Power, sex and conventional wisdom
Would there be fewer sex scandals if the world were run by women?
The question comes to mind in the wake of scandals that involve two powerful men, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and came to light almost simultaneously. Strauss-Kahn resigned as head of the International Monetary Fund four days after being arrested in New York for allegedly trying to rape a hotel maid. Schwarzenegger, the former governor of California, admitted having fathered a child with a woman on his household staff.
The two cases are in a different league – Strauss-Kahn is accused of a violent crime, while Schwarzenegger betrayed his wife, Maria Shriver, who stood by him when he campaigned for the governorship under a cloud of accusations that he had groped women during his rise to action movie superstardom.
One of the first public comments on the Schwarzenegger affair came from a prominent woman, former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, who suggested it showed that the United States needed more female politicians. “Another guy guv admits 2 cheating on his wife. Maybe we need more women governors. Guys: keep ur pants zipped,” she tweeted.
The message reflects conventional wisdom – men are more prone to sexual misbehavior and adultery than women. “I’m confident predicting there would be fewer sex scandals if women were in power,” former White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers wrote in her 2008 book “Why Women Should Rule the World.”
Such predictions are based in large part on the long list of men caught up in scandal at the pinnacle of power, both in politics and business, by adulterous affairs, sexual harassment or rape.
Women barely figure in recent history. One of the rare cases: Iris Robinson, a married member of the Northern Ireland parliament whose affair with a teenage boy came to light last year.
In Taiwan, a decade ago, a Taipei city councilwoman, Chu Mei-Feng, left politics after the leak of a video showing her having sex with her married lover.
All this pales in comparison with Bill Clinton having sex with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, or Elliot Spitzer cavorting with $4,000 prostitutes when he was governor of New York and pushing a crusade against prostitution.
And there is no female equivalent to Italian President Silvio Berlusconi, whose frequent involvement in sex scandals has so enraged Italy’s women that hundreds of thousands of them came out in protest rallies in Rome and other cities demanding that he resign for having disgraced Italy.
Does this mean that women are morally superior, as some contend, or better able to control their libidos, or less likely to be caught because they are better liars, as an online commentator on the website Jezebel suggested?
POWER, NOT GENDER
A study by Dutch researchers comes to a different conclusion – power, not gender, is the main driver of infidelity.
“Power … increases infidelity among women as it does among men,” according to the study, by a team from the universities of Tilburg and Groningen. Its findings suggest that “women in high-power positions are as likely to engage in infidelity than men.”
The Dutch researchers arrived at their conclusion by analyzing anonymous responses to an online questionnaire from more than 1,500 readers of Intermediair, a weekly magazine aimed at professionals, just under half of them women.
According to the study, due to be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association of Psychological Science, the reason why high-powered women rarely feature as protagonists in sex scandals is straightforward. “There simply aren’t as many women in positions of power as their male counterparts,” according to the study’s lead author, Joris Lammers of the University of Tilburg.
Case in point: the U.S. House of Representatives, where female members account for just 17 percent of the 435 seats. Of the 100 U.S. Senators, just 17 are women. The numbers are even worse in the corporate world, at the CEO level.
Women run just 15 of the Fortune 500 companies, the biggest U.S. corporations.
These numbers are forecast to change, and so are behaviors now thought typical of men. “As more and more women are in greater positions of power and considered equal to men,” says Lammers, “familiar assumptions about their behavior may also change (and) lead to increased negative behaviors that in the past have been more common among men.”
Until that happens, one has to look back into history to find women who used their power to help satisfy outsize sexual appetites. Their most famous representative is Catherine the Great, the 18th century Empress of Russia, said to have had so many lovers that miniature portraits of them covered the walls of her bedroom. Her lust was so legendary that when she died, rumors spread through Russia ascribing her death to an attempt at having sex with a stallion. Historians dismiss this as a myth. (You can contact the author at Debusmann@Reuters)