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Why women aren’t pigs

Robin Lakoff, professor emerita of linguistics | May 26, 2011

Because of the DSK and Schwarzenegger scandals, there has been probably more than enough public consideration in the last week or two of questions like: Are powerful men pigs and if so, why? But I have yet to see any discussion of a related and relevant question: Why are powerful women so seldom sexually predatory?

In the past, it was reasonable to offer two kinds of answers to that question:

One, there are not now, and throughout history have never been, enough powerful women to make meaningful comparisons;

Or two, women just aren’t all that interested in sex.

The first of these assumptions — while of course true until recently — is true no longer. Indeed, I have been very impressed with how many powerful and influential women have been available to discuss these stories in the media, here and in France. If women wanted to compete with men in piggery today, they certainly could.

It may be worth noting, by the way, that the stories that have circulated over the millennia about the sexual escapades of the few powerful women history provides are all or nearly all very likely falsehoods, made up to diminish a powerful woman’s power (more on this below). No, Catherine the Great just wasn’t that into horses; there is no clear evidence that Elizabeth I was not the Virgin Queen; the scandalous tales of Marie Antoinette’s sexual exploits were constructed deliberately by enemies of the monarchy to bring it down (and worked pretty well!); and even the scurrilous stories about Messalina were undoubtedly invented by men trying to undercut her and her family.

Closer to our time, there are the bizarre concoctions about Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Same thing.

As for the second argument, it is false in two ways. First, because as we all know, women areperfectly interested in sex — not as much or as incessantly, perhaps, as men are, but certainly enough to behave badly if they had the power to do so and wanted to use it in that way. But they don’t. So it isn’t — whatever the evolutionary psychologists want to tell us — that women just aren’t as sexy as men, but that something else is discouraging the equivalent kind of bad behavior in women.

Women are not naturally more virtuous or nicer than men. Women in power can be just as mean-spirited and ruthless as men. But they don’t normally express their badness sexually. Hence powerful women are not as piggy as their male counterparts.

One major reason for the difference is that while frequent demonstrations of sexual potency enhance men’s status, women behaving similarly would send a very different and much less desirable message. Very sexual men are “studs,” while very sexual women are “sluts” or worse. So there’s no payoff for women, and so women don’t behave like their counterparts.

Barbara Walters (on The View last week) and many others to the contrary, piggy men are not helpless “sex addicts,” nor do they do what they do for sexual pleasure (which I would bet they don’t get). But men have always used sexual expression as a way of demonstrating and enhancing their political, social, and economic power. By “seducing” as many women as they can, they convey to other men that they are omnipotent and dangerous. This form of expression has nothing to do with the woman involved; she is just a means, a conduit. Shows of sexual potency are man-to-man communication. Even if there is no actual other man in sight to intimidate, the communication has been made, if only to the man gazing back from the mirror. This kind of behavior, then, is not simply physical action, even though it is carried out physically. Rather, it is communication about who can do what to whom.

And as DSK and Arnold both demonstrate, the older such men get, and the physically weaker they become, the more essential it is for them to keep demonstrating their power. As their sexual potency and desire wane with age, it becomes more essential to them to engage in sexual expression to show that they are still in the competition.

(Think of Osama bin Laden’s porn stash and “natural Viagra” — clearly he had similar worries.)

So this behavior should not be read as an expression of strength and control. Rather, it is about fear and loss of control. It is not (as Nancy Gibbs suggests in the May 30 issue of Time) because “power… makes men crazy,” but rather because fear of being or appearing powerless makes men do crazy things.”

If such men deserve sympathy (as Barbara Walters suggested), it is because they are demonstrating their fears of aging, not because they are addicts who can’t control their lusts. They can control them; they choose not to, because they need to send their message. So dry your tears Barbara.

The moral: if you don’t like your public officials behaving this way here’s what to do:

Vote for women.

Cross-posted from Robin Lakoff’s blog at the Huffington Post.

Comments to “Why women aren’t pigs

  1. I totally agree with you. Actually, our history is laden with too much gender discrimination. Nowadays commercials exploit the female body to sell their products. They even use of the fear of aging as a catalyst for females to crave for their goods. More so there are few women were known to climb the corporate ladder because men dominate it.

  2. These comments — responses to Prof. Lakoff’s as-usual astute analysis of the male-as-sexist-pig uniqueness — seem rife with misogynist apologists. What’s up with that? Are we all such male lovers that we blindly “accept” piggish behavior among ADULTS as ok, since the behavior is behaved by…men? (Reminds me of the “ok if you’re white apologists” many Americans “put up” with because, after all, the piggish behavior was behaved by…whitey.) Amazing.

  3. Umm, did we forget to mention that many women use their sexuality to obtain favors, promotions, and other preferential treatment from men without coercion ? It is too bad that anyone uses sex for anything other than expressing love, but such misuse seems rampant regardless of gender. Also, your description of male sexual psychology is pretty primitive and incorrect, except as a caricature of moldy old stereotypes – and that, of course, is exactly what the Governator is – sad, but let’s not waste time feeling sorry for the women; they are victims of their own follies and foibles.

  4. “The moral: if you don’t like your public officials behaving this way here’s what to do:

    Vote for women.”

    Oh, you mean like the Governator’s housekeeper? Lol!

    Really, I don’t think it’s anyone’s business what other people do under the sheets, just as long as they are not hypocrites about it. And those who didn’t understand what the former Gov. was about is living in lala land.

  5. This article is garbage. The author is, if not outright lying, completely projecting her own needs and expectations on males.

    Powerful men are not ‘afraid of losing their status due to age and physical weakness’. That is a strictly female problem. High-status males KNOW they are high-status perfectly well, and frankly seldom need to compete for how many girls they can ‘peg’. That behavior usually ends after college. Thinking that that is what drives older men to seek out attractive younger women is sheer foolishness.

    The fact is, Older and high-status males have affairs with young, nubile women because they CAN. They are reaping the rewards of that status. Despite the ‘cougar’ myth, no man will have sex with an ugly, older woman when there is a younger, more attractive woman available. and the way young women nowadays practically throw themselves at any male with a modicum of status means that these men are constantly deluged with an endless cornucopia of young, nubile women. It’s like living in a chocolate factory… could you resist tasting the chocolate occasionally?

    So sure, vote women into power, and they will do exactly what this writer has projected onto her evaluation of male figures of authority… scrabble ceaselessly to maintain power, ruthlessly destroying anyone or anything that threatens her status. She may not be getting laid (who would want to have sex with a woman who is consumed by her career? no one with a brain.) but that is actually even more likely to make her moody and make stupid decisions. after all, she has been brought up by the ‘sex and the city’ generation and conditioned to believe that men desire women with status…patently untrue.

    so if you want your public officials to be ruled by their needs and emotions and insane desire to constantly prove their status here’s what you do:

    elect a woman.

    If you don’t want your public officials to act like studs in barnyard? start teaching your daughters to have some respect for themselves and stop chasing anyone with a modicum of power like a mare in heat.

  6. Why is this bigoted pseudoscience condoned in academia?

    Given this kind of anti-male sexism, it’s no surprise that situations like those at Duke and Hofstra occurred, and I guess there will be more similar situations in the future.

    I note Ms. Lakoff makes no mention of her fellow female educators for whom pedophilia is both a vocation and somewhat legally privileged compared to their male counterparts.

    Why are female educators so often child molesters?

  7. @morris: “Radical feminists will eventually have laws passed making it a felony to commit adultery.”

    Only if you’re a man. If you’re a woman, you’re just “liberating yourself from patriarchal oppression”.

  8. I can suggest another reason why powerful women are less ‘piggy’, as you put it. Women are highly attracted sexually to powerful men. Men are not highly attracted sexually to powerful women. Many women swoon over Barack Obama, but it’s a rare man indeed who finds Hillary Rodham Clinton sexy.

    The powerful men who are piggy are piggy because they can be.

  9. Excellent recommendation: “Vote for women.” That’s the only way that humanity will survive beyond this century, because men have put us in the crash and burn mode. Future generations deserve a better legacy from us.

    You only have to ask What If Hillary had been our president instead of sleazebag Bill? Then he wouldn’t have been able to drive America to the edge of the cliff that “W” drove us over.

    I most certainly hope the Obama and Hillary run as POTUS and VPOTUS in 2012.

    However, we must be on guard against the Palin type that looks like a woman but acts like a man.

  10. This article is rubbish, just think about the much talked about phenom of “cougers” older wealthier women sleeping with much younger men. There are many other examples, in the military nailing ones female CO is a badge of honor. I know the author wants to write a story that is linked to the DSK media frenzy, if only to have it appear a little higher up in the google lineup but this is just weak. Its the sort of thing that should appear as a blog on

  11. Fear and loss of control? Couldn’t these affairs also be about sex and having fun? And of course, it isn’t only powerful men who act “as pigs.” Other men do, too (about half of all men, a third of all women report having extra-marital affairs.) Might all the hoopla over the philandering of the powerful do much to make these men and women feel okay about their exploits?

  12. Radical feminists will eventually have laws passed making it a felony to commit adultery. DSK is suspected of being more than a rapist but also an adulterer, both crimes cannot be forgiven.

  13. Is there also a possibility that men may be more likely to accept sexual proposals by women than vice versa, and that it ultimately leads to less harassment issues that will be noticed by the media?

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