Weiner resigns, highlights gender differences in political performance

The past week’s events in politics have brought a new attention to the presence, or lack thereof, of women in political positions.

Anthony Weiner, who resigned this week from Congress after his lewd online behavior became public, was just the latest male politician to be criticized for inappropriate sexual behavior while in office. His announcement followed the tails of former presidential candidate John Edwards’ criminal trial for his alleged use of campaign funds to cover up his affair in 2008. The Gender Report also has covered the actions of former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and IMF chair Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Several news commentators used the latest scandal to point to gender differences in politicians’ actions and approaches to their elected offices. The New York Times reported that women in the House introduce more bills, participate more vigorously in key legislative debates and give more of the one-minute speeches that open each daily session. In 2005 and 2006, women averaged 14.9 one-minute speeches; men averaged 6.5. Kathryn Pearson, the researcher behind this data, commented that “ women in Congress are still really in a situation where they have to prove themselves to their male colleagues and constituents. There’s sort of this extra level of seriousness.”

The Associated Press reported that voters believe female elected officials are more likely to focus on their jobs and less prone than men to distraction or scandal.

Women currently hold 16.6 percent of the 535 seats in Congress and 23.5 percent of the seats in state legislatures. There are 6 female governors; of the 100 big-city mayors, 8 are women. Looking ahead to the 2012 presidential race, Rep. Michele Bachmann is currently the only female candidate for the GOP.

The New York Daily News commented that Weiner’s scandal actually could help female candidates who may run for his vacated seat, because they could capitalize on voters seeing all male candidates as having the potential for another scandal or inappropriate behavior while in office.

Other reports pointed to underlying gender differences in sexualized behavior that happens regardless of the person leading a public or private life. Virginia Rutter, writing for CNN,  noted that Americans gravitate towards political sex scandals as another manifestation of men’s exploitation of power and the victimization angle of the women involved. A Washington Times article spoke to some of the women involved with Weiner online who say the disagree with the victim-like labels. At this time only one of the women he messaged or contacted online has been identified as a minor.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm told the AP  women succeed in office in part because they bring many “traditionally female” qualities to the job like a willingness to build consensus and seek solutions rather than fights.

“Men in power get a lot more attention from the opposite sex than women do. The temptation of that, the flattery, the ego is more pervasive as a result… Women in office typically don’t have men coming onto us. We’re so busy trying to get the family together, multitasking and getting the job done.”

This is the Gender Report’s Week in Review, a weekly post that highlights some of the major stories related to gender issues this week. Some of these stories may have already appeared in our News Feed or in the week’s Gender Checks. We’ll at times include a longer analysis of stories as well as bring attention to stories that may have slipped through the cracks of the week’s news cycle.

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