I tend to stay in the previous year’s mode for at least a couple weeks each January, which is about the same time it takes for me to write checks with the correct year on them.
And, while ruminating about 2012, there’s one story, in particular, that surfaced in November that got me thinking on a bit of a deeper level. It’s the kind of story that tends to pique our interest because it combines the two elements that seem to be a source of endless fascination, power and sex. Now, if you mix in some other ingredients, say, infidelity and a dash of electronic harassment that captures the attention of the FBI, my, what a salacious dish it becomes!
The story to which I allude involves the undoing of David Petraeus, who seemed to have made such a seamless and successful transition from his distinguished military career, a career that saw him become the U.S. commander in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as one of the most decorated generals of his generation, to the next phase of his life as the director of the CIA.
Of course, the story is now familiar to all of us who follow the news cycle. The married Petraeus and the equally married Paula Broadwell were the principal figures in the story. Their affair took place in the final stages of Petraeus’ military career, when Broadwell gained a great deal of inside access to the general as research for a biography she was writing, one now completed, entitled "All In." The fact that, like Petraeus, Broadwell was a West Point graduate as well as a former officer during her own commendable military career certainly opened a lot of doors to gain that access.
As for the electronic harassment ingredient that invited the FBI into the story and ultimately led to the clandestine tryst becoming breaking news, well, that came about when Broadwell began sending what were perceived as threatening e-mails to a female friend of Petraeus, Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, someone Broadwell saw as a rival for Petraeus’ attentions.
Predictably, when such an incident involving a powerful person becomes grist to the news-cycle mill, the result of Petraeus’ lapses in judgment was a fall from grace. The man who some were touting as a legitimate future candidate to become president of the United States tendered his resignation as the head of the CIA.
The baser elements in me surfaced and aroused my interest enough in the real-life soap opera to do what many do in such cases: Google for paparazzi photos to get a look at Broadwell just to see who a man will risk it all for. The longer I thought about the story, the more I saw that when it comes to double standards, one, in particular, continues to thrive.
While there have been countless stories in the anthology of powerful men who succumb to their libidos, the way such men are portrayed has been, I believe, so very different than the women who have had trouble suppressing a keen interest in carnal matters.
While I think Petraeus, especially after expressing deep regret, was pretty much given a free pass, Broadwell was treated far more harshly in the court of public opinion. She, undoubtedly, has achieved much in her life. After all, not everyone gets a West Point appointment, graduates from the esteemed institution, crafts a successful military career, acquires not one but two master’s degrees and then makes the successful transition to a writing career.
And, yet, as a society, when there’s a story that exposes a woman to be prone to the same urges that men sometimes are, she’s marginalized as “the other woman.”
When it comes to the men who made little attempt to reign in their urges, their actions are seen in a far different light.
You may recall Wilt Chamberlain’s claim that he slept with 20,000 women in his life, and I supposed that makes him the chairman of the board of famous Lotharios. Joining him in that boardroom would have to be the likes of Richard Burton, Warren Beatty, Mick Jagger (who, as the legendary story goes, once saw a female therapist as a means to address his sex addiction and wound up seducing her), Hugh Hefner, Gene Simmons and Charlie Sheen, among many others.
Even in the 21st century, while there seems to be more of a “wink-wink” mentality with men, for women such as Paula Broadwell they are seen in a far different light, so much so there’s a pretty wide range of synonyms from which to choose to describe them. None of those words are nearly as kind as playboy, Lothario or Casanova.
To me, even in high-profile cases where famous men are discovered in sordid affairs, their rebounds are far faster than those of women. Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who on countless occasions enjoyed female “escorts” that charged as much as a thousand bucks an hour and lost a pretty good job when everything collapsed, has been all over your TV dial as a talking head for quite some time since his scandal. Was Bill Clinton brought down by Monica and the blue dress? Please! Almost no one commands the public speaking fees he does.
As for what happens with the futures of Petraeus and Broadwell, I guess we’ll just have to see. I have to ponder in an age when we love to point out how much we’ve evolved in our thinkinghow far we still have to go.