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The difference between male and female politicians

Politics: When Girls Won’t Be Boys

There was a collective rolling of the eyes and a distinct sense of “Here we go again” among the women of the House of Representatives last week when yet another male politician, Representative Anthony D. Weiner, confessed his “terrible mistakes” and declared himself “deeply sorry for the pain” he had caused in sexual escapades so adolescent as to almost seem laughable.

“I’m telling you,” said Representative Candice Miller, a Michigan Republican, “every time one of these sex scandals goes on, we just look at each other, like, ‘What is it with these guys? Don’t they think they’re going to get caught?’ ”

Ms. Miller’s question raises an intriguing point. Female politicians rarely get caught up in sex scandals. Unlike in the case of Mr. Weiner, who blasted lewd self-portraits into cyberspace. Or Berlusconi with his continuing sexual idiocies. Or David Blunket. Or Stephen Milligan, the Tory MP who was found dead due to auto-eroticism. Or JFK. Or Tory War Minister, John Profumo.

It would be easy to file this under the category of “men behaving badly,” and therefore, to dismiss it as a testosterone-induced, hard-wired connection between sex and power (powerful men attract women, powerful women repel men). Some however, might conclude that busy working women don’t have time to cheat.

But there may be something else at work… Research points to a substantial gender gap in the way women and men approach positions of political office. Women have different reasons for running, are more reluctant to do so and, because there are so few of them in politics, are acutely aware of the scrutiny they draw — all of which seems to lead to differences in the way they handle their jobs once elected.

It appears that women tend to go into politics because there is some public issue that they are passionate about bringing change to, whereas men tend to do it more for the political power and esteem attached to it. Or so says Debbie Walsh, Director of the Centre for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

However, that may be more pertinent to US politics than UK politics.

Whatever the reasons for entry into the Cabinet or Congress, female politicians are punished more harshly than men for misbehaviour. The general consensus on a man’s misdemeanour is that it was expected at some point, and so there’s no surprise. However, when a woman transgresses, there is shock and outrage.

It is impossible to imagine Britain’s first and only female Prime Minister being caught up in a sex scandal, and rightly so, as it didn’t happen. If Margaret Thatcher played away, she did so discreetly and out of the public eye; and, whether one agrees with her politics or not, one cannot deny that she was passionate about them first and foremost, so to jeopardise that would only be to her detriment.

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