Best Of Cog: Expecting More From Petraeus' 'Wily Temptress'

This article is more than 8 years old.

Eileen McNamara spares no punches. She is the mighty pen incarnate.

After reading one of her recent pieces for Cog, a colleague remarked, "Remind me never to cross Eileen."

Whether you agree with her or not, there's no denying: she makes a compelling, ferocious argument.

Her Nov. 15, 2012, piece, "The Great Man And The Wily Temptress: Some Thoughts On The Petraeus Sex Scandal," was no exception:

This is what 40 years of progress for women has wrought?

A stellar graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who prefers to flex her shapely biceps, not her intellectual muscle, on a national book tour?

A Harvard Kennedy School graduate who uses her public policy education to produce a fawning hagiography, not a critical analysis, of the career of the narcissistic four-star general at the helm of America’s tragic misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan?

A wife and mother in an all-too-rare egalitarian marriage who goes weak in the knees, to say nothing of soft in the head, for her aging mentor, a darling of the Federal City’s media and social elite?

Is Paula Broadwell what gender equality is supposed to look like in 2012? Kim Kardashian with an advanced degree?

Ouch. McNamara goes on to say that predictably, the news coverage of the still unfolding scandal has depicted David H. Petraeus, 60, as a "great man" and Paula Broadwell, 40, as a "wily temptress."

Unfair? asks McNamara. Definitely. But that's reality.

Didn't [Broadwell] notice that in this culture it is always the woman who pays the price in these situations?

Not everyone agreed that Broadwell is a disappointment to the gender equality movement. In a conversation on WBUR's Radio Boston, co-host Meghna Chakrabarti pushed back. What about Petraeus? Why was her harshest criticism directed at Broadwell?

McNamara responded, "Because smart women have an obligation not to be stupid."

Listen to the entire conversation below:

While some readers took issue with the suggestion of a double standard:

Yobo2: Why doesn't it occur to Eileen McNamara that she is one of the very people who is judging women more harshly than men? And, anyway ... Did she just say what I think she said? — that she used to decry the double standard but, since things haven't changed (or haven't changed fast enough), she has not only given up, but has joined the ranks of those who demonize women?

Others thought McNamara hit the nail on the head:

dld: I am irked by [Broadwell's] hypocrisy, as she pushed the military to get over themselves and expand the areas where women can serve alongside men — while simultaneously engaging in the very behavior of concern to opponents. When every photograph, regardless of occasion, shows her in an outfit which overtly displays her personal version of cleavage, she reveals an agenda which seems as concerned with being seen as being heard.

Eli: Maybe the underlining theme here is that hubris equally affects the judgment for both high-achieving men and women ... It seems that the collateral damage that rightly angers the author, is that now (and again) every beautiful and talented woman around powerful men in Washington DC (and especially in/around the military) will now have to face extra scrutiny and overcome additional obstacles to prove they deserve to be treated as equals.

In response to all the reaction to the piece, McNamara sent us this author's update:

It is an odd feeling, after a career championing women’s rights, to be accused of sexism. But that is how some readers reacted to my column castigating Paula Broadwell for her affair with General David Petraeus. I was not demanding a higher standard of her. I was acknowledging what a 40-year-old West Point graduate should have known: as long as gender equality is more aspiration than reality, women will pay a higher price for this kind of mutual stupidity. Petraeus will be back; she won’t. Is that fair? No. But as President John F. Kennedy told us a long time ago, “life is unfair.” Women in the military are still struggling to be treated equally. Broadwell did not help their cause.

-- E.M. 12/20/12

What do you think? Weigh in in the comments below.

You can read the original piece here.

This program aired on December 21, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.