Here’s a sentence I never thought I would need to write: Kirsten Gillibrand is not involved in a sex scandal.
Now I’ve got your attention, right?
That I even need to devote a blog post to this topic is evidence of the double standard women are held to in politics.
Gillibrand has gotten herself ensnared in a “scandal” that is getting play from the usual suspects, such as the Washington Free Beacon, and more surprising outlets, such as left-leaning Slate.
Here are the details: More than 10 years ago, Gillibrand’s father, attorney and lobbyist Doug Rutnik, worked very briefly with Nxivm (that’s pronounced “nex-ee-um,” if you are wondering), a marketing and life-and-work seminars organization that experts generally refer to as a cult. Rutnik spent a few months doing legal and lobbying work for the company and then quit.
Nxivm co-founder and head Keith Raniere was arrested by federal authorities Monday. He is accused of running a sex slavery ring within the group. The feds allege not only that female “slaves” needed to, er, service Raniere, but also that a number were branded with his initials in public ceremonies. “Smallville” actress Allison Mack is involved, as are Sara and Clare Bronfman , the daughters of the late Canadian multimillionaire businessman Edgar Bronfman Sr.
Now some Republicans are trying to link Gillibrand to this story. This week, Chele Farley, the little-known Republican running against Gillibrand in the November election, stepped forward to demand Gillibrand answer for the scandal.
Then the “scandal” began to pick up traction in the right-wing media. And then then Slate – progressive Slate! — jumped on it as well, with a story titled “The Only (Alleged) Sex-Slave Cult Story You Need to Understand Kirsten Gillibrand’s Weakness as a 2020 Candidate.”
The Slate story claimed that while the junior New York senator promotes herself as a “bold, next-generation progressive,” her father did once represent this group. Slate argued that this highlights the fact that her political career features ties to such establishment figures as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
We’d never want a woman to get involved with people like that!
So what’s going on here?
Gillibrand’s attracting attention as a potential 2020 candidate. She has mounted high-profile opposition to President Trump and has voted against his nominees more than 90 percent of the time, the strongest such record in the Senate.
Yet at the same time, it’s no secret that there are many Democrats and liberal pundits who are furious with Gillibrand for being the first senator to call for Al Franken to resign over allegations of unwanted advances.
Why ask a man to take responsibility for his bad behavior when you can point the finger at a woman for calling him on it? There is a phrase for this: “double standard.” Franken is blameless, but the woman who said his behavior was unacceptable is at fault.
Women are forever judged more harshly than men in many aspects of work and society. Politics is Exhibit A. Female pols forever land in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”-land, where no action is quite right. Hillary Clinton’s email scandal was apparently more worthy of attention during the 2016 campaign than Trump’s dubious business record, with everything from multiple business bankruptcies to allegations of cash laundering and links to organized crime.
More recently, criticism of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for everything from fundraising to not endorsing Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) during the 2016 primaries has led some to suggest she’s being held to the same double standard as Clinton was. (Consider how much attention has been paid to the claim that Warren used a family tale of Native American heritage to get ahead, vs. Trump’s certain lucky sperm club route to business success.)
As for Gillibrand, she is often viewed by insiders as an operator. An assiduous, hard-working networker, she was quickly dubbed “Tracy Flick” by other politicos following her 2009 appointment to the Senate. (Apparently, most men elected to office never think about their own interests when taking a political position.) In 2014, when Gillibrand detailed the harassment she has endured at the Capitol, at least one prominent male reporter questioned her account.
For the record, Gillibrand’s attention to women’s issues is long-standing and pre-dates the #MeToo movement. She has long been active on sexual assault in the military and in higher education. But even if she hadn’t been, the idea that she is somehow responsible for her father’s skanky client would be a stretch — and says far less about her than it does about the higher standard imposed on women in politics.