There, I said it. I’ve listened to the claims that Rep. Weiner is “abusing his power” and “exploiting young women” by firing off crotch shots to college coeds half his age. Interestingly, these charges are coming from conservatives, who usually aren’t quick to join in on feminist pity parties. Whether their concern is sincere or not, I have one thing to say: Give me a break. These women are not being exploited. In fact, way too many of them thrive on this stuff.
I’m a 25-year-old woman who has worked in politics in Washington and in my home state of Ohio. When I got my first internship as a junior in college, I was surrounded by bright young women who planned to become lawyers or politicians. They were there to work, not play. But for a few, this businesslike attitude evaporated the second some middle-aged sleaze with an impressive title (a la “Congressman Weiner”) started hitting on them.
Apparently, there’s nothing more intoxicating for some young women than winning attention from a married man with power and influence. It morphs them from serious young professionals into something more like screaming 12-year-olds at a Justin Bieber concert. Consider that Gennette Cordova, the 21-year-old student who was receiving pictures of Rep. Weiner’s package, giddily referred to him on Twitter as “my boyfriend.” Perhaps the most infamous—and pathetic—example was Monica Lewinsky, who stated that while she knew Bill Clinton had multiple affairs during his marriage, she felt he “really loved” her.
When a politician’s cheating goes public, the mistresses usually find out they’re a dime a dozen. Gennette Cordova now knows that her “boyfriend” was sending the same pictures to dozens of other girls, who no doubt swooned and expressed fawning gratitude for his attention. After Lewinsky professed her love to Bill Clinton, he went on TV and sneeringly referred to her as “that woman.” These women aren’t special—they’re one of many a narcissistic politician keeps around to remind him of his virility.
What do young women get after winning a powerful man’s temporary affection? Usually, public humiliation and professional ruin. Monica Lewinsky is a national joke. Gennette Cordova will be forever known as “that Weinergate girl.” But the young women who get involved with married politicians aren’t the only ones affected. As a 25-year-old, I know high-profile scandals like these create doubts about young women’s professionalism. There’s pressure to prove you’re not a bimbo or a “skintern”—Washington slang for underdressed, flirtatious interns. Or that you won’t pull a stunt like Jessica Cutler, a 24-year-old Senate clerk who used government computers to blog about her affairs with six different men on Capitol Hill. When she got caught screwing around on the job—literally—Cutler was crass and shameless.
“It's so cliched. It's like, ‘There's a slutty girl on the Hill?’ There's millions of ‘em,” she told the Washington Post.
How many times has a serious young woman been turned down for a job on Capitol Hill because the boss unfairly assumes she’s one of those ‘millions’? Thanks for that, Jessica. Thanks a lot. So, yes, I blame the women. I blame the ones who have everything going for them—a fantastic education, great resume, and lots of brains—but are somehow dumb enough to respond to a married man’s come-ons. I blame the ones who get a bigger self-esteem boost from sleeping with the boss than from getting a promotion. And believe me, there are plenty of these women out there.
“When I look back now, [I know] that there was a portion of what attracted me must have been the awe of him being a powerful man,” That Woman said a year after Bill Clinton cast her off.
Word to young women: stop falling for this crap. There will never be workplace equality as long as you’re willing to sacrifice your professionalism for the privilege of being an adulterous politician’s bimbo.