[The] next time a cabinet official sleeps around, he’d better make sure his mistress keeps the affair offline.
— Spencer Ackerman, at wired.com, naming Paula Broadwell one of “The 15 Most Dangerous People in the World”
Classy, Spencer, classy – especially when just one paragraph before, you’ve noted that the General was a willing participant in the cyber portion of this affair, if not its driver. (And please, would all the women who’ve been hit on by Petraeus over the years please stand up? I know you’re out there, but I can’t do it for you.) That’s without even mentioning that we still aren’t clear how she got the information in the first place. In the actually existing world of security clearances, you get a violation not for reading stuff you shouldn’t, but for letting others have access to information they don’t need to know.
In Ackerman’s defense, he’s less lenient toward another officer: Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair, who stands accused of rape. However, that case is unsettling for additional reasons. Sinclair had indulged in inappropriate relationships with other subordinates previous to this case. Other behaviors that appear on the rap sheet – abusing his government credit card, watching pornography on government computers, and just throwing his rank around – must have surfaced before now. I wonder how many women have had to work with this guy in the past, putting up with behavior that perhaps did not reach non-consensual sodomy but was similar in spirit.
What do these two cases have in common, besides their coverage by Danger Room? They demonstrate the same phenomenon: letting men in positions of power get away with inappropriate behavior. We turn a blind eye until they finally go one step too far. Then, if society values the perpetrator as much as it does Petraeus (or Jovan Belcher, for that matter – ugh, football again), we act shocked, like it was totally beyond comprehension. Like something must have gone horribly wrong. Like some woman came along and tempted him to do terrible things that would otherwise never have crossed his mind. We look for mitigating circumstances so that we can justify what they did, whether that’s compromising national security or killing their wives. Where there is a woman to blame for their shortcomings, she must bear it on her own.
I really wish this horse was already dead, but it’s still galavanting all over the public discourse. After all, Petraeus himself did not make Danger Room’s cut, while Broadwell must share the stage with Bashar al-Assad and Qassem Suleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Force.
All these sensational cases – rape, murder, scandalous affairs – are just the tip of the iceberg, after all. Underneath them, offering their uncompromising support, are cultures that turn a blind eye to misogyny, including our own.