This morning, I was listening to Take Two, a program on Southern California NPR station, KPCC. The story was, “Do politicians never learn from sex scandals?” It featured an interview with Mark Sachleben, a political science professor at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. I found the interview very frustrating due to the glaring absence of any discussion around issues of power, violence against women, and the important role of public service. Allow me to elaborate…
Alex Cohen, the host of Take Two, listed several recent scandals, “Weiner, Spitzer, Filner, Herman Cain,” and asked Dr. Sachleben if he noticed a trend in these scandals. Sachleben responded that he didn’t, and Cohen had to inform him, “Well it seems pretty obvious that they are all dudes.” She then asked why there were no scandals regarding women, to which Sachleben said, “I think that women are more conscious of their behavior; they are aware that they are breaking glass ceilings and they don’t want to make it harder for the women coming after them.” Although I think that this is a good point, I was shocked that he did not mention any issues of power. In hearing the names of politicians under investigation, it became clear that many of them were White men (Herman Cain may have been running for political office, but he was never a politician), further underscoring the role of power in these trends. Individuals who are not in traditionally advantaged groups (i.e., social positions of privilege) may not feel that they are entitled to demonstrations of dominance over others.
In addition, I think that this trend needs to be investigated under the lens of violence against women. Every day we are bombarded with horrible stories of violence against women, both nationally and internationally. Cohen also asked about the differences between sexual harassment scandals and extramarital affairs. Sachleben responded, “I think that we give some men a pass with an extramarital affair because it involves two consenting adults, especially if we believe that the politician is doing a good job as a politician. Take the example of Bill Clinton…” At this point, Cohen ends the interview in the interest of time, but again, I was shocked at the lack of discussion regarding violence against women. Although I agree that extramarital affairs occur between consenting adults, but it is more important to note that sexual harassment, especially in the case of the groping allegations against Filner, is a form of violence. Even without physical interactions between the harasser and the harassed, verbal sexual harassment can still be considered abuse. And this consistent degradation of women by men in power needs to be thought of as a form of violence against women. We need to be asking the question, what makes someone think that this is OK? For me these groping allegations should be considered part and parcel of the current conversations about slut-shaming rape victims, and disregarding claims of sexual abuse in the military and on college campuses.
Finally, the third glaring omission emerged around the discussion of why those scandals involving politicians get more coverage than sexual harassment by CEOs or other private companies. Sachleben appeared to dodge the issue, talking about the idea that these stories are good tabloid fodder, but did not admit that, whereas CEOs are often leading private companies, politicians are public servants; we are voting for these (mostly) men to represent us and our best interests. In my opinion, I think that we do make too much of sex scandals, but we do not give them the proper attention that they deserve. We are consumed by the lewdness of the content (e.g., the dirty pictures, the use of a cigar), but we do not address what is most important to the voter: issues of character. For me, the most important point is that these (mostly) men have lied to the people they claim to love. They lied and caused great pain to their wives, children, friends, and loved ones, and often repeatedly and with impunity until they are caught. For me, that conflicts with what I want in my representatives, which is a honest individual who considers the interests of others, not just his (or her : ) own selfish desires.
I understand that not everything can be discussed in a 7 minute interview, but these omissions caused me to yell at my radio and roll my eyes. The lack of discussion around these issues result in limited and ultimately unproductive public discourse.
It is important to note that it was live radio and the clip has not yet been posted online, so I have not yet been able to review the actual transcript to confirm my quotes. However, the show will be rebroadcast tonight at 8pm and the transcript should be available online tomorrow. Stay tuned for tweaks, proper quotes, and perhaps further fuming.