What Happens to Women After Sex Scandals?


When it comes to political sex scandals involving women one song comes to mind: Christina Aguilera's "You Can't Hold Us Down?" More specifically, her lyrics that read:

It's a common double standard of society

The guy gets all the glory the more he can score

While the girl can do the same and yet you call her a whore

I don't understand why it's okay

The guy can get away with it & the girl gets named

Such is the current state of political sex scandals involving women who are usually limited to malicious and humiliating public shaming. Unlike the men involved, these ladies rarely make a comeback in their careers.  

Political commentator Chris Hayes recently addressed this issue on his show All In With Chris Hayes, where guests Krystal Ball, co-host of MSNBC's The Cycle, and Melissa Petro, former sex worker turned writer end educator, joined him to discuss the other side of political sex scandals — what happens to the women who are involved in such scandals? Ball began by addressing her Democrat nomination for Congress in the First district of Virginia, where in 2010 where she lost to Republican nominee Rob Wittman. Her campaign received national attention after a conservative blog obtained and published a few racy pictures of her six years earlier at a holiday party. Her entire campaign became about these photos. In a Huffington Post blog post, she recalls the entire ordeal and says "I don't believe these pictures were posted with a desire to just embarrass me; they wanted me to feel like a whore."

This level of female public shaming is common practice. In most sex scandals women are used, abused, and then discarded. Unlike their male counterparts, they rarely jump back after prolonged incidents of public shaming for their involvement in infamous sex scandals. Take Monica Lewinsky and her affair with former President Bill Clinton for example. Despite a $12 millon dollar book deal, according to MailOnline, Lewinksy has failed at her attempt to professionally reinvent herself and create a successful career and now lives with her mother.

Then there is Ashley Dupre, whose involvement in a sex scandal led to the resignation of former New York Governor Eliot Sptizer in 2008. Dubre's ambitions for a successful music career were destroyed because, she says, no one took her seriously after the affair.

Most women are not provided a second chance to reinvent a name for themselves. Yet men's involvement in sex scandals and their subsequent redemption and comeback always seems inevitable. Society tends to pardon men who are involved in sex scandals and no better example than Spitzer and Anthony Weiner, who was for a time topping the political polls in New York's mayoral race. In June, Weiner emerged as the front-runner in the race for the Democratic mayoral nomination, but polls dropped after he admitted to sending lewd text messages to several women since resigning from congress in 2011 for the same reason. Despite his opponents' calls for him to drop out, he insists that he will not leave the mayoral race. This is expected. If the public forgave him the first time who says they wont do the same this time?

The public is always forgiving of a man's personal indiscretions and is usually welcoming of his subsequent career comeback, while a woman's image is usually tarnished forever. Women are usually restricted to derogatory epithets like whore, slut, and prostitute, and their active involvement in a sex scandal or any public exhibition of sexuality somehow permits society to publicly shame and humiliate them. The implication is that when a woman engages in any type of sexual behavior she is welcoming degrading and insulting treatment because she made a choice to engage in such a behavior. This is an extremely problematic, sexist, and misogynistic assumption and needs to be eliminated. Publicly shaming a woman, calling her a whore, and then blaming her for it is not okay.

Rarely do women bounce back from such disgusting and degrading labels and accusations. Unfortunately, as Krystal Ball mentioned, "you turn a women into a whore, you undermine her credibility." The idea that female sexuality and serious public occupations are mutually exclusive needs to challenged. A woman's ability to successfully fulfill a public role in society should not be measured by what she does in her bedroom. As Melissa Petro expressed to Chris Hayes, "Women can be both sexual beings and fit for serious public service."