Rendell Gossip Unfair to Attractive Women

The former guv said that cheating rumors about him often unfairly targeted attractive women. Fast Eddie has a point

Back in July, in response to rumors that he was having an affair with a Commonwealth staffer, Ed Rendell told Philly Mag’s Robert Huber: “I do not have affairs with women. And it’s really unfair. It’s particularly unfair to attractive women. I should go out and find an unattractive woman to have an affair with.”

Buzz about whether the former guv engaged in extra-marital activity — with Kirstin Snow, his director of Commonwealth Media Services, with Bill DeWeese’s wife, with the prostitute who got Eliot Spitzer busted — kicked up again earlier this week when Rendell and his wife announced their separation. But, aside from this being, well, nobody’s business but their own and all speculation, Rendell was exactly right — it’s just not fair to attractive women, like Snow, who now gets to see her name in the media again, this time linked to the Rendells’ split.

“There are all these assumptions about what constitutes beauty to begin with, and then there are these double edges about how one conforms to a cultural ideal, and this is the kind of thing that gets played out,” explains Laura Levitt, who directs Temple University’s women’s studies program, adding that she hasn’t closely followed the Rendell story and does not know what Snow looks like. “The first target here is an attractive woman in the office. It’s often about white women, and they conform to some normative body type and often, they’re blond.”

Singling out Snow — or any woman — in this way is an indication of something larger and much more devious happening in our culture as a result of our insatiable appetite for scandalous stories that reinforce our female stereotypes.

“The desire to blame women for whatever goes wrong is great, and so our answers to why women are murdered and abused by men who they live with or are close to is always that the women somehow weren’t compliant or they started seeing somebody else, and this is now going to explain murder or abuse,” Levitt notes. “As if this is an answer to circulate as plausibility — stories to explain away violence or the end of a marriage — and they’re really dumb, but they are repeated all the time.”

Levitt says the repetition of stories that reaffirm stereotypes of women makes them acceptable, and that in our culture, we’re habituated to expect them — and perpetuate them. In other words, yakking about the former guv’s taste for “leggy blondes” doesn’t help the situation — or the women who work with him. The stereotypes are real, they affect women, and you don’t have to look far to find them.

Take the case of Debrahlee Lorenzana. She’s the Queens woman who filed suit against Citigroup, her former employer, back in June, stating that her superiors fired her because she was too sexy. Like Snow, Lorenzana is an accomplished, professional woman who also happens to be a single mother. Luckily, the careers of both seem to have remained undamaged, and both have taken their victimization in stride.

But still, I’ve got to hand it to Ed. He was right — it’s unfair, especially to attractive women. Good looks are no reason to bear the brunt of rumors or other abuses.