Women in Politics Have Sex Scandals, Too

It’s a numbers game. It’s a matter of attraction. It’s being too busy with “diapers and bottles and bills and votes and markups” to “possibly think about doing anything else.” There are a number of explanations offered for why men seem to be overrepresented when it comes to sex scandals among politicians or other powerful figures. (The most obvious is they’re overrepresented, period, when it comes to political office and powerful positions.) But while our attention is turned toward Anthony Weiner, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Silvio Berlusconi, John Edwards, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and whoever else is likely to apologize for or deny the next round of photographs and love children and criminal charges, let’s also take a moment to remember nine women in politics who have caused ripples with their sexual exploits.

Helen Chenoweth, Republican Congresswoman from Idaho
Her offense: After attacking her Democratic opponent by lumping him in with Bill Clinton, whose behavior in the Monica Lewinsky scandal had “severely damaged his ability to lead our nation, and the free world,” she admitted to a six-year affair with a married man who later worked for her congressional staff.
Her defense: “I’ve asked for God’s forgiveness, and I’ve received it.”

Iris Robinson, member of Parliament and wife of the First Minister in Northern Ireland
Her offense: Having an affair with a man forty years her junior, earning her the nickname “Celtic Cougar.”
Her defense: She cited “serious bouts of depression” and “the stress and strain of public life” when stepping down from her Parliament post following the scandal.

Victoria Woodhull, American leader of the women’s suffrage movement

Her offense: Practicing and preaching free love—and outing Henry Ward Beecher for practicing, if not preaching, it.
Her defense: Women should be allowed to do what the men do.

Aimee Semple McPherson, evangelical minister and political operative
Her offense: Soon after campaigning for William Jennings Bryan, McPherson, who founded the Foursquare church, disappeared for a month, and, according to witnesses, was spotted in many hotels with Kenneth Ormiston, a married man.
Her defense: McPherson claims she was drugged, kidnapped, and held for ransom by two people, Steve and Mexicali Rose. And during a grand jury investigation, Ormiston admitted to having an affair, but said it was with “Mrs. X,” not McPherson. (The case was eventually dropped.)

Katherine Bryson, state representative in Utah
Her offense: She was caught on camera with a lover by a surveillance camera that her husband, Kay, had set up intending, he said, to catch a thief.
Her defense: Kay abused power by using county employees to install the publicly owned equipment that did her in, Katherine said. A judge disagreed.

Jacqui Smith, Home Secretary for the U.K.
Her offense: Claiming the purchase of pornographic films on her parliamentary expenses.
Her defense: Her husband is the one who bought them; but she still resigned from office and said that she “was the one who did the wrong thing. For claiming it. For not going through the expense form closely enough.”

Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia
Her offense: Taking many lovers, elevating them to positions of power, and then casting them off, with large sums of money, when she became bored with them.
Her defense: At least I gave them parting gifts. And the horse thing’s a lie.

Edwina Currie, British member of parliament

Her offense: Carrying on an affair with former Prime Minister John Major when they were both in Margaret Thatcher’s government.
Her defense: By the time she revealed the affair, by publishing her diaries, she didn’t really need one; she was out of politics, and Major, who had made family values a central theme in his political career, suffered most of the attacks—aside from a few spectacular blows, including, from Lady Archer: “I am a little surprised, not at Mrs. Currie’s indiscretion but at a temporary lapse in John Major’s taste.”

Chu Mei-feng, councilwoman for Taipei City
Her offense: Being caught on film having sex with her married lover.
Her defense: It may not work for politics, but it sure works for entertainment.

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