As the news hit that Senator Anthony Weiner resigned today, the blogosphere flooded with theories of all sorts. Why do men cheat? Why do powerful men cheat more often than other men? What on earth makes men think that they won’t be caught, when there seems to be a new tale of lasciviousness every month.
The more interesting question to me is this: Why is it always the men who get themselves embroiled in these situations? Why do we so seldom hear of a woman forced to resign from office because of an affair or other inappropriate behavior. Clearly there are far more men in office than women - we’re still at a mere 16% of U.S. Congress, an average of 23% of state legislative seats, and just 8 of 50 governorships. But at this rate, every 1 in 6 political sexual scandals should involve a female public official, right? Yet I can’t think of a substantial one that has. Sure, people throw allegations around, but we certainly haven’t seen the kind of career-ending sexual missteps that seem to take down male politicians on a regular basis. Why is this?
We could go with the theory that women cheat as often, but don’t get caught. Studies would actually support that theory, as you can see in Helen Fisher’s study “Infidelity: When, Where, Why,” which tells us that women under 40 are unfaithful at the same rate as men. Further evidence toward this theory comes from studies of the link between infidelity and power. Tilburg University Professor Joris Lammers recently conducted a survey of professionals with differing amounts of power. He found that the more power an individual had, the more likely they were to confess to acts of infidelity. He found no gender difference in his conclusions. Another study, this time conducted in the U.S. by Florida State University Professor Jon Maner, also shows that women are as likely as men to exhibit amorous behavior when given a sense of power. In Maner’s study, college students were paired with strangers of the opposite sex. When one of the subjects was given a fleeting sense of power, they flirted with the other subject. When no sense of power was instilled, the flirting went away. And, you guessed it, women flirted every bit as much as the men.
Is it that women are used to having every detail of their life scrutinized by the general public and are therefore aware of their vulnerability? This is what once press secretary to Bill Clinton, Dee Dee Myers posits. She writes in her book “Why Women Should Rule the World” about the invincibility that male politicians feel. And it’s true. Can you imagine Hillary Clinton being so bold as to send inappropriate texts to an intern? She can barely change her hairstyle without causing a ruckus.
My favorite theory comes from Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “The shorthand of it is that women run for office to do something, and men run for office to be somebody.” Basically, women are too busy doing actual work to send lewd photos of themselves, or hook up with prostitutes at their local airport bathroom. The stats back this theory up, with women introducing more bills, and participating at a higher rate in debates. Over a two year period, women averaged 14.9 opening session speeches, versus 6.5 for men, says a study by Kathryn Pearson, a Congress expert at the University of Minnesota.
One last thing I will say about the buzzing topic of infidelity: Dominique Strauss-Kahn has gotten tossed into the arena of this discussion, much to the disservice of sexual assault survivors everywhere. Rape is not the same thing as infidelity. As women’s studies professor Juliet Williams opines, “Personal transgressions should not be casually conflated with attempted rape, as if one form of male entitlement is equal to the other.”
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