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Joanna Weiss

Men and their sex scandals

By Joanna Weiss
Globe Columnist / June 12, 2011

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ONCE, I knew a man who wandered into a Ford dealership and, on a whim, drove out with a bright red Expedition. (This was the ’90s. Gas prices were low.) Yes, he was sheepish, since had no practical need for a car the size of a military cargo plane. But he shrugged, half-jokingly, that he’d been helpless to stop. He was a man. The hormones made him do it.

It’s hardly news that a certain part of the male anatomy has the power to override logic and brainpower. That’s the only explanation for why US Representative Anthony Weiner, an accomplished, intelligent man, just did what might rank as one of the stupidest things in the history of Earth.

PR types are saying that Weiner should check into rehab, claim it was some kind of pathology that made him send out photos of his crotch. The women of America won’t buy that for a second. All we have to do is look at the long, bipartisan stream of male politicians who have risked their careers for prostitutes or affairs — or, in Weiner’s case, weirdly chaste electronic relationships, in which he thought it would be clever and seductive to photograph himself beside some cats.

This isn’t an illness. It’s a problem — some combination of a politican problem, and a testosterone problem.

Clearly, in Weiner’s case, there was a yawning gap between his impulses and his sense of self-control. The type of political profile he sought out — pugnacious crusader, cable-talk king — suggests that his ego may have been as needy as his nether region.

Which means he needed constant validation. Physique aside, Weiner has a lot in common with Tiger Woods, an athlete who constantly chased the next win, who needed constant risk and constant conquest. He had won, to mix sports metaphors, the Super Bowl of marriage, to a woman who is beautiful and smart. That didn’t stop him from pursuing the fantasy life of a 16-year-old boy.

That’s a fascinating, confounding glimpse of human nature, which is why we’re so interested when it happens again and again. (And to people who gripe that the media should focus on “important’’ things, instead: Should we turn back time to the Kennedy days, when the press kept politicians’ secrets, too?)

We could take this misbehavior on a case-by-case basis; we usually do. We get exercised about hypocrisy, as when a social conservative winds up on a D.C. madam’s call list, or a guy who went after prostitution rings turns out to be Client 9, or a man who uses family to boost his campaign has a child with a woman he employed.

But at a certain point, the story becomes not the quality of each new affair, but the totality of them all. Are we supposed to just assume this will happen again? Shrug our shoulders and watch these guys, one by one, drive their Expeditions off the lot?

It’s disheartening, but it’s also worth remembering that — thanks to feminism and, yes, a prurient press — the power dynamic has changed. Among Weiner's harshest Congressional critics were Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Niki Tsongas. Maybe they represent a leading edge of new intolerance for sleazy male political behavior.

Even political wives have more power these days, since a scandal-ridden politician’s future rests almost entirely with his wife. If she stands by him, the public can step back, chalk it up to privacy, forgive if not forget. If she kicks him to the curb, there’s no way to side with him. (Only Newt Gingrich was bold enough to circumvent the rules: He married his mistress, and now she’s the wife.)

And if a woman is brazen and savvy enough, she can turn humiliation into a career boost. No one knows what Hillary Clinton is saying to Weiner’s wife, her longtime aide, but I hope she’s advising her to make lemonade. Everyone knows your name now, Huma; make sure they also know how talented you are. Take a higher-profile job. Get yourself on TV. Run for office, yourself.

One thing you can promise to the voters, after all, is that you’ll never be ruled by your anatomy alone.

Joanna Weiss can be reached at weiss@globe.com.