Everything You Need to Know About the Media’s Coverage of the Petraeus Sex Scandal (Hint: It’s Sexist)
If you’ve been following this David Petraeus resignation saga closer than Next at a dance party, you are not alone. With its intrigue, espionage, thousands of inappropriate emails, and shirtless pics, the coverage of this sex scandal has everything. And by “everything,” I mean a depressing amount of retrograde sexism.
See what they did there?
Now if you haven’t been following the saga, most of what you need to know can be found in this up-to-the-minute explanation from Mother Jones or, for the lazier among us, in this flowchart and in this one. (FYI: the shirtless FBI agent not identified in those charts has since been identified as this guy. The plot thickens and honestly the Coen brothers need to make a movie about this so I can keep everything straight.) Suffice it to say, lots of people who work in the upper ranks of national security, government, and the Florida military socialite scene have been getting it on with each other, both in person and in cyberspace. Powerful government officials thinking with their crotches and having to resign because of it? Shocking I know! (Not really.)
Another aspect of this that is not at all shocking, besides the US Department of Horniness and Bad Judgment? The sexist media coverage. Because when there is a sex scandal and women are involved, you can bet those women will also be blamed. And at the rate the media are blaming Paula Broadwell and Jill Kelley, pretty soon we’ll hear how they’re the ones responsible for Andre 3000 not doing the latest Outkast album. With those feminine wiles and form-fitting outfits in play, no man is safe!
On the other hand, few appear to be blaming the adult men involved in this epic tale. Don't believe me? Ask Pat Robertson, who'd remind you that hanging out with a pretty lady in a foreign land is just too much temptation for one man to handle, which is why Petraeus had no choice but to cheat on his wife:
I'm not the only one who finds the media coverage of this story frustratingly sexist (while at the same time being unable to look away because I like a scandal as much as the next Revenge fan—that thing with Kelley's TWIN sister?! You can't make this up!). It's been a long week, so let's explore the topic in list form:
- Syreeta calls out slut-shaming headlines like this Reuters article that pits the women involved against one another. [Feministing]
- Here's a list of the many ways the coverage has been sexist, including the obsession with Kelley and Broadwell's sleeveless tops. When are we going to get over tank tops? IT'S REALLY NOT THAT BIG OF A DEAL. [TheWeek]
- Kate Sheppard rounds up a few more players in this slut-shame-o-rama, including those who actually use the word slut to describe Broadwell. [Mother Jones]
- Tricia Romano reviews the insidious way female journalists are painted as temptresses when they dare to interview male subjects, because don't forget Broadwell was Petraeus's biographer and therefore she was bound to sleep with him. [The Daily Beast]
- Even Frank Bruni of the New York Times (not often the first media outlet to notice sexist coverage) remarks on these "adamant women and pregnable men" at the heart of so many sex scandals.
- In a refreshingly animated take on the topic, Ann Friedman says it with Mean Girls gifs.
- Allison Yarrow compares this coverage to the Monica Lewinsky/Bill Clinton dustup. Lorraine Devon calls bullshit on comparison but then goes on to say that the real issue here is that Broadwell's a "psycho ex-girlfriend," so, y'know, still sexist. [The Daily Beast, Huffington Post]
That "psycho ex-girlfriend" thing is not a one-off, either. If the media aren't painting Broadwell and Kelley as tarts, they're crying Fatal Attraction. I understand that this is a juicy story—I wondered who the shirtless guy would turn out to be as much as you did—but in all I've read about it I've found no evidence that Petraeus, a very powerful adult man, was a victim of anything other than ego and a disregard for his wedding vows.
Blaming women for marital infidelity is nothing new, but we needn't just roll our eyes. As this New York Times editorial points out (I don't usually say this in seriousness but the Times is on it this week) we can learn a lesson from this scandal: We need to treat sexual misconduct in the military—from inappropriate emails to sexual assault—more seriously. Now isn't that a better takeaway than Broadwell's oh-so-toned arms?
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