Here's a little test: If you opened the newspaper tomorrow morning and read a story that revealed that Anthony Weiner was, yet again, up to his old junk-sharing adventures, would you:
a) be shocked like you were the first time?
b) be shocked and furious like you were the second time?
c) be shocked and furious -- and then start scanning the Web for more details?
Most folks would probably opt for C, even if we won't admit it. Public scandals are the stuff of human drama; and we watch because it's fascinating to see that now-classic template unfold: First there's the bust, then the denial, then the confession, then the begging for forgiveness and, finally, the promise of rehabilitation. It's a movie we've seen several times.
But we women watch with a greater empathetic scrutiny, focusing on the female body count left in the scandal's wake -- whether it's the political aide who publicly busts her boss for harassing her, then becomes a media target herself (see: Hill, Anita); or the family and friends of the pervy perpetrator himself, who didn't ask to be caught up in the sordid scandal in the first place.
Who could ever forget the look on the face of Silda Wall Spitzer, as she stonily stood next to her husband as he resigned the New York Governorship? That was the first time we really saw the emotional toll that is exacted on the spouse of a philandering public figure. No fake supportive smile there -- just real pain. And we felt Silda's with her.
And most of all, there's the outrageous double-standard. Imagine a woman candidate calling herself Senorita Danger and proudly -- and with a big smile -- texting photos of her privates to an online fan. Imagine a woman public official, spicing up her business trip with a rendezvous with her favorite male prostitute. Would a confession help? Would a vow of rehab do the trick? Not on your life. Scarlet A's would be tattooed on their foreheads. They'd be cooked -- done -- with no chance at a reprieve.
And yet both Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer -- despite their hormonal folly -- continue to be active candidates for office in New York, Spitzer for Comptroller and Weiner for Mayor. You don't have to be a feminist-sociologist to realize that this behavior would be completely unacceptable for a woman running for office.
And, BTW, it's not acceptable for a man either.
There are those who think that the private lives of candidates are none of our business. But when those candidates ask us for our attention as they explain their plans for how they will represent us, no one should be surprised at our interest in how they represent themselves. We'll let them know how we feel about that when we go to the polls.
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