The talk this weekend was all about men behaving badly - Anthony, Dominique, Arnold, John, and their fellows. The question asked and answered was whether women are immune to such deviance and whether their presence in politics would be less embarrassing to the public weal. I listened closely to all of this discussion in between breaks in the wall-to-wall coverage of the Casey Anthony murder trial.
These commentators hoped to place the blame for scummy male politicos on the T-word: Testosterone. It is a gland thing, sex is.
There is no doubt that the preponderance of cases of political sex scandals involves men. And of course there are still many more men serving in high political office. Yet, as is so often said of rape, what appears to be a matter of libido should be thought of as a crime of power. The belief on the part of (some) politicians is that they can have it all.
Perhaps the reason is that male "victims" of female "predators" may not define themselves in that way or perhaps are too abashed to go public. This is part of the discourse that we often hear about inappropriate sexual relationships between female teachers and their male students, the latter considered, by some, as the most blessed of all teens, a staple of low-end erotic literature. And, while not quite in the same category, quite enough female students post pictures of themselves drunk and disheveled to amuse their Facebook friends.
I am grateful to Samantha Henig on The New Yorker website for pointing out that female politicians have their own sex scandals. Every schoolboy knows the apocryphal, equine tale of how Catherine the Great met her end. But more recently there is the actual case of Helen Chenoweth, conservative Congresswoman from Idaho, who admitted to a six-year affair with a staffer while attacking Bill Clinton for his immorality (sounds like Newt, no?). Katherine Bryson, a Utah state representative, was caught on videocamera with her lover. Iris Robinson ("the Celtic Cougar"), a member of the Northern Ireland parliament and the wife of the First Minister, resigned after publicity about an affair with a man forty years younger.
And of course, should we forget, there is Cheri Daniels, who ran out on husband Mitch Daniels and her young children to take up with a doctor for several years.
I am not suggesting that the proportions of scandal are identical, and it is hard to imagine any female politician tweeting her body parts, much less attacking a hotel employee. But to lay the blame on biology is a dodge. Politicians accustomed to power need the perks of office, and assertions of affection and bodily orifices are merely part of the show. Perhaps we need to equalize the gender balance in politics, but don't imagine that such a realignment will drain the swamp.
Gary Alan Fine is the John Evans Professor of Sociology at Northwestern University, a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow, and the author of Difficult Reputations: Collective Memories of the Evil, Inept, and Controversial.