Talking Petraeus at Jezebel and on Current TV

In response to the David Petraeus sex scandal, I wrote a piece at Jezebel: ‘I Know You Better Than You Know Yourself:’ Why Men Cheat With Their Biographers.


It’s hard not to suspect that that same lack of self-awareness drove General Petraeus. Men whose lives are defined by public action and attentiveness to image are vulnerable to “imposter syndrome.” They may be keenly aware of the disconnect between how they are perceived and the messy reality of who it is that they “really ” are. Married to women who are under no illusions as to their shortcomings, plenty of middle-aged men make the mistake of turning to the women who “understand.” An affair with a journalist or documentarian offers a double bonus: not only the chance to be validated as privately worthy by a star-struck lover, but the promise of being presented to the public in the most favorable possible light by a woman whom you like to imagine knows you better than you know yourself.

Sex scandals are rooted in male narcissism, as Irin Carmon wrote for Jezebel when the Edwards scandal broke. Rielle Hunter famously first got John Edwards’ attention with a blunt “You’re hot!” But we make a mistake when we assume that male narcissism is only about being validated for being sexually attractive. It’s also about the longing to be seen as worthy by a woman who is presumably in a position to know the truth about his goodness. Men who froze their own capacity for introspection when they were young are particularly likely to seek out the affair with the woman who promises to peek underneath the uniform and pronounce that what she sees is hot, fascinating, and noble. This is a narcissism driven as much by a specifically male lack of self-awareness as it is by preening, anxious vanity.

Last night, I appeared on Current TV’s The War Room with Gov. Jennifer Granholm to talk about this issue. The five-minute clip is here.

6 thoughts on “Talking Petraeus at Jezebel and on Current TV

  1. The clip looks cut off mid-sentence. Is there more of it somewhere? You appeared to be on a roll with your point then the video stopped.

    On the subject of men v. women in power and attraction, I take not a gendered view but a cultural one. That just as many women in power would get caught in “scandals” such as this were the cultural standard that of men and women sharing political/military/etc power equally. We just have the myopic lens of our current world to view this through.

    Re: the whole Petreus thing, I don’t understand the gasping around the whole thing. If we had a more enlightened attitude about sexuality and sex, and recognized this as an intimate, but ultimately biological release, I don’t see how this would connect to his abilities as a military commander.
    And I am not dismissing your take on the betrayal aspect of this, Hugo, as I agree with you there. But if that element weren’t there and there wasn’t such moral furor around sexual activity in general, this would be a non-issue.

    But I suppose I’m just saying if we all lived in a different world, it would be different.

  2. “It’s also about the longing to be seen as worthy by a woman who is presumably in a position to know the truth about his goodness.”

    I don’t think the relationship would have become sexual though if Paula Broadwell hadn’t been 20 years younger.

    Most likely we wouldn’t even know about the affair if Paula Broadwell hadn’t been concerned about competition from an even younger woman.

    I doubt that there’s a shortage of same-age women admirers for these high powered men, but rarely do the high powered men choose these women.

  3. Or Petraeus was attracted to her and Broadwell was willing to accept his advances. Or, Broadwell made a pass at him. Let’s also be honest about the fact that Mrs. Petraeus is not all that attractive. I don’t think we need to delve into psychobabble to explain this natural biological drive.

    • Agreed Chuck. It really is that simple. But when will feminists-Hugo in particular-acknowledge the female propensity to commit adultery? I would luuurve to hear his take on that. Of course this is sacrilege within the cult of male feminists.

      Ellen, Hugo, whoever you are, I am sure Holly Petraeus is an admirable woman with many great qualities. No, she did not deserve this betrayal, especially the kind that puts her into the unwanted national spotlight. Nevertheless, the peen wants what the peen wants. Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to deduce the driving force behind male sexuality. You already know what it is. Women reach a certain age and they don’t have “it” anylonger. And before you get testy, just remember, this concept applies to men as well. Harsh? Yes. Unfair? Sure. But a cruel fact of life all the same. Get over it.

      BTW, that sour-grapes comment in your last paragraph was quite interesting. Similarly, I wonder why many women that have no allure often hold men to an arbitrary standard of attractiveness (alpha adonis, assertively confident, financially well-off, animated). You know, those James Bond types in romance novels. It really does go both ways.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *