In Petraeus sex scandal and others, a double standard

OK, I'm done. I've had my fun clicking through every last story, tweet and meme about Betraeusgate.

I already know how this movie ends, eventually. Somehow, the men will be fine — time will pass, and they'll get invitations to join corporate boards and speak at management seminars about leadership and motivation.


The women? They'll be invited to pose in Playboy.

Some things never change, especially sex scandals such as the current one, over the resigned CIA director David Petraeus' affair with his totally "All In" biographer Paula Broadwell.


It may have a particularly inimitable cast of characters — who could have guessed the words "Tampa" and "socialite" would ever be uttered in the same breath, let alone "shirtless" and "FBI agent?" But in the end, it feels like it's following an all-too-familiar plot line: powerful men, grasping women and, inevitably, shaming.

You've no doubt heard about this practice, of condemning women who flaunt or merely engage in their sexual sides. Rush Limbaugh does it (see: Fluke, Sandra, and contraceptives, use of), and sometimes, women do it to each other.

We're only finding out about this entirely private affair, as it turns out, because of a catfight of sorts. Broadwell was having an affair with the former general, but apparently didn't want anyone else horning in on her four-star action. Her anonymous emails, to the aforementioned Tampa socialite, Jill Kelley, and another four-star general, John Allen, are what led the FBI, shirtless and otherwise, to uncover the affair with Petraeus.

No one comes out looking good in this, whether you're the jealous Broadwell warning Allen to stay away from the "seductress" Kelley, or the seemingly all too easily flattered Petraeus or the perhaps politically motivated and shirtless FBI guy. And yet, the biggest punch line has been Kelley, who for now doesn't seem guilty of anything but being kind of silly.

Lord knows she presents an easy target with her lost-Kardashian-sister looks, those Easter egg-colored dresses she's been wearing at a time when you think she'd want to call less rather than more attention to herself.

Still, it seems like there's more than a little classism in the snickering over Kelley, and her self-appointed role as the doyenne of MacDill Air Force Base — as if this is the first time a woman has ever played the hostess cupcake role to the powerful menfolk in her midst. The difference is that when a tonier Pamela Harriman or Perle Mesta did it, their social striving led to ambassadorships rather than public derision.

Lost in all of Kelley's bad behavior — the debts racked up wining and dining the local generals, the request for diplomatic protection since, after all, she's an "honorary consul" — are that she is not the one who made a federal case out of all this. Oh, she asked for the federal investigation, but the FBI could have said no. Or it could have looked, found there was nothing going on but an affair between two consenting adults and stamped it "case closed."

Same goes for the other Kelley request, that Petraeus and Allen write letters of support for her kooky twin sister's custody battle — the men didn't say no then either. Maybe Kelley is the seductress that Broadwell feared after all.


In the cosmic way that news stories sometimes collide, the Petraeus scandal erupted just after we had a re-surfacing of l'affaire Lewinsky. Yes, Monica, who as a White House intern had an affair with President Bill Clinton, was briefly back in the news recently for shopping a tell-more book.

If you'll recall, what triggered the revelation of that affair was the ultimate frenemy betrayal: Lewinsky had confided in co-worker Linda Tripp, who did us all no favors by taping some of their conversations to provide the special prosecutor with his case.

I'd like to think there is a way for a woman to survive the notoriety of a sex scandal. Maybe you just plow through with skin callused over thick enough that you meet every knowing look or double entendre with a death stare. Maybe you somehow get meaningful work, find a good mate and live a worthwhile life beyond the cheap joke that others would reduce you to.

But I can't imagine it's easy, not at the level of a Lewinsky — or perhaps in the future, a Broadwell or a Kelley. While I doubt it's her only option, I can see why, trapped by one episode in her past, she is trying to at least get something out of it.

Meanwhile, her partner in scandal has turned into a true eminence grise, and deservedly so. I never thought Clinton should have been impeached over this in the first place, and you'd have to be pretty small-minded to define him not by the entirety of his accomplishments, in and out of office, but solely by his affair.

Because, after all, there's no shame in being a stud.