A double standard

Just four months after a GOP congressman admitted he sent suggestive photos of himself over the Internet, a Democratic congressman — the now-rehabilitating Anthony Weiner — confessed to just the same. He wasn’t sobered by his colleague’s national embarrassment, which prompted Chris Lee (N.Y.) to resign within hours. No, Weiner would continue clicking and clicking in pursuit of cybersex with strangers until he was caught. He couldn’t stop texting dirty with his real name, or photographing his recognizable face, his muscles, his underwear and even his pet cats. It was reckless, adolescent and pathetic, but the married Weiner, with a baby on the way, just couldn’t help it.

Somewhere, in an undisclosed location, Weiner is being treated for such troubles, once known as a byproduct of male midlife crises and now known as “addictions.” Before seeking professional help, a confident Weiner insisted that he and his wife would remain together, and though he still might resign his seat representing New York’s 9th congressional district, he has refused to do so for two weeks. 

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Ever thought about how long a fictional Rep. Antonia Weiner would last in this situation? Try — just try — to imagine a congresswoman caught in the quest for Twittergasms like the two New York congressmen, or texting young male pages she has befriended in the halls of Congress, like former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), or even being accused of soliciting sex in an airport bathroom like former Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho). Picture that woman trying to defiantly dig in her high heels, explaining that she didn’t abuse taxpayer dollars and didn’t mean any harm, so she doesn’t plan on resigning. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) was accused of betraying her husband with another man, but not only did she confess to nothing, there were no police reports or brassiere shots.

How about the idea of said scandalized woman surviving the admission of her employment of a call-boy service, or male prostitute to be more specific, to continue serving in the upper chamber as one of the few female senators? Unthinkable for a woman, but not for Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). 

Sure, it is hard to conceive of women in high public office caught in mortifying behavior and hoping to carry on with business as usual. It is hard to believe a woman shamed would dare to return to her hometown parades to shake hands with little old ladies and veterans, let alone tell leadership she plans a quick foray in rehab and then a return to Congress, thank you very much.

Said one former congresswoman who served in leadership and has seen the Men’s Club behind closed doors: “It is hard, if not impossible, to imagine that a female member of Congress, [or] a powerful woman in business, could survive a sex scandal. Tolerance for male misbehavior has decreased in recent years. Yet there still exists a ‘boys will be boys’ attitude.”

Experts say that with fewer women serving, and an implicit higher standard for their conduct, women often work harder and are less likely to take the same risks as men with their jobs. It is also true that in the event of such a scandal, women would likely feel more shame that can be exploited by party leaders than some men and are more likely to skip town immediately in the wake of such transgressions.

“The shorthand of it is that women run for office to do something, and men run for office to be somebody,” Debbie Walsh, the director of the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University, told The New York Times this week.

And that isn’t likely to change.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.