"Because I could", said Bill Clinton about Monica. It's doubtful that truer words have been spoken on the subject of how some men in positions of power behave around women.
These lewd acts terrify most women because although most men retreat upon hearing "no" (as both Cain and Clinton did), the heightened level of raw aggression suggests to many women the very real possibility of soon becoming a victim of sexual assault.
In some cases the "could" is a two-way sexual attraction where puffed up men view themselves as rock stars and adoring, often inappropriately young women swoon like groupies (Gingrich and Ms. Bisek, now Mrs. Gingrich, "a former congressional aide who was in her 20s when" the affair began or Clinton and Ms. Lewinsky, "an ebullient, vulnerable 'child' infatuated with a president" or Edwards and Ms. Hunter, a videographer, "aspiring actress and screenwriter living in Beverly Hills").
To the chagrin of many of these women, these lustful connections rarely last past the first news story published (Gingrich is an exception).
Either way the "could" goes: it's about power - having, abusing, and being seduced by it. And this is why these ill-conceived attractions have the potential to devolve into sexual harassment (situations involving either a "quid pro quo" or "hostile environment") in the workplace.
What makes it even worse for the women involved in these "power plays" is that they not only have to endure detailed investigations into their past, ridicule about their appearance, and speculation about their character, but their actions are denounced, while the man's behavior is defended or excused by his fellow partisans - including women. During Clinton's scandals, Democratic women, including Gloria Steinem, stood with him.
Throughout Edwards's extramarital affair, Democratic aides and donors covered for him, so as not to undermine his presidential run.
Although Gingrich's extramarital affairs were not revealed until after he was out of office, when he began considering a presidential run, Jerry Falwell, supported him. So far with Cain, Republican women, including Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, have continued backing him.
Beyond this, Clinton's poll numbers famously rose and Cain's poll numbers have only just begun to register some concern. If the men hold their ground, then the women lose all the way around. If it's not their job (like Lewinsky) or the man (as Hunter did), then it's their reputation and the support of their fellow partisans. Then again, Eve ate the apple and Pandora opened the box; ever since, woman has been man's undoing. Still, as a woman, it is painful to watch the partisan scapegoating and the societal shaming of these women.
Lest one click away from this page, assuming that I believe that women are morally above scandal, let me correct that impression. Women in politics do have abuse of power scandals. The difference is that the scandals involving women don't tend to involve sexual misconduct; instead they tend to involve the misuse of funds or improper influence.
This means the scandals involving women tend not to be covered as extensively by the media, even though some may view these violations - because they are public abuses rather than private ones - as worse. For instance, Representative Laura Richardson is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee. Representative Maxine Waters denied the findings of a House Ethics Committee investigation. There are also charges swirling around former Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Prior to retiring, Representative Jane Harman came under scrutiny.
There are two other reasons why women politicians aren't often embroiled in scandals.
First, women are not in political office in large enough numbers to have as many scandals as men (more men in politics = more men with scandals in politics).
Second, the politicians who usually end up with scandals are those who are the most powerful and women in politics rarely hold positions of power. It is notable that Waters had both seniority and power on the House Banking Committee, while Harman was known for her expertise and connections in foreign affairs, and there has never been a woman as powerful in American politics as Speaker Pelosi.
The more powerful one is the more others want to tempt you to engage in wrongdoing by offering favors (from tickets to sporting events to lavish vacations to free rides on private jets). And the more powerful one is the more others (one's opponents and some journalists) are looking - hoping to find - wrongdoing. As Lord Acton famously explained, "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely." The problem for women is that they tend to be at the center of men's sexual misconduct scandals, but men are rarely blamed for women's misdeeds in office, even when some (see Waters or more famously, former Representative Enid Waldholtz Greene) were involved.
Even when the issue is scandal, it's still about equality, fairness, and parity for women in politics.
This post first appeared at The New Agenda.
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