I ask this simple question not because I don’t know why, but because I think the effort to explain why it is so may shed some light on our cultural assumptions. Say the term, “Sex Scandal”, and most people immediately think of some male in the political or business world who is visible in mass media and who likely wears a suit. Scandals amount to an image problem. Women can be referred to derisively as “sluts” but such tagging doesn’t amount to a “Scandal”.
Sex scandals don’t generally happen to most men in most professions. When Joe six-pack has an affair and is found out by his wife, it’s not a “Scandal” – rather it is merely the impetus for a divorce. If Joe Six-Pack has a blue collar job, and people at his employer find out, it has no effect on the security of his job. So Sex Scandals happen – almost by definition only to men who hold positions of power in the public eye that are accountable to others. If you’re a multimillionaire who owns his own business your sex-capades pose no threat to your livelihood.
That a man can even have a sex scandal is a pretty big testament to his status and position in society. He likely makes a lot of money and/or holds a highly contested powerful position of which there are few. He is the male equivalent of a supermodel. Which is to say - that he is a kind of guy that most women find very sexually attractive. But there is a major difference between this male version of a supermodel and a female supermodel. The female supermodel is who she is by default of her genetics. The male equivalent reaches alpha status by virtue of what he achieves in society. Females born of natural beauty need accomplish little else besides reaching the age of 18 and not eating too much, in order to actualize their sensual power over men. It usually takes the cream of the crop of men several decades of climbing up the status hierarchy before they reach a plateau of power comparable to that of the young nubile female.
For both, the power is fleeting and fragile. Female beauty tends to obscure the ability of men to see their intelligence. Beauty is a terrible source of envy from other women, and dangerous temptation to rapists. And of course beauty fades.
A man’s youth is usually gone by the time he can reach an alpha male status. And once there, he had better be prepared to defend himself from those who seek to take over his position. In cruel juxtaposition to that of females, his status can often grow for decades as he gets older, but the more he acquires, the more he is the beneficiary of a zero sum game that allows him to demand increasing submission from a growing number of people.
This is crucially different from female power which is theoretically infinite and non-adversarial. If a supermodel is murdered at a young age, her voluminous beauty does not go into some ether that other females can incorporate into themselves. The supermodel’s estate may be of considerable monetary value but no will can bequeath to any other woman an iota of the power her beauty radiated in the flesh. It is gone. She gained no beauty power for herself by taking it from any other woman and that she possessed the beauty she did, made no effect on the level of beauty that other women possess.
If billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg dies, his power can be transferred to others. Aside from his considerable wealth going to heirs, charities and the public coffers, his status as mayor will be filled almost as soon as it is vacated. Notice I didn’t say that his power can only go to males. Females may be in his will, rise up in his company or follow in his footsteps as mayor. But because status and money are so much of what gives men power, the sudden vacuum in Bloomberg’s wake can be stepped into by other males seeking a big jump up the status hierarchy.
Many will point out that seeking high positions takes many years by which time much of a woman’s sexual beauty has faded. The thing about women that attracts most men is not made greater by reaching a high job status. Or to put it another way, women don’t have to reach high level positions in business and politics in order to be able to have sex with lots of different men. They can already easily do that just by breathing.
So this begs the question – do men and women have different motivations for going into politics or trying to become a CEO? It is a yes and no. In a sense, everything we do has the ultimate aim of successfully passing our genes down to a new generation. I’ve posed this question in previous threads but it bears repeating here: Why is it that the vast majority of great scientists, musicians, artists, comedians and politicians are male? Is it because men are inherently more creative, skillful and intelligent than women? No. Statistically, males are more heterogeneous than women are across a full gamut of positive and negative traits. Men are drawn to risk and extremes, women are more drawn to safety and comfort. This implies not only an avoidance of stupid behaviors but also less motivation to engage in certain lines of endeavor that occasionally yield benefits for society at large. The few men who reach the pinnacle of their fields are grossly outnumbered by the droves of those whose life pursuits are an abject failure.
Rather than having to try to impress men with their accomplishments, women can rely on their looks to ensnare a man long enough to allow them to be the one who shapes the next generation most directly. Once a women becomes a mother she has unquestioned authority over another life that depends utterly upon her, and from this position she cannot be fired. She can take comfort in this role as she notices with advancing age, a loss of sexual gravity over men.
The cruel fact that so much of a woman’s power comes from whether she was born beautiful or not is mitigated in large part by the fact that her beauty – however great or small, is little affected by a downturn in the economy. This is just as in baseball where it is said that speed doesn’t have a slump. Because so much of a male’s power comes down to his money, position and status, an economic downturn amounts to a societal-scale slump in the power of men as a whole.
Because women cannot co-opt the beauty of the supermodel, they have little incentive to tear her down. But everyone wants a piece of the high status male because so much of his power is transferable. But here again - notice that I say EVERYONE – not just males want a piece of him. So women – especially in modern society, can increasingly partake of both the acquired form of power which is the natural currency of men, while also retaining their natural monopoly in the erotic currency which is theirs by default and of which men can only dream.
Because what attracts most men to women has little to do with status, men have little incentive to blackmail, harass or tarnish the careers of high achieved status females who have affairs. A lower status woman may claim some of the achieved status from a woman who is above her by out-competing her in their profession. But the high status female who is ousted from the top spot does not suffer a loss of self-worth equal to the extent that a male in such a position does.
Nancy Pelosi is an attractive woman in a high position of power. But that high position of power doesn’t make men want to have sex with her any more than they already would want to if she was just a regular middle class office worker. If rising to the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives does little to improve her erotic capital with men, then it stands to reason that her pursuit of that career path has little to do with increasing her pool of potential sex partners. Most male politicians likely do have some noble motivations for their career choice, but given the way power and status attracts women to men like catnip, it is disingenuous to pretend that any straight male would not relish the opportunities such a position could present.
The sex scandals of Eliot Spitzer and Arnold Schwarzenegger illustrate an important consequence of becoming an alpha male. They could both easily afford to buy the affections of as many whores and/or gold-diggers as they want. But because they are high profile public figures, they are also targets for extortion. Arnold probably thought “I can keep this woman from telling I slept with her because she is in my employ and I have power over her.” Maybe he figured this would give him more control than if he sought to have a romantic affair with a woman of equal social status. Indeed, it would be extremely hard to keep private his having an affair with any women even remotely of his social status. Perhaps he also didn’t like the notion of exposing himself to the risk of STD’s from a whore and preferred the safety of sex in the raw with a woman he knew to be married.
As Mr. Holier Than Thou - married public official, Spitzer could not countenance coming anywhere close to fraternizing in the open market with someone with whom he might have a romantic affair. The press would find out about it before he could even get to first base. He needed to be overtly secret. As Marlon Brando said, “he didn’t pay women to have sex with him. He paid them to leave afterwards.”
Since men are continually on the prowl for women with whom to spread their seed, powerful women don’t have to worry about paying men to leave them after a one night stand or an affair. But then again, if sex is easy for women to get in the first place – without even having to have a career, then they wouldn’t need to pay for sex from men anyway. For Schwarzenegger and Spitzer, seeking sexual outlets from people they pay seemed to be a safer way to cheat than to face the real risk of a romantic affair being made public. It would have worked for Arnold if he used a condom. And it would have worked for Spitzer if he hadn’t angered certain people in power who chose to spill the beans on him. Female politicians simply do not face these risks. Since women are the ones who get pregnant, our society has a knee-jerk reaction to sex that tends to treat its negative consequences as being wholly suffered by women, and something from which men try to weasel out of responsibility for. This image alone makes it a moot point that a female politician would ever need to worry about her male conquests coming after her for child support. Women control when sex happens (except in the case of rape), as well as whether it will lead to a birth.
John Edwards seems to be the case of a man who got married too soon. Once his corporate lawyering made him fabulously wealthy he had little incentive not to pursue someone hotter than his wife. He could well afford to have his life complicated by divorce if/when he was found out. He probably was already cheating before he got into politics and saw it partly as a way to further increase his sexual opportunities.
For comedian David Letterman, and golfer Tiger Woods, sex scandals have had a very different consequence. While Letterman wears a suit just like politicians, it is about the only thing he has in common with them. Though he is accountable to ratings and the network, his personal life is not held to nearly the same scrutiny as politicians. News of the scandal was merely an ugly 15 minutes of PR for him. His position as a top comedian is much more secure than a politician. But because of his great wealth, we do see the incentive to commit extortion rear its ugly head. So obvious and craven was this effort, that public disgust with the extorter and sympathy for Letterman more than offset the extent to which the public shunned him for his indiscretions. Another important factor is that the female he cheated with appeared to have no motivation to extort anything from Letterman or make the relationship public. Additionally, Letterman’s long-time girlfriend appears to have no problem with his fooling around to the extent that she would publicly fuss about it. Since the two women didn’t seem to mind, the public doesn’t seem to mind too much either. It’s hard to imagine a more copacetic resolution to a sex scandal.
Tiger Woods has made his name doing something that very much depends on rare specialized ability – a route to success that is often more particular to males. He has suffered no professional opprobrium from his fellow golfers for his off-course behavior. The damage from the sex scandal has been in its psychological impact upon his self-image. He was adored as the first minority superstar in a sport that is overwhelmingly white and for the wealthy. But no matter how well he plays now, he knows the public will never view him with such devotion again; that is the thought he cannot get over.
In the case of the aptly named Anthony Weiner, we see an example of just how different our societal reactions are to male nudity vs. female nudity. If an attractive woman decided to strip naked in a city park in the middle of a nice day, men and women alike would gawk and smile at her and so would the police as they walked towards her to give her a blanket. A man doing the same would elicit screams from women and scowls from men until the police rudely shoved him into a patrol car. Weiner was a rising star in NYC politics and talk was growing of him as a potential successor to Bloomberg. As his public persona – as a well-spoken, humorous and handsome public figure was growing, I’m sure it was blindingly obvious to him that women were probably giving him far more attention than they ever had before. Biologically speaking, it would have been madness for him not to exploit some of this newfound sex appeal. He thought he was being respectfully faithful by limiting his liaison to the virtual world. But being a man in his position with a name like Weiner, the sex scandal had to come out because it was too damn funny not to.
So we see that the more successful a man is in his career, and thus the more he appeals to women, the more he is a target for all sorts of motivations to bring him down. Powerful incentives exist for a woman to reveal when she has sexual relations with a high status man – and not just because she wants society to know who to hold accountable as the father. Women often improve their status by publicizing when they’ve bedded a famous man (Monica Lewinsky, Rachel Uchitel, etc.), even as doing so can damage or destroy the career of said men. Sure, men often brag to each other about the quantity and quality of their sexual conquests, but they do so with no motivation to damage whatever careers said women have. It is a rare occasion when a man increases his status by having had an affair with a woman. The number of men who receive hush money to keep quiet about affairs with rich women is infinitesimal compared to the legions of mistresses who extract a whole lifestyle from their paramours – just for keeping quiet.
Life for a man is a non-stop exercise in sexual frustration the likes of which women have no idea. A fish cannot appreciate what a desert is and neither can a woman imagine what it’s like to not be able to get sex with a snap of her fingers. Men are designed so that if 100 women came upon the last male alive, he could impregnate most of them in a matter of a few days. The problem is that that scenario just doesn’t come to pass very often.