The Sex Difference in Sex Scandals

Why do these kinds of scandals so rarely happen with female politicians?

Lane Wallace

Nearly two years ago, when South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford admitted (finally, in a spectacularly embarrassing press conference) to having an extra-marital affair with an Argentine woman, a lot of questions were raised about why this kind of scandal so rarely happens with women politicians …

… the two scandals grabbing the headlines this week (the arrest of IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn for sexual assault and the admission of former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to fathering a child with a member of his household staff), point to a couple of factors that help explain that gap.

One has to do with what we typically consider attractive and/or sexy in men versus women. For better or worse … as a culture, we see competence and power as very attractive features in a man. The more power and competence a man and his position (and money) denote, the more attractive he will seem to a whole host of women … 

… But there’s a second aspect of the power/sex connection that also helps explain the gap in sexual misconduct. And that’s simply the sense of entitlement that some men have about sex, in terms of it being a kind of reward for achieving power, and a way of reassuring themselves about their hold on that power.

The link undoubtedly dates back to the days of conquering, raping and pillaging all being lumped together in the spoils of warrior combat. Win the battle, gain the power, and take the sex you want. That’s not acceptable in today’s more civilized society, of course, but a piece of it endures and surfaces more often than we’d like to admit …

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