Let’s face it, married men cheat all the time. The alarming rate of divorce and out of wedlock births alone is proof enough of this. So it should come of no surprise that men who reach the pinnacles of power succumb to some of the same problems that mere mortals struggle with every day. Or should it? After all, people in power should know that fame can be a double edged sword. It amplifies successes and failures alike. You would think that sexual discretion would be chapter one of the public figure’s handbook. And yet, time and again, the sexual indiscretions of powerful men spill out of the bedroom and onto the front page.
Congressman Anthony Weiner’s recent scandal offers an interesting case for study. Here’s a guy who even by his own admission, grew up with a funny name. He had to be aware from the time he was old enough to go to school that people would harp upon the subtle implications that such a name affords. And yet he literally exposed himself on twitter and sent the pictures out to women he barely even knew. This seems especially risky behavior for the recently married Congresswoman, who many believed was in line to become the next Mayor of New York.
To actually go to the lengths of exposing oneself might speak to what many scientific studies have described as the highly visual nature of male sexuality. If men are highly visual and instantly aroused, it might explain their impulsive behavior when it comes to sex. There seems to be something of an existential question at work here too. In this society, the woman’s body is everywhere for men to ogle. It’s on the bus stop, at the grocery store, and all over the air waves. The male form is not so widely worshipped. Perhaps there is a longing among some men to be seen in a sexual way by the objects of their affection. It’s almost as if they don’t believe they exist unless someone is around to admire them.
Although the sexual habits of those in power tend to reflect the broader population, they are amplified to some extent. In order to understand it, one has to consider that many men seek power, wealth and social status in order to ultimately win the affection of women. Men know that women desire a mate who’s well suited to fathering and protecting a family. Some of that obviously comes down to genes. Men with certain physical characteristics are obviously highly desirable. But in modern society, wealth and status also come into play. Men who can afford to send their kids to the most exclusive schools and have the social connections to give their children better opportunities are also highly valued by the opposite gender. It is perhaps the very drive for successful procreation that drives men to achieve greatness, which also accounts for the seemingly illogical and risky behavior they display while in power. The thrill of the chase doesn’t always wear off once a man has gotten married and settled.
But this brings up a real question about leadership. Some would question whether a man who has cheated on his spouse and lied about it to the public the way Congressman Weiner did is really fit for leadership. My question is, given what we know now about men in power, are they any less qualified once their indiscretions have surfaced than they were before? The answer is tricky: yes and no.
On the one hand men with strong desire for leadership are generally someone you want in a position of power. They will usually display surprising level of loyalty, they are highly concerned about how the public views them, and they are generally willing to withstand the usual slings and arrows that lesser men may tend to avoid. On the other hand, when their private lives become such a distraction that it makes them susceptible to their political enemies, they become a liability to those who depend on them – constituents, employees and their political colleagues. Those upon whom they rely for support and other members of their coalitions of power do not want to be painted with the broad scarlet brush. At that point they can no longer lead effectively.
One last thing needs to be said about Twitter though. It has become the pool upon which so many young narcissists now reflect themselves. But there has not yet developed a meaningful social etiquette for using it. Twitter, like most social networking tools, was designed by some of the least socially adept people in the society. Think of a college age Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs hanging in a corner at a frat party twittering instead of talking to any of the real girls in front of them. Social networking, in this sense, tends to mask rather than erase a sense of social distance that many people feel. It was supposed to be the nerd getting one over on the frat boy. But in the end leadership and popularity still comes down to developing social graces and acting in a certain acceptable way….no matter how many Facebook stock options you might hold.