Whenever a male politician is caught or admits to cheating on his spouse, people inevitably ask: where are the female politicians' lovers? Melanie Mason of Politico asks some female pols that question, but leaves everyone with just as many questions.
This is because, in part, a lot of the answers rely on stereotypes about why men cheat, and why women either don't want to...or wouldn't. Let's start with former Congressman Pat Schroeder:
"I guess men in power are terribly attractive to some women, but I don't think that women in power are attractive to some men," said former Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.), who was co-chairwoman of Gary Hart's scandal-plagued presidential campaign in 1988.
I think any domme would disagree with that statement rather forcefully, to start — as would any number of powerful women and the men attracted to them. Are there a bunch of 19-year-old college interns trying to throw themselves at Hillary Clinton (other than this guy) the way that some young women are undoubtedly pursuing Congressman Aaron Schock? Probably not, but that doesn't mean that Clinton couldn't have her opportunities either, or that they would come from a man attracted to power.
Relationship "expert" Suzie Johnson (does that mean she dates a lot?) has a different perspective.
"Most of these politicians were the high school boys that couldn't get the cheerleader," said Johnson, whose website GoAskSuzie.com specializes in issues of infidelity. "Now the situation is reversed."
Um, I don't know which politicians she's been checking out, but politicians are, more often than not, guys who won popularity contests then and now. Plus, opportunity is not remotely the biggest factor why people (and men) cheat: I mean, Sanford undoubtedly could have boned someone in Columbia rather then Argentina.
Then there's the explanation of women's lack of opportunity:
As Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) points out, "Who has the time? I don't have enough time in the day to take care of the responsibilities I have between work and family."
Women tend to be able to juggle a lot, but with so many pressures, throwing an extra romance in the mix may feel like just another item to have to multitask. "In a certain way, it's a privilege, and it still belongs predominantly to men," said [associate professor of women's studies at UCLA Juliet ] Williams, who is herself a mother.
And former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino agrees:
No woman I know has the time for such trysts, nor do I know any who say the desire one. They're too busy trying to keep all the plates spinning at home, at work, and at the gym to make sure none fall and break.
Although this assumes that male politicians have less on their plates are are less committed to active parenting than female politicians (which might be true, but undoubtedly isn't in all cases), this does ring somewhat true to me. Who among us hasn't been too snowed under with personal and professional responsibilities that dating and romance was the furthest thing from our minds?
The best explanation, though, is the higher level of scrutiny female politicians face than their male counterparts. Mason explains:
Being so outnumbered in the political realm can also lead to greater media scrutiny for politicians - think, for example, of the brouhaha over Hillary Clinton's V-neck blouse that sparked a lengthy discussion on the appropriate amount of cleavage a female politician should reveal.
"Women are more conscious and aware that they are being held to an even higher standard," [director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University Debbie] Walsh said. "Therefore, they're even more cautious."
Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy agrees:
For Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), the issue is one of privacy. "Before I got to Congress, I could go out to a bar and have drinks with a friend. Now I wouldn't do it, even if it were with my brother, because I know it would make news."
Whereas many male politicians extracurricular activities never see the light of day barring their own stupidity (DUI, firing the woman, jetting off to South America), female politicians expect to get caught and — even for those not in the national spotlight — to be outed.
There's also the nuture and nature explanations, in which female politicians' behavior fits into an expected overarching pattern of female behavior:
"The tendency or willingness to transgress sexual boundaries in general is much more likely in men than in women," said Paul Abramson, author of the forthcoming book "Sex Appeal: Six Ethical Principles for the 21st Century."
Abramson, a psychology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, added that "women are socialized to be much more cautious about sexuality due to the fact that they can get pregnant. Having an affair is a sexual risk, and women are much less inclined to do that."
Well, it's a risk if, unlike many prominent national female politicians, women are young enough to be at risk for pregnancy. That, of course, doesn't mean a fidelity preference doesn't carry over past menopause, but one would have to consider whether it did before making a broad assumption.
In point of fact, plenty of women are unfaithful spouses — studies estimated anywhere from twenty to sixty percent of women are unfaithful at some point. If political women aren't different than other women, it's entirely likely that female politicians have cheated — but, with one exception (Idaho Congresswoman Helen Chenowith), they haven't yet been caught. So maybe the question isn't why women don't cheat, it's why they tend to be less blindingly stupid when they do.
Related: "I Got a Crush...On Hillary" [YouTube]
Aaron Schock, "Hottest Freshman," Talks Doogie Howser And Dating On "Today Show" [Huffington Post]
Many Cheat For A Thrill, More Stay True For Love [MSNBC]
When Women Cheat [CBS]