05.22.11

8 Tips for Men in Power—and In Lust

Arnold Schwarzenegger's affair and Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s alleged sexual assault of a maid show men need to talk to each other about how to treat women. Daniel Mulhern, a former first husband of Michigan, offers eight tips on getting the conversation started.

Women talk to each other. And to men, as Michelle Cottle has in her hilariously painful list of seven basic tips for “horny” politicians. One of men’s biggest problems—in a post-John Wayne world, where it matters to be able to express yourself—is that we don’t talk to each other enough. So, rather than accept Ms. Cottle’s admittedly cynical “tips,” as the last word, I suggest eight tips as conversation starters among men and about men:

1. Get a new definition of strength. Hint: it’s not in our pants. Men have embraced an age-old job of protecting, making things safe. And too many of us are failing at that. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and John Edwards dealt extraordinary pain—to their victims, wives, children, and the institutions they were supposed to be guiding. Men should not be expected to be perfect, but men who want to lead us should protect the innocent, starting in their own homes and their own work cultures.

2. Don’t kid yourself: nothing is private. Since Gary Hart said “follow me” and Julian Assange said, “OK, we will,” nothing is off limits. Even for everyday leaders, the texts, cybertalk, and cellphone photos can live forever.

3. Talk to your boys—godsons, little brothers, etc.—about sex and relationships. We teach best what we most need to learn. Unfortunately, we don’t have a coherent message right now. So we need to invent it. It’s not some old-fashioned Puritanical-Catholic “hairy palms if you masturbate” pablum; but neither is it: “I cheat on your mom, and you’ll cheat on your wife. Just don’t get caught.” So, what do we say? How do we balance the ideals and the realities? Men used to have a code, which they handed on to their sons and daughters. They shared values that work. What do we tell our boys that we think, feel, or do when our eyes and imaginations wander?

4. Change the way you talk to “your boys,” “the fellas,” “your homies” about sex. It’s past time to abandon the “me and my boys” approach, as if we stand opposed to feminists or women. It’s pitiful when “strong” men like Arnold exploit poor, young, or weak women. It’s arguably worse when men circle the wagons, e.g., on male blogs full of men saying “it takes two to tango.” (As Michigan’s Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson tweeted in response to my indignant tweets about Arnold.) Why is it mainly women who have to tell us this behavior is reprehensible? Why aren't we asking ourselves to live to a standard of decency?

5. Talk to our women—about our emotional needs, about variety, and making love new. I have to believe that some part of strong men’s wandering is that they are not getting what they want in a relationship. (And I know from experience that the life of a governor is one of enormous pressure, where there is little energy left for relationship. But running away to prostitute or maid is a weak substitute.) I suspect my male experience is not unusual: it’s hard to talk about emotional/sexual needs; hard to realize that you’re even missing something; hard to humble yourself to ask for something. But if she doesn’t know what you want, how is she expected to give you what you need?

6. TALK to somebody if the wanderlust sets in. The stakes are so high. Talk to a friend, a chief of staff, a counselor, a brother, a grounded minister or priest. I suspect that none of these meltdown-men had a serious conversation about the temptation to indulge in high-risk behavior.

It’s pitiful when “strong” men like Arnold exploit poor, young, or weak women. It’s arguably worse when men circle the wagons

7. Watch out for the suck-ups. People who want to please you no matter what are not going to serve you well.

8. Use your ego. Don’t get used by it. Think about your legacy. You wanna be John Ensign or Bill Clinton? Have the principles you stood for, or all the good you did, eclipsed in people’s minds by your dalliance with an intern or an aide? Do you really want your kids to learn from their mother, from a newspaper, or from their "friends" on Facebook that you've taken a major fall?

If we don’t start to talk to each other more maturely about this topic, then maybe my wife really was right when she tweeted: maybe we need more female governors!

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Daniel Mulhern has written two books on leadership and writes a weekly e-column on leadership in business, politics and family called Reading for Leading (subscribe at danmulhern.com). He teaches at the Haas School of Business and Boalt Law School at the University of California Berkeley.