Petraeus Scandal: Are We Guilty of a Double Standard?

Why do we subject the women involved in these escapades to an extra layer of scrutiny and scorn?

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T. Ortega Gaines / The Charlotte Observer / AP

Paula Broadwell, author of the David Petraeus biography All In, poses for a photo in Charlotte, N.C.

Never underestimate America’s appetite for a cat fight. That seems to be the takeaway following days of fevered news coverage of the David Petraeus story. There doesn’t seem to be anything new under the sun to say about the sex lives of powerful men. Nonetheless, it’s dismaying to see all the familiar female stereotypes in this kind of drama while the general, like Zeus, remains largely offstage.

(MORE: Exit Petraeus — and His Famous Military Doctrine)

The focus on the hard-driving personality of Paula Broadwell, Petraeus’ partner in the affair, reads like a cartoon version of a successful woman getting her comeuppance. Broadwell was “hardly shy,” “a life-long high achiever” and “prolific” in social media. Early coverage stressed her self-promotion as an author on the talk-show circuit and her lack of journalistic credibility (conveniently glossing over her military background and graduate degrees). Never mind that it’s standard practice for authors to try to sell their books. Her stellar résumé and striking physique were held up as exhibits in a case for a suspicious history of unseemly ambition.

(MORE: Why Are Women Biased Against Other Women?)

After the knee-jerk biases had taken root, a more nuanced portrait was revealed of a soccer mom who followed her doctor husband to a leafy Charlotte, N.C., enclave and became a familiar community volunteer. (Although if the roles were reversed and a high-ranking female official were involved with a successful young man, would we ever imagine a headline like “Father of Two Accused of Affair”?) But the release of the identity of the recipient of Broadwell’s allegedly harassing e-mails, Jill Kelley, kept the story line fixed on the unhinged femme fatale who “got her claws” in Petraeus, according to an anonymous colleague.

The corollary of the conniving female harpy, of course, is the feckless male dupe entrapped by forces that are somehow beyond his control. Colleagues and press jumped right on board. Petraeus “let his guard down” with Broadwell, we were helpfully informed. President Obama issued a statement, saying, “My thoughts and prayers are with David and Holly Petraeus,” as if the long-married couple had been jointly victimized by an unexpected calamity. Unnamed staffers whispered about Broadwell’s unprecedented access to Petraeus in tones that suggested, if not Mission Impossible–style code-breaking powers, a slightly nefarious ability to get her way. Left unspoken was the fact that Petraeus — one of the most powerful and respected people in the world — was the one conferring the access.

(MORE: Amherst Rape Scandal: What We Get Wrong About Sexual Assault on Campus)

The scholar-soldier who won universal acclaim for his muscular leadership style remains oddly passive in his own story. As a result, our prurient gaze has focused on the “other woman” (or women), not the general. Much remains to be revealed, but already we are subjecting the women involved to an extra layer of scrutiny and scorn. Instead of wondering, Who is Paula Broadwell?, shouldn’t we be asking, Who was David Petraeus?

46 comments
YouKnowIt
YouKnowIt

This article is spot on! I do NOT believe in double standards. I do NOT Paula Broadwell is 100% to blame for her CHOOSING to have an affair. David Patraeus is 100% to blame for CHOOSING to have an affair. However, Patraeus' paycheck comes from the taxpayer so I'm left wondering how secure are We The People? And who is the man beneath the mask?

Cofe6370
Cofe6370

America is the land of Double Standard Gender,Age, and Race so we should not be alarmed now.

BillPearlman
BillPearlman

It's a little late for the media to act like it was even 10 years ago and their job was to ask questions. They went into the tank for Obama and stayed there.

darklink37
darklink37 like.author.displayName 1 Like

There is no double standard. Broadwell was the one who was sending threatening emails, not Petraeus. If Petraeus had been the one sending threatening emails to a rival and the media were focusing on him, would you be demanding scrutiny for Broadwell? I wonder...

YouKnowIt
YouKnowIt

@darklink37 The author is pointing out that Broadwell's character has been under attack while Patraeus' character has NOT been under attack--even though he committed the same sins.

darklink37
darklink37

@YouKnowIt @darklink37 Did you even read my reply? They did not commit the "same sins." They both committed adultery, but Broadwell was the one sending harassing emails, not Petraeus. That's not the same.

dctabv
dctabv like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

Yes there is a double standard. Its called the feminist double standard on cheating and its the one being promoted by Erika Christakis. She tries to down play the cheating of the wife (Broadwell). In fact most of the female chauvinist media is doing this.

Hey Erica, cheating is cheating - IT AINT DIFFERENT JUST CAUSE YOU'RE A WOMEN.  Here is a post on the exact double standard. I challenge you to read it even though I know you wont. http://www.the-spearhead.com/2011/03/17/the-cheating-double-standard/

Jymn
Jymn like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 4 Like

Petraeus did not send threatening emails. Your Ms. Perfect did. Stop trying to paint Broadwell as a saint. She cheated on a man who she not only knew as married but knew his wife as well. Then she used email to bully another person. Let's be reasonable here.

Ansonia
Ansonia

Kelley is the supposedly bullied woman--the woman who started the Petraeus investigation by contacting the FBI about "intimidating"emails (The emails turned out to be from Broadwell and to contain no threats.). Now here's the question: Is Kelley the financially comfortable person we think of when we think of a women married to a doctor and volunteering her time to good causes? If, instead, she's actually broke, she would have a reason to make herself useful to a powerful person whose goal it might be to engineer the discrediting and removal of anyone who could contradict the administration's version of what happened in Benghazi. For all we know, Broadwell and Kelley could have been working together for someone who wanted Petraeus discredited.

Ansonia
Ansonia

Anyway, this fling between Broadwell and Petraeus was over and done with 4 months ago. And the emails from Broadwell to Kelley, weren't they investigated months ago and determined to be no threat to national security? Jeepers, it's not like the man was using some vulnerable young person for sex she didn't have the status to refuse him. He didn't send out unsolicited pictures of his groin to some young woman. He and a married woman in early middle age chose to have an affair. At best, this all  is what it appears to be: stupidity in private lives that is none of our business. Let's insist that the focus return to Benghazi.

Ansonia
Ansonia

Oh and hey, come to think of it, we're taking Kelley's word for it that she didn't know the emails from Broadwell were from Broadwell.

mandy365
mandy365

After the campaign recently run by the Obama team in which he treated women as non-thinking stereotypes easily mislead by clever marketing, is it any wonder this is how the affair is being reported?

Ansonia
Ansonia

I suspect that-- about two years ago-- Broadwell was assigned to be a lure and trap for Petraeus as insurance against a day he might be less willing to parrot the official line regarding something like Benghazi ; also as insurance against the day he might consider running for president.

The FBI's consentual search of Broadwell's house looks to me like theatrics for the public. Ditto Broadwell's emails to Kelly, and Kelly's supporting role of calling in the FBI to investigate her emails. Ditto the story about a shirtless and smitten FBI agent. This silly drama now playing is designed to distract the public from the power vacume created by U.S. involvement in Libya, and from how four Americans came to be murdered there. 

Fla4Me
Fla4Me

@Ansonia Oh, this is good....really good....have you put your manuscript out there?  I have to think you have a bright future as a fiction writer.

PaulA'Barge
PaulA'Barge like.author.displayName 1 Like

Let's get back to Benghazi. Did Obama's actions and inaction rise to the level of impeachment?

Fla4Me
Fla4Me

@PaulA'Barge or should we be planning a new monument in his honor for the mall?  

mtngoatjoe
mtngoatjoe

If the two of them had just been outed, then I doubt anyone would really care. However, when anyone (man or woman) sends emails to their supposed rivals, then the whole mess has crossed over the line to Crazyville. And that's what gets the attention.

And General Patraeus hasn't gotten off the hook. He's lost his job and his reputation, and might lose his wife. And on top of all that, he might be court martialed and/or sent to prison if he gave her classified. Had his job not required him to be squeaky clean, nobody would care about this affair. But because he must be beyond reproach, the consequences for his actions aren't surprising. And because his paramour couldn't live in Discreatville, she gets the news.

Marky_D_Sodd
Marky_D_Sodd

Both Petraeus and Allen are registered Red Americans.

What a surprise.

jhoughton1
jhoughton1 like.author.displayName 1 Like

I don't know about any double standard.  What we're guilty of is letting meaningless stuff like this distract us from the things that really matter. A few days ago we were worried about jobs, the deficit, where the country is going.  Now, we're worried about what some general -- one too dumb to tell Bush that Iraq and Afghanistan were unwinnable -- did with his you-know-what?  This is the media's fault, but also the citizenry's fault for not demanding that the media put what matters at the top of the page.

scoobuss
scoobuss

Petraeus will just have to eat up his cornflakes. ( see the ex KGB Colonel traitor Alexander Litvinenko ) I am of the belief that only the worst of mankind make it to the top in any establishment no matter what it's colours are.

PlumbLine
PlumbLine like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Too much time apart from his wife, to much time spent with a younger good looking woman is like a rudderless ship heading for the rocks...................Proverbs 5:3-4.........3 For the lips of an immoral woman drip honey,And her mouth is smoother than oil;4 But in the end she is bitter as wormwood,Sharp as a two-edged sword......

SmallSpeakHouse
SmallSpeakHouse

@PlumbLine You're missing the context of that verse.  Remember the following lines- "Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house", "Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife?", and "He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly." That is the bulk of Proverbs 5. It's basically saying that a man should have wisdom and discipline enough not to be with an adulterer. Though the woman shares part of the blame, what hardships that result is the man's own fault also.

YouKnowIt
YouKnowIt

@SmallSpeakHouse @PlumbLine "It's basically saying that a man should have wisdom and discipline enough not to be with an adulterer." So the woman is being called an adulterer but not the man? And they haven't even engaged in an affair yet but the bible is already labeling the woman an adulterer? This article is for YOU.

SmallSpeakHouse
SmallSpeakHouse

@YouKnowIt @SmallSpeakHouse @PlumbLine And another thing, though that line in the passage does say "immoral woman", I am not interpreting this to say that all women are immoral. I take this as advice given to a son to think with his head and not his hormones. This is just the same to me as saying a girl should be careful about guys that just want to get you into bed. That doesn't mean that all guys are like that. It just means that some may be like that so be careful, be responsible for yourself, try to make sure that doesn't happen.

SmallSpeakHouse
SmallSpeakHouse

@YouKnowIt @SmallSpeakHouse  I never said the man was not an adulterer. I said that the man is at fault also. By at fault, I mean that he too is an adulterer (if he is married) or family destroyer (or whatever applicable term) who should be responsible for his own actions. That is how I understand that passage in the bible.

Granted, my use of the term adulterer was wrong when referring to the woman. That is not what I meant to say.

dhiagaymyrraeth
dhiagaymyrraeth like.author.displayName 1 Like

Immoral woman, eh? I think you're missing the point.

ScallywagNYC
ScallywagNYC

In the end setting foreign policy and going about imperialistic expansion at the guise of liberty and democracy has become a means to an end within itself almost to the complete disregard of laws and standards that the US is so often claiming that it wishes others to adhere to, and maybe it was just time for David Petraeus (who was probably being kept tags on) to finally go as head of the CIA as the heat of complicit behavior became too much for various insiders to muster….Even David Petraeus must be ruefully smiling at the irony, live by the sword, die by the sword…http://scallywagandvagabond.com/2012/11/david-petraeus-affair-scandal-part-of-a-white-house-cover-up/

Fla4Me
Fla4Me like.author.displayName 1 Like

Erika you need to save this one and replace the names for some future event.  Both are at fault for sure but Broadwell does appear to be the one who initiated contact and then built a cottage industry around the general.  Her book, her speaking engagements and the dissertation she's working on all have the general at their core.  Then you add her sending threatening email to another woman who she feels may be a rival  for the general's attentions.....  What does it take for you to admit that she's a bad actor here?  Does she have to buy adult diapers and drive across the country to attack the other women?  

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff like.author.displayName 1 Like

While every tango needs two to be meaningful, Petraeus was stalked.  Threats were sent (or at least what were interpreted as threats).  If a man did that to a woman, he'd be vilified by the press and the woman, even if she had "strayed", would be considered the "victim".

 So what kind of a double-standard is it to treat the stalker like a STALKER regardless of gender?  Are we to call out the victim, saying they invited it?  Yeah, let's do that the next time a woman is raped.  Let's see how well THAT flies with the women of the world.

 I hate to pull the feminist-colored glasses from the face of this reporter (well, let's be honest here, I actually rather enjoy doing it), but if women want equality, they have to deal with the BAD as much as the good in its application.  That means being treated as a stalker when they stalk.  Petraeus resigned.  His family life is in shambles.  His legacy is destroyed.  All because of a woman who couldn't take "no" for an answer.  Had she been adult about this, they both could have gone their separate ways unscathed by the press.  Women have the right to drop a boyfriend and expect to be left alone.  Don't MEN deserve the same? What the HELL MORE DOES THIS CRAZY MENTALLY DISADVANTAGED WRITER WANT???

It's examples like this writer's advocacy of an amazingly myopic double standard which makes people like me say if women want to be treated equally, then they deserve no SPECIAL treatment at all.

YouKnowIt
YouKnowIt

@DeweySayenoff How do you know she was stalked? Do you have special access to emails or records that the rest of us don't have? Or are you basing your information off of online articles? How was she a stalker? If you read this article s.l.o.w.l.y then you'll see that the author is stating that the character of both Broadwell and Patraeus should be questioned--not just Broadwell's. She's not asking for special treatment. Where do you get that from in this article?

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@YouKnowIt @DeweySayenoff  I referred to infidelity when speaking of vilification, not of stalking, although I've read several articles of men accused of crimes (but never convicted) being thrust into the same sensationalized mold.

 At YouKnowIt, SHE was stalked online by the other woman.  Threatening e-mails were sent.  We call it "cyberstalking" these days.  Additionally, I often comment on things after having gleaned information based on other sources, so to answer your question yes, I have seen the e-mails in that case.  You can too if you look for them.  They've been released.

 Reverse the genders in this and you'd have an equally sensationalized case - which was the point of my post.  This writer seems to think that's a double standard.  I fail to see how.  A triangle of power, infidelity, misrepresentation and jealousy will be sensationalized regardless of the players involved.  This wasn't picking on women in the slightest.

I stand by what I posted.

dhiagaymyrraeth
dhiagaymyrraeth

I'm sorry but men do not get "vilified" by the press when stalking women. Actually, you rarely even see it make papers.

ford21
ford21

She wasn't crazy - she was in love. Clearly he was also, or he would never have risked everything.  Look at the photos, they are smitten.  Now they are both exposed, both families are devastated, and there are professionals handling their every move/comment. Looks like the Petraeus spin will be that she was "crazy". What a gentleman, he continues to disappoint.

techjitsu
techjitsu like.author.displayName 1 Like

Ummm... the story broke because of the allegation that Broadwell was attempting to access the CIA Director's personal email account without permission, possibly threatening another of his 'paramours', and may have revealed secret information obtained through her relationship with the director during a speech. I think she is deserving of the 'focus' right now...

JohnKing
JohnKing like.author.displayName 1 Like

The "tone" of that type observation, I believe, is more accurately described as being "tone deaf".  In other words, the speaker indicates an inability to recognize the responsibility of Mr. Petraeus in this matter.  To suggest that Ms. Broadwell "got her claws into" Mr. Petraeus suggests that he is an innocent party.  That is old school bull****, in my opinion.

mneil
mneil like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

Although there are many double standards, you’re greatly overreaching here. It’s natural that the attention is focusing on Broadwell because she’s new and therefore interesting. We all know Petraeus. I also am curious why everyone has completely overlooked the unethical nature of her writing a book about someone with whom she is having an affair. I realize biographers are perhaps not held to the same journalistic standards, but that’s a fairly egregious violation of the public trust. Petraeus has suffered the loss of his position as one of the most powerful people in the world and likely his political future. Broadwell could very well benefit financially from this scandal. It makes sense to frame this in the terms of him giving into temptation since he’s the one with something to lose. If Hillary Clinton had an affair, the story would be told the same way.

brianrw00
brianrw00 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Could this be any sillier?  Cherry pick a few news stories, throw in some trite feminist criticism and there you have it - Paula Broadwell is the real victim here.  DCI Petraeus is just as culpable as she is, but the idea that she is being treated unfairly is bunk and lame hackery as well.

JohnKing
JohnKing like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Even this 58 year old male was struck by the quote from Mr. Petraeus's "anonymous colleague" that Ms. Broadwell had "got her claws into" him, when I read it in a separate article a yesterday.  I would give long odds on a bet that this "anonymous colleague" is an older male, and obviously clueless to the tone of that type observation.

DanielGarigan
DanielGarigan

@JohnKing Come on John..   tell us what you really think.  Why the long odds?  I confess I missed the point of the EdMiller query... but would like to hear your reply.  Is there one? EdMiller seems to have wondered off the point. At least you can point to that "separate article ... yesterday", the day before Veterans's Day.  What kind of show is this USA?

EdMiller
EdMiller

Yes and what is that "tone"?

EdMiller
EdMiller like.author.displayName 1 Like

Screw Congress. Nowadays they want in on every media/juicy/feely event, all the while ignoring difficult issues that affect millions of Americans. Such as?  Such as stiffening our policy toward the long haul trucking industry and the thousands of accidents they cause on the highways and our tolerance of excessive truck speeds along with the virtual abandonment of our railway industry.  Investigation into fraud by welfare, foodstamp and other entitlement recipients.  More support of our border with Mexico and limiting of illegals whom have caused border states to suffer economic and infrastructure losses greater than those of hurricane Sandy.  Reforming the state licensing of professionals into a federal system so that manpower shortages can be quickly corrected without long bureaucratic delays by states trying to protect their "feiefdoms" and insisting on redundant state licensing.

HelmyElsaid
HelmyElsaid

Many faces scandal(Why twitter had delete my refugee direct message to Obama,UN,others-AS my documents at: www.helmyelsaid.blogspot.com)

Mac29
Mac29 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Feckless: 1) weak, ineffective or 2) worthless, irresponsible. I tend to think while highly objectionable, that this is an instance of human weakness. Broad brushstrokes are for the weak minded. Petraeus has decades of discipline and service and hopefully will recover, personally or otherwise. Some insist this started after he was back from the front and taking on CIA role. I think it's worthwhile to bring up the pressures of either position. Not that I'm condoning in any way his behavior.

We all have our lapses of reason, of bad behavior, and if it's true the general resigned due to guilt over military code I find his attention to honor refreshing, strange as that may seem. I also agree in that I'm less concerned about which women, and if they have a "striking physique" than in Petraeus. I would lastly point out that anyone presuming this is all part of a deep conspiracy on the part of the WH is probably one of the pod people sucking on the Foxbot bottle. Real journalists will find any information contrary to what we have already learned from real news organizations, whether now or later.

DanielGarigan
DanielGarigan

@Mac29 There are lessons to be learned; I agree in this assessment. To be fair the "lapse of reason" has been with us since the fall of Adam ... whatever.  I suspect there was no compromise of state secrets or much of anything along those lines.   Given the state of play and rules of the "game", to target of interest is not Petraeus, unless there is some reason to think so.  Like him or not, he is not a fickle lightweight... but just a poor judge of bitches. Beyond that is there anything we seriously need to know?