Was White a victim of sexual politics, or a savvy player in a transactional economy? Even she doesn't seem sure
The velocity of political sex scandals these days is such that you can barely register the principals as they parade on and off the television set. It’s a weird form of mercy. But even if there’s no reason to pretend that Herman Cain matters anymore, it’s worth stopping for a moment and pondering the peculiar story of Ginger White — and what it tells us about transactional sex in our age.
It’s fitting that the most revelatory interview with White comes via Leslie Bennetts, who happens to be known both for getting celebrities to let their guard down (while at Vanity Fair) and for her exhortations for women not to leave the workforce (in her book “The Feminine Mistake”). And no, the major nugget isn’t that White says she thought about groceries while having sex with Cain. (Cain denies that the two had a sexual relationship.) It’s how lack of money made White feel powerless, and sex (which, yes, she didn’t much enjoy) proved the next best commodity. That made her miserable .
When White first came forward to allege a 13-year affair with Cain, she was described as a “businesswoman.” According to Bennetts, she was “a clerk at a transportation company” when she met Cain, then worked at an employment staffing agency, where she filed a racial and sexual harassment case that ended in a settlement, then ran an ultimately failed spinning studio. She is currently unemployed.
In television interviews and photographs her mouth is in a permanent downward curve, her eyebrows meeting in a worried peak. Last week, she told George Stephanopoulos, “This was not sex for cash.” She told Lawrence O’Donnell that ”it wasn’t a love affair. It was a sexual affair.” But speaking to Bennetts, it was all about money and power, and a little escape that eventually made her feel trapped.
White described at first “sporadic” gifts, then, in the last two and a half years, there was consistent financial help every month. “But I think every time he had sex with me, he was getting a lot more than I was getting.” She may have been wisely playing to her audience when she described her ultimate disillusionment with Cain, but she seems too hapless to be that calculating:
Initially it was exciting, but when I started knowing who he was, it became less and less fun. The more time I spent around him and the more trips we took, I started liking him less. He was very flirtatious with other women when we were out together and very chauvinistic at times. I would say something about corporate America or sexual harassment in the workplace, or something about men and women, and he would give me the impression that he thought the man was always right. When I got involved with a sexual harassment case, he said, ‘Are you sure you want to do that, because you’re going to lose your job.’ I said, ‘Yes, absolutely I do.’”
No wonder she came out of the gate saying she sympathized with the women who had accused Cain of sexual harassment and believed they had been demonized, or that she saw similarities between her consensual relationship with him and their unwanted workplace experiences. Her own sexual harassment claim taught her that “you have to have a perfect background, a perfect life, to get someone to believe it if you accuse a powerful man of something like this.” By most traditional metrics, White does not have a “perfect background” — she’s in financial trouble, she has been divorced three times, there was a libel suit against her. Of course, by now we know Cain doesn’t have a spotless past either, but even if he’s left the election under a cloud, he probably will not need gas money, as White did to get to the interview, any time soon.
How did she get to that point, from “working and making my own money in my 20s” and “I never thought I would have to ask a man for money”? Some combination, perhaps, of single motherhood and divorce, or poor financial judgment, the economy — and the perils of being too pretty. “In my world, women are treated as if they were a piece of meat. The shorter your skirt was and the prettier you were, the more they wanted you in front of the client. You’d go home and feel like, ‘I couldn’t take enough showers to wash this filth off me.’” But she also said that she didn’t always resist: “When I was having trouble making a payment on something, there was this powerful man saying, ‘I’ll help you out.’”
Herman Cain wasn’t the first man to do so, she told Bennetts. It “started becoming a game … It makes you a bit cold. You have to be just as clever as they are, just as cold as they are, just as calculating as they are — and sometimes beat them at their own game.” She claimed she wanted to start a fitness business because men wouldn’t look at her and she could make other women feel beautiful at the same time. She seemed unsure if she wanted to cast herself as a victim or a gamer of a system in which female beauty is a blessing and a curse. She was probably both.
Irin Carmon is a staff writer for Salon. Follow her on Twitter at @irincarmon or email her at email@example.com. More Irin Carmon.
More Related Stories
- I'm not achieving my dreams!
- The most popular Tumblr porn
- Slave descendants seek equal rights from Cherokee Nation
- Snapchat is secretly storing your photos
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
- Facebook's hate speech problem
- Rand Paul: Congress should apologize to Apple, not the other way around
- When my home was destroyed
- Okla. mother's tearful reunion with her 8-year-old son
- New campaign compares gun control to anti-LGBT discrimination
- Study: Salt Lake City is gay parenting capital of the U.S.
- You are less beautiful than you think
- "Ghetto" tour lets you gawk at New York's poor
- Teen activist to meet with Abercrombie CEO
- Watch: Family emerges from storm shelter after tornado
- Okla. tornado survivor reunited with dog trapped in rubble live on camera
- My miscarriages made me question being pro-choice
- Why I tried to be a punk
- I'm terrified of the cicada onslaught
- Limbaugh: No one willing to impeach the first black president
- SAT's right answers are all wrong
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11