This Sex Scandal In Alabama Shows We're Not Post-Lewinsky After All
When it was announced on Wednesday that the former top aide to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, Rebekah Mason, would resign but Bentley would remain in office, it echoed the sexist response to political sex scandals of yesteryear. Sexually explicit recordings of Bentley waxing about his love for Mason emerged last week — recordings allegedly from over two years ago, which would mean they occurred when Bentley was married at the time (he and his wife divorced last year). Thus far, Bentley has refused to resign from office while Mason almost immediately stepped down. The recordings were of him and not her, so it's jarring that Mason would resign instead of Bentley. But it's not new: For most male politicians, a sex scandal has only dealt glancing blows to their careers.
In a statement sent by the governor's office, Mason said she would resign as Bentley's senior political adviser, and furthermore, would not work for any nonprofit organizations that promoted his agenda. She said, "My only plans are to focus my full attention on my precious children and my husband who I love dearly. They are the most important people in my life." Last week, she said she had accepted Bentley's apology to her family and "put it all behind us." Bustle reached out to the Alabama governor's office, but has yet to hear a response.
Bentley's recorded sweet nothings are incriminating, but it's Mason who is taking the bigger fall . Bentley's recording range from the tender, "When I stand behind you, and I put my arms around you, and I put my hands on your breasts, and I put my hands on you and just pull you real close, I love that..." to the anxious, " Baby, I love you. I know we are in a difficult situation. Unless I make things as normal as possible here, it is going to be hell." And hell it is now — but why more so for Mason? It's worth mentioning that lawmakers are moving to impeach Bentley. However, the fact that Mason has resigned shows that the woman has taken on the brunt of the consequences of this scandal.
Bentley himself has admitted he acted inappropriately, which makes his white-knuckled grip to his governor seat even more troubling. "I made a mistake," Bentley said in a press conference last week. His press office released a statement that read, "He has apologized to his family, Rebekah Mason's family and the people of Alabama for his inappropriate behavior." With a swift apology and milder words like "mistake" and "inappropriate behavior," the scandal seems to be treated more as a PR issue than a serious threat to his career — which was not the case for the woman involved.
This unfolding response is part of an ongoing phenomenon: Male politicians' careers are seemingly invincible against sex scandals, the most infamous case being Bill Clinton. As president, Clinton had an extramarital affair with his intern Monica Lewinsky, and while he was impeached, it was Lewinsky and not Clinton who became a leper and spent decades shamed by late-night comedians and even feminists alike. Clinton enjoyed a rich political career even after his impeachment. Lewinsky, on the other hand, left politics and hid for a decade from public eye. Lewinsky had difficulty finding a job due to her notoriety and has only recently made a comeback, (not surprisingly) as an anti-bullying advocate.
Other cases include Mike Sanford, who remained governor of South Carolina after his extramarital affair was revealed, and proceeded to win a seat in Congress. Sen. David Vitter remains comfortably in office even after his prostitution scandal nearly a decade ago. John Ensign only resigned as senator of Nevada after a simultaneous sex and corruption scandal, but escaped prosecution. Anthony Weiner, too, only torched his political career after two sex scandals.
In lieu of real political repercussions, humiliation seems to have become a satisfactory punishment for scandalized politicians. After Clinton's case, sex scandals have become almost normalized — enough so that politicians aren't made to take the full brunt of them. Somehow, they stay in office and in public trust. But someone must answer to the consequences, and unfairly, it's the Lewinskys and Masons of the world who do.