The no. 5 most-popular headline today at The Washington Post was "The Trouble With Men."
Well played, WaPo, well played. Even a media cynic like me, hardened as I am to cheap headline ploys, had trouble resisting such an invitation.
Sure, I have my own ideas about the trouble with men (chafing stubble; blind, universal devotion to Zooey Deschanel, AC/DC and Monty Python; cigars; a weird need to beat each other up, even when they like each other), but I wanted to see what someone else thought. (As an aside, I'm going to start using this headline technique more often, starting with the title of this post!)
It turned out that the column was as easy as the headline: Let's use the Schwarzenegger and IMF chief scandals to make generalizations about men and cheating, complete with a humdinger of an opening: "What is it with men and sex?"
As an intro to incisive social commentary, that seems comparable to "What is it with humans and breathing?" or "What is it with puppies and chew toys?" or "What is it with teenage girls and boy bands?" I mean, do you really need to break it down?
The troubles with this column are many. First of all, it lumps together consensual infidelity with an alleged (and it's important to say alleged, even though the column basically convicts "DSK" anyway) rape. The justification for that gross oversimplification is that both incidents supposedly demonstrate male abuse of power.
The fact that this "abuse of power" conceit was derived from statements by the writer's wife does not mitigate its inherent sexism. He lumps together Schwarzenegger, Mark Sanford, Bill Clinton, John Ensign, John Edwards and Newt Gingrich as examples of power abusers. Does anyone think that Rielle Hunter was "taken advantage of"? Or Mark Sanford's lover? Do we need to assume that, whenever a prominent man commits adultery, the women involved are powerless and naive?
Of course, men in power have a long history of exploiting women, either criminally or morally, which is why this line of reasoning is both facile and cheap. To blame these recent scandals on a disease of the modern "alpha male" is ridiculous. Chris Rock put it more succinctly and more scarily (at the 2:10 mark): "A man is basically as faithful as his options." The men Mark Miller cites were weak, and allowed circumstances to triumph over morals; but they weren't necessarily predators, nor can their lovers be characterized across the board as victims.
However, a recent study suggests that Miller does have reason to link power with infidelity. Apparently, both women and men who consider themselves to be the shit are more likely to be cheating fools. We just don't see this played out publicly as much among women in power. More often, we see women in power (Oprah, Hillary) portrayed as closeted lesbians or asexual.
Miller's column neglects to mention several mostly non-political scandals, such as those of Tiger Woods and Jesse James (or, if he wanted to cite criminal cases, Kobe Bryant and Eliot Spitzer). To me, what's salient about these stories is not so much that the men are cheating or the idea that they are abusing power. It's the fact that they have created such huge schisms between their public and personal lives, and also, in some cases, the apparent indulgence in unprotected sex. Dudes, why, especially when you are cheating, so much unprotected sex?
Women are cheating, too. Are they also resorting to illegal and dangerous means? Why does anyone of either gender, -- in an age of supposed sexual liberation, gender equality, psychological enlightenment and oversharing -- still feel the need to commit such destructive clandestine behavior? To me, these are much more compelling topics to explore than the sadly well trodden ground of "hey, men sleep with underlings and commit sex crimes."