Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Are men in positions of power simply helpless against women?

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Frank Bruni points out to how the reports of the Petraeus affair with Broadwell are slanted to depict Petraeus as a powerless victim in what happened, with little culpability save for his inability to resist her wiles:

There were remarks galore about her unusually toned arms and the way she dressed to show them off. I even spotted a comment about how much of her armpits one of her outfits revealed, as if underarm exhibitionism were some sort of sexual sorcery, some aphrodisiac, the key to it all.

What else could explain his transgression? Why else would a man of such outward discipline and outsize achievement risk so much? The temptress must have been devious. The temptation must have been epic.

That was the tired tone of some of the initial coverage of, and reaction to, the affair between David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell, which had many people claiming surprise where there wasn’t cause for any, reverting to clichés that should be retired and indulging in a sexism we like to think we’ve moved past.

Broadwell has just 13 percent body fat, according to a recent measurement. Did you know that? Did you need to? It came up nonetheless. And like so much else about her — her long-ago coronation as homecoming queen, her six-minute mile — it was presented not merely as a matter of accomplishment, but as something a bit titillating, perhaps a part of the trap she laid.

There are bigger issues here. There are questions of real consequence, such as why the F.B.I. got so thoroughly involved in what has been vaguely described as a case of e-mail harassment, whether the bureau waited too long to tell lawmakers and White House officials about the investigation, and how much classified information Broadwell, by dint of her relationship with Petraeus, was privy to. The answers matter.

Her “expressive green eyes” (The Daily Beast) and “tight shirts” and “form-fitting clothes” (The Washington Post) don’t. And the anecdotes and chatter that implicitly or explicitly wonder at the spidery wiles she must have used to throw the mighty man off his path are laughably ignorant of history, which suggests that mighty men are all too ready to tumble, loins first. Wiles factor less into the equation than proximity.

Sure, the spotlight these men have attracted and the altitude they’ve reached should, theoretically, give them greater pause. But they’ve either become accustomed to or outright sought a kind of adulation in the public arena that probably isn’t mirrored in their marriages. A spouse is unlikely to provide it. A spouse knows you too well for that, and gives you something deeper, truer and so much less electric.

It has to be more than mere coincidence that Bill Clinton had an affair with a White House intern; Newt Gingrich with a Congressional aide (now his wife); John Edwards with a woman who followed him around with a camera, creating hagiographic mini-documentaries about his presidential campaign; and Petraeus with a woman who made him the subject of a biography so worshipful that its main riddle, joked Jon Stewart, was whether Petraeus was “awesome or incredibly awesome.”

These mighty men didn’t just choose mistresses, by all appearances. They chose fonts of gushing reverence. That’s at least as deliberate and damnable as any signals the alleged temptresses put out.

Petraeus’s choice suggests an additional measure of vanity. Broadwell exercises compulsively, as he does. She’s fascinated by all matters military, as he is. “Petraeus once joked I was his avatar,” she told The Charlotte Observer a while back. So by his own assessment, he was having an affair with a version of himself.

And yet it’s the women in these situations who are often subjected to a more vigorous public shaming — and assigned greater responsibility. . .

Continue reading.

The Wife told me of an article she read that pointed out that we don’t see so many reports of women in positions of power (Madeline Albrecht, Hillary Clinton, Sherry Lansing (when she was head of Paramount Studios), et al.) who get into such involvements, with the speculation that women in these positions never develop the feeling of invulnerability that envelopes men in the same situation: women are constantly reminded that they are vulnerable and are more apt to be careful. That seems to me to be a good argument for putting more women in positions of power—president, for example.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 November 2012 at 9:43 am

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