It’s difficult to find a day that mistresses are not in the news. Today is no exception. NPR ran a story today about the problems rooting out corruption in Chinese politics, the bulk of which was about the problems of mistress culture. According to the story, the way to get dirt about the corruption of high-ranking Chinese politicos is to find scorned mistresses interested in revenge.
These Chinese mistresses – whose “public scandals” have “made for bad press” despite being a symptom rather than a cause of corruption, have been the subject of a number of news and human interest stories. Of course, they are not the first mistresses to attract attention (and blame) in politics – from Paula Broadwell to Julie Gayet, publics love good mistress stories. Political analysts also often cannot resist analyzing the ‘trouble’ caused by sexual politics (e.g., Dan Drezner’s discussion of “The Trouble with Dames in World Politics” and subsequent responses). Some call it news, I call it slut-shaming.
The ‘trouble’ that these Chinese ‘dames’ cause seems to be multi-dimensional, to read their press. The stories characterize them as only in it for the money, cold, disloyal, and ruthless. Rather than talking about them as victims of the sex industry, the stories emphasize that they are ‘players’ who make their own choices, including the choice of betrayal. Their customers, or keepers, on the other hand, are characterized as relatively helpless: ninety-five percent of elite Chinese politicians have illicit affairs and sixty percent keep mistresses, it is ‘required’ for them to demonstrate their masculinity. The mistresses, then, are characterized as a key part of corruption and a key reason that corrupt officials are likely to get caught. They characterized as the political equivalent of kryptonite to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on corruption – they are at once the corruption and the threat to take it down messily. The message to (Chinese) politically powerful men is clear: keeping it in your pants is key to political survival, and women can take you down.
In a world where fifty-something, wealthy, married, powerful men exploit poor, undereducated, teenage women for sex (and often abuse), … how did the woman become the perpetrators and the men the victims?