There Are Bigger Issues At Stake Than Petraeus

Everyone seems to be following the Gen. David Petraeus affair in I-can’t-tear-myself-away fashion.  But are we getting caught up with what is appearing to be a run of the mill affair that got over-hyped and sensationalized?  And are we such a prude nation that in our eager attempt to punish adulterers we are A-OK about losing an important public official over an affair in the year 2012?

Maybe I’ve read too many Dan Savage columns about straight people needing to relax their infidelity standards, or maybe I’m really tired of the slut-shaming and the invasion of privacy that seems to go way too far in cases like these.  I’m not trying to excuse anyone’s bad behavior or poor judgment.  It’s an unusual day when I agree with Katie Roiphe on something.

But I just don’t buy the argument of an affair possibly causing a national security risk.  Paula Broadwell served in the reserves after being active-duty Army, and had her own security clearance.  She was embedded with Petraeus’ staff in Afghanistan, and spent a lot of time interviewing a lot of people.  I doubt the affair added any access to information than the incredible level of access she already had.  If we are concerned about national security risks, maybe we should be looking at the practice of embedding journalists (scholarly or not) in high-level military environments.  Or ensuring that volunteers (socialite or not) have appropriate tasks, oversight, and access to high-level people.

When affairs become public it makes some people feel better about themselves, some more appreciative of their relationships, some thankful for their anonymity, and some relieved to see that that wealthy, beautiful and/or successful people also have similar doubts, insecurities, loneliness, and extremely poor judgment when in love just like everyone else.   Lots of normal everyday people cheat on their partners, and even more people have work crushes or flirtations with random people in their lives, or sometimes wonder what it would be like to be with someone else.  So let’s simmer down on making all these public people’s private lives news, because it’s common place.

There are bigger issues that we should be looking at instead of making puns and writing racy headlines about the distracting ‘sexy’ part of this incident.  For example:

  • The frequency of sexual assault in the military.  An affair between two consenting adults is generating more anger and concern about military leadership’s morality and ability to lead than an unbelievable amount of sexual violence.  This is a serious disconnect.
  • The concern for privacy in our electronic communications.  Everyone at this point has written a few emails they would not want to be public – or at least a few Google searches.
  • The FBI investigated something that was probably not worth investigating due to personal interests, and then weirdly reached out to Congress members.  Was there a breach of ethics or information in this case?
  • The impact of war on service members, veterans, and their families is not getting the attention it deserves.
  • Media coverage using the same tired virgin/whore dichotomy.

To me the bigger concern is how the media coverage of this story is re-playing the same virgin/whore dichotomy about the women involved, and slut-shaming away through anonymous sources about trivial actions that apparently make someone a harlot.  The fact that Petraeus is being alternatively portrayed as an extraordinary man who had a big lapse in judgment is sexist in that women, regardless of their status, do not get that consideration.  This characterization of women as non-complex, good or evil, in this cartoon fashion is damaging.

I am relieved that for the most part Holly Petraeus is not being portrayed as “humiliated” or as a victim as though the behavior of her husband is her responsibility or embarrassment.  She’s being described as “furious” which while it may or may not be true, I think is a step-up.  Although I did just see a slide show that described her as a “scorned wife” ….sigh.  Shame on you CNN.



Photo credit hectorir via the Creative Commons License.

Facebook Twitter Email

Tags: , ,

  • Excellent points. Well written. I think the most troubling dichotomy is between the coverage of the affair and the lack of coverage of military sexual trauma. If the media wants to write about sex, that’s a much more worthy topic.

  • Looking at this photos it seems weird that they were even together. Broadwell mentioned several times in media interviews that the relationship was a mentor relationship. It’s an abuse of this word to characterize their relationship as such. Did they think they could get away with it? Seems like those around them felt like something was up.