image that said “gender equality.”

In other words, if he can return to public service, so can I. 

Of course, Petraeus has had more luck in the job market; he is a partner at private equity firm KKR and advises the White House.

“Five years ago, I made a serious mistake. I acknowledged it, I apologized for it, I paid a very heavy price for it, and I’ve learned from it,” Petraeus said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” a TV appearance widely construed as his effort to convince Trump to give him the State role.

Several people have already pointed out that Trump is considering a top job for a man who knowingly shared classified information after spending months calling his opponent Hillary Clinton “crooked” for mishandling classified information

It’s unsurprising that Trump would hold a man and a woman to different standards, exhibiting more empathy for Petraeus. It may be that Trump thinks men are simply better than women.

“Donald [Trump] told me that he thought that men were better than women— especially in this field — but that a good woman was better than ten good men,” Barbara Res, who worked as an executive in the Trump organization for 12 years, told Frontline. “I think he believed that women had to prove themselves more than men, so a good woman would work harder.”

We all expect this from Trump, but he’s hardly the only one holding men and women to different standards. Broadly speaking, men get more leeway to screw up ― particularly if the screwing up involves an indiscretion with a woman.

Obviously, Trump’s OK with that. His inner circle is essentially the Third Wives Club ― Steve Bannon, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani. These guys have had less-than pristine romantic lives, to say the least. And that’s fine.

The problem is when the rules are different for women.

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