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?

66 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

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...

dctabv
dctabv

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

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.

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. 

PaulA'Barge
PaulA'Barge

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

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

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

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......

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

EdMiller
EdMiller

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

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.