Living in the Colgate bubble, I have found it difficult to keep up with the news and current events. Without a TV and no time to read a newspaper, I rely on The New York Times application on my iPhone to send me updates on breaking news and headlines of the day. Recently, my phone has been buzzing frequently due to the recent sexual allegations involving the leading presidential candidate for the Republican Party, Herman Cain. For those of you who also live in the bubble, over the past few weeks several women have come forward and accused Cain of sexual harassment and unwanted sexual advances. What fascinates me most about these recent events is their striking similarity to the Anita Hill hearings about Clarence Thomas in 1991. This shows that very little (if anything) has changed with regards to sexual harassment in the workplace, especially among men in power. If one looks at the past year, sex scandals are becoming more common and even expected from men in power (Strauss-Kahn, Schwarzenegger, Edwards, etc.). Why is this happening? What drives these men to believe that these actions are okay?
I was prompted to write this blog post in response to an article I recently read titled The Real Reason Men Cause More Sex Scandals Than Women by Michael E. Rice. Coming from a background of psychology, Rice proposes that these men act this way due to their biological makeup. He explains his theory by saying that we are a product of evolution and evolution’s goal is to reproduce. An individual’s goal in the game of evolution is to pass on their genes to future generations. Women are guaranteed to have their genes passed on (if they choose to have kids). Therefore, because women invest much more time and effort in the raising of a child, they are choosy when picking a mate. On the other hand, men are not guaranteed to have their genes passed on and their parental investment is not nearly as demanding. Thus, men tend not to be picking when choosing a mate, but rather in order to maximize the chances of their genes getting passed on, they try to have as many mates as possible. This is a biological explanation as to why men prefer having more sexual partners than women. With this biological explanation in mind, Rice continues to explain why powerful men are especially more likely to pursue more sexual partners. Due to the fact that these men in power are seen as “catches” (financial security, power, etc.) they find themselves being pursued by more women than the average man. Driven by evolution, these men find it hard to turn down these opportunities. Thus, Rice argues that powerful men are expected to a certain degree to be sexually unconstrained.
I believe that this argument lets these men off the hook too easily. The idea that “boys will be boys” is not an excuse. While I do believe that genetics and biology do play a role in people’s actions, there are plenty of men in power who are not involved in sex scandals (as far as we know). Clearly there are also some environmental and social factors that come into play. Maybe these men are having more partners to assert their masculinity? Does the media/social life encourage men to push the limits on sexual advances? Rather than point the finger and say these men’s actions are simply due to genetics or due to social pressures, I think it is much more important to think about how these two factors work together. Like many problems, this one is rooted in many different places and thus in order to fully understand this phenomenon and ultimately change it, we need to analyze them all.
-Michelle Van Veen