Correction appended: July 8, 2013
In 1949, U.S. Senator Edwin Johnson took to the Senate floor to denounce Swedish film star Ingrid Bergman, the Casablanca beauty who was then at the center of an epic Hollywood scandal after it was revealed that she had left her husband for the married director of her latest movie. The act, Johnson said, was “an assault upon the institution of marriage,” and Bergman “a powerful influence of evil.” No mention was made of her equally adulterous paramour, Roberto Rossellini, who she later married.
More than six decades — and a whole women’s liberation movement — later, and the story is still the same. Women involved in sex scandals live in ignominy, while the men are forgiven their sexual transgressions. The New York Times related the latest edition of this sad tale in its much-anticipated story about the post-scandal lives of the women on the receiving end of former N.Y. Rep. Anthony Weiner’s sexts and twitpics. In interviews with three of the five women known to have received Weiner’s online advances, reporter Michael Barbaro details how, more than two years after the scandal first broke, the women’s lives remain upended, plagued by continued harassment and humiliation.
(MORE: Why I’m Standing By Huma Abedin)
Lisa Weiss, a 42-year-old blackjack dealer from Nevada, is frequently taunted by customers and ignored by coworkers. Traci, a 35-year-old Georgia fitness instructor and onetime school teacher, lost her job after her employers at the YWCA couldn’t handle the publicity from the scandal. Gennette Cordova, the 21-year-old college student who received Weiner’s now-infamous briefs image, dropped out of classes and moved across the country to escape unwanted attention from the scandal. Meanwhile, Anthony Weiner has launched a surprising political comeback—not only has he thrown his hat into the 2013 New York City mayoral race, but he is now actually leading the field, albeit by a small margin.
Of course, politicians bouncing back from scandals is nothing new, but lately it seems as if there is nothing that can permanently tar the reputation of men in office. Earlier this year, Mark Sanford was re-elected to Congress after his career was left for dead on the Appalachian trail. Even Eliot Spitzer has regained, if not his former glory, than at least some of his gravitas.
Nowhere is this double standard more obvious than in l’Affaire Lewinsky, the biggest sex scandal of a generation. Bill Clinton has never been more popular, his weakness for women now embraced by his fans as an endearing, even humanizing, character flaw. But Monica Lewinsky has spent the better part of her 20s and 30s in hiding, hounded by tabloid reporters who like to occasionally remind the world that she is “lonely,” jobless, and still living with her parents. Lewinsky, like most “Other Women,” has been reduced to the sordid details of her scandal. Her employment options are limited to Jenny Craig endorsements and the occasional daytime talk show appearance. Even her degree from the London School of Economics couldn’t be taken seriously (FROM THONG TO THESIS, and so on…) For Lewinsky (and Paula Broadwell and Rielle Hunter,) the best post-scandal life has to offer is a book deal, or maybe an invitation to pose in Playboy.
Of course, there’s no reason why Clinton—and Weiner and Sanford—should not have gotten a second chance to restore their reputations. Their legacies and political intellects are not defined by the sexual choices that they made. Unfortunately, the far-less-powerful women they were involved with have not been afforded that same luxury. Instead, they bear the full brunt of public mockery and opprobrium, forever branded by Wikipedia as modern-day Hester Prynnes.
A previous version of this article included Jill Kelley in a list with women who had affairs with government officials. Kelley’s complaint to the FBI about harassing emails led to the discovery of the affair between General David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell.