the sexism in sex scandles – politics style

Posted on June 13, 2011


The New York Times has an article out about why women don’t get caught up in sex scandals the way male politicians do:

It would be easy to file this under the category of “men behaving badly,” to dismiss it as a testosterone-induced, hard-wired connection between sex and power (powerful men attract women, powerful women repel men). And some might conclude that busy working women don’t have time to cheat. (“While I’m at home changing diapers, I just couldn’t conceive of it,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the New York Democrat, once said.)

because, don’t you dare forget, women who work are also totally responsible for household chores.. gods forbid men changed a diaper! Barf at just about everything in that paragraph, and continue…

But there may be something else at work: Research points to a substantial gender gap in the way women and men approach running for office. Women have different reasons for running, are more reluctant to do so and, because there are so few of them in politics, are acutely aware of the scrutiny they draw — all of which seems to lead to differences in the way they handle their jobs once elected.

“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.”

While of course that’s not fair to say that no man ever runs to benefit people at large… this is a generally acurate reflection of the way women and men are socialized to operate in our world.  Men are out for #1 whereas women are responsible for cultivating community and fostering an environment beneficial for the kiddies.  When there is research suggesting that the majority of men get into politics to be someone, doesn’t that reflect a drive for power that is antithetical to a government for the people?  Doesn’t that shed some insight into our failing political system?  Could we possibly be at a point of intervention?  I want to get into politics because I want to 1. spy (because let’s be real – the average person has no idea what happens in those rooms) and 2. make real systems changes that are created by and therefore directly benefit the people at large (not the smallest portion at the top, for once).  It’s going to be an uphill battle, i know – not only because i’m a genderqueer queer woman but because i dislike the system.. and i’ll have to work within it.

Once elected, women feel pressure to work harder, said Kathryn Pearson, an expert on Congress at the University of Minnesota. Her studies of the House show that women introduce more bills, participate more vigorously in key legislative debates and give more of the one-minute speeches that open each daily session. In 2005 and 2006, women averaged 14.9 one-minute speeches; men averaged 6.5.

“I have no hard evidence that women are less likely to engage in risky or somewhat stupid behavior,” Ms. Pearson said. “But women in Congress are still really in a situation where they have to prove themselves to their male colleagues and constituents. There’s sort of this extra level of seriousness.”

and there it is.  women are still at a place where they have to prove themselves. But women are equal and feminism is a useless thing now, right? right?  Women are grossly under represented and those who are in office are sure to mind their Ps and Qs so they don’t ruin it for women everywhere… because our society is not used to including women in decision-making roles to the point where their actions can be attributed to them as individuals, but instead reflect the larger population (ah, marginalization, how i don’t love you).  And what happens if a Bad Girl’s Club moment were to slip out? Well:

And voters demand it. Celinda Lake, a Democratic strategist, says female politicians are punished more harshly than men for misbehavior. “When voters find out men have ethics and honesty issues, they say, ‘Well, I expected that,’ ”  Ms. Lake said. “When they find out it’s a woman, they say, ‘I thought she was better than that.’ “

women are punished more harshly.  Now, don’t get me wrong.. I don’t think we should lower the expectations-of-decency bar for women, by any  means.  My question is why aren’t we raising it for all our elected officials? Male privilege, you say? But our national narrative denies it’s very existence!

Could you imagine the scandal if over the next two years 3 or 4 very visible, powerful women (not necessarily in politics because, hey, there aren’t that many to begin with) were caught in sex scandals?  I can see the headlines already “what is with these women?” Oh the press would have a field day!

Obviously we know better.  I’m glad that some mention is being made of this.  And I truly hope it’s an opportunity to re evaluate what we expect of all our elected officials and close the gap on these discrepancies in ideology, if not on a larger scale than at least personally, individually.  Because we also should know by now that change doesn’t come top down, but begins within.