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Sex and the politician

Anthony Weiner, a former New York congressmen and New York City mayoral candidate, is back in the headlines after being sentenced to 21 months in prison this past Monday for exchanging sexually explicit material with a minor. Since 2011, when he was forced to resign from Congress for sharing a sexually explicit picture on his public twitter account, Weiner’s continued sexual antics have periodically captured national intrigue. Nonetheless, news in 2016 of his sexual exchanges with an underage teenage girl, a disclosure that may have indirectly cost Clinton the election, finally has led to criminal charges. 

Weiner’s downfall exemplifies the potential career-ending costs of violating the expectations of personal conduct that come with representing the people through an elected position, and will hopefully serve as a lesson that no politician should be immune from acting in such a reprehensible manner. Nonetheless, the Weiner case remains a relatively rare exception rather than the norm when it comes to these types of transgressions. Additionally, societal perceptions within the political realm continue to be affected by a gendered double standard and sexual hypocrisy that privileges male politicians in such matters. 

Too often history has shown that political constituents are more than willing to forgive the sexual “antics” of a male politician. At times, to a dangerously exonerating degree. In the weeks leading up to the 2016 election, for instance, audio recordings of Trump advocating sexual assault against women did not seem to dampen his chances at the White House. Indeed, a shocking 53 percent of white female voters chose Trump over Clinton alongside 62 percent of the white male electorate. Even after the Monica Lewinsky scandal that tarnished the latter part of his presidency, Bill Clinton ended his term in office with a high 66 percent approval rating and continues to be widely respected among the general American public. 

Conversely, too often female politicians become the target of gross gendered caricatures and national scrutiny within political dialogue. Despite leading what is arguably the strongest nation in the European Union, Angela Merkel is still regarded internationally as “the Mother” of Germany—a feminine epithet that alludes to her unique position within the overwhelmingly male realm of global leadership. In the third presidential debate of the 2016 election, Trump famously interrupted Clinton to call her a “nasty woman,” which ironically evolved into a feminist pseudo-slogan for the Clinton campaign towards the end of the election. Moreover, Clinton’s ultimate defeat to the much more underqualified Trump—then a New York businessmen with no previous political experience—exemplifies the many obstacles female politicians continue to face in winning over the American electorate. 

Although Anthony Weiner is ultimately paying the price for his dangerously inappropriate transgressions as an elected official and public figure, chauvinist attitudes continue to affect our perceptions of politicians. Male politicians continually are forgiven for their sexual misdemeanors while female politicians fight an uphill battle against sexual stereotypes in a male dominated realm of leadership. When judging our politicians, it is important that we equally apply a universal standard of behavior on all elected officials, no matter their gender or societal stereotypes.

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