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The Milton Measure

A Double Standard

by on Friday, December 7th, 2012

General Patreaus and Paula Broadwell before their affair was revealed. (

David Petraeus, director of the CIA, has been the latest victim of the scrutiny we place on our elected leaders. He began an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, in 2011, which continued until its highly public unravelling in early November. Broadwell had allegedly been sending threatening messages to a Petraeus family friend, Jill Kelley, who subsequently reported the harassment to the FBI. After the resulting investigation uncovered the affair, Petraeus resigned amid widespread controversy over intelligence leaks and threatened national security.

Although it was a major breach in security and obviously a cause for concern, did the incident really need to be covered with the scrutiny that it was? Maybe not. President Obama has said that no security leaks took place as a result of the Petraeus scandal. Why then, if this didn’t threaten anything but Petraeus’s own family, was it so crucial that the entire nation be aware of the state of the investigation? Was it because of their concern for Mrs. Petraeus? Surely not. Possibly the effect it could potentially have on the happenings in the Middle East? Nope. How about the secret yet widespread interest America seems to have in the dirty little secrets of politicians?

It’s no secret that men in power have long been unfaithful to their wives. Perhaps it is an epidemic facing all men, or a great burden that comes with assuming positions of authority, but infidelity in marriages seems pandemic in political society. From Julius Caesar to Henry VIII to JFK, unfaithful male politicians have been some of the most significant figures in history. Lest politics be branded as the catalyst for affairs, however, consider that the female fifth of Congress is usually good at staying loyal to their husbands. Take Hillary Clinton, for instance: through her husband’s scandalous affair and impeachment, she stayed loyal to Bill, even as he became embroiled in an ugly episode of political theatre.

And yet, his presidency is still regarded as one of the best in recent memory, looked upon as a golden period in American history. His approval is still sought after in matters of state. Why is it that a known cheater, a man whose honor was stained all those years ago, is not condemned in the public eye? Why allow his cheating to go without prosecution, but let Kristen Stewart’s recent affair, for instance, be highly criticized and publicized? Clearly, it’s just common sense that a woman should be punished for surrendering to the same temptations as a man—but that view needs to change.

Society – not just ours, but numerous societies before – has let men make fools out of women too many times. We need to get rid of the double-standard: of course it’s not okay for women to cheat, but that means that it should be just as immoral and condemned when men do it too. Men in power, men in politics, men in leadership roles – they should be setting an example for American men, not normalizing extramarital relations. Petraeus’s disgrace should be used as an example of what not to do, not as gossip until the next politician slips up. This incident didn’t need to be covered with the depth that it was. Next time, we should focus on the issue of infidelity and politics, not on the juicy tabloid-fodder that accompanies it. And men – there’s a lesson to learn from Petraeus’s problems: don’t cheat and think it’s okay.

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Posted by on Dec 7 2012. Filed under More Opinion, Opinion, Recent Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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