What is it about our culture that allows men in power to bounce back, or in some cases, never let go of their power after they’ve been caught engaging in criminal behavior? We’ve got Anthony Weiner sending nonconsensual sexual messages to women, Bob Filner sexually harassing women, Eliot Spitzer patronizing sex workers, French rocker Bertrand Cantat killing his girlfriend, and Roman Polanski raping a 13 year old girl. All of these men – and more, to be sure – have continued with their careers. Weiner and Spitzer are somehow still running for public office in NYC, Filner refuses to step down as mayor of San Diego, Cantat is releasing a comeback album, and Polanski has continued directing and winning awards for his films.
While Weinergate part deux is largely treated as a joke, the media portrayal of his wife, Huma Abedin is not. Her moral character, strength, and psychology are publicly disseminated, and her personal decisions are openly ridiculed. We know her relative to her Husband’s misdeeds (sexual harassment), and in many regards, we judge her more harshly than her husband. We laugh at Weiner and we scorn Abedin.
Melissa Petro, a former sex worker, highlights the double standard and skewed power dynamic of men and women in the public eye:
Five years ago, Eliot Spitzer got caught paying women like me. And now he is stumping, smiling for photographers, and topping the political polls for New York’s next comptroller… Meanwhile, here I am, working on building a living as a former sex worker, with no full-time job since I lost mine as a schoolteacher three years ago.
Petro goes on to say that “men who abuse women and behave outside the sexual norm are the norm. Eventually, they’re allowed to slowly leave that rubber room, to recede back into their former existences, while us bad girls are branded for life.”
Frankly, I’d argue that being a bad girl, good girl, or any other type of girl makes no difference. When it comes to the double standard of powerful men and the women impacted by them, no woman seems to be exempt from media damnation.
Samantha Gailey Geimer, who was raped by Roman Polanski when she was 13 years old, is releasing a memoir this September titled, The Girl: A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski. Geimer is taking a bold step in defining her own voice, and that worries some people. “When the ‘wronged’ party speaks, it never quite works out for them,” argues Delia Lloyd of The Washington Post, citing Elizabeth Edwards and Monica Lewinsky. Take note: the wronged parties in these instances are women. The ability to reinvent oneself in the wake of a public scandal is a male privilege.
Until we recognize the double standard of career comebacks and personal reinvention, women’s voices will continue to go unheard. Let’s stop feeding media maelstroms and let’s give women a chance to define their own stories.
Stephanie Stroud is a Media Intern at MissRepresentation.org. Follow her on Twitter: @stroud109