A real-life Mrs. Robinson

A 60-year-old female politico in Northern Ireland admits an affair with a 19-year-old

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published January 12, 2010 12:47AM (EST)

Northern Ireland has its very own Mrs. Robinson. It has for some time now, actually, but only recently was it revealed that politician Iris Robinson shares more than just a last name with the iconic seductress in "The Graduate." The 60-year-old parliament member and wife of the province's top leader, Peter Robinson, admitted last week to having an affair with a much younger man -- and I use the word "man" loosely, because he was just 19 at the time. She's also accused of secretly securing an $80,000 loan for her boy-toy to open his own business. Now, her husband faces allegations that he knew about the loan but failed to report it, and he has temporarily stepped down as first minister while he attempts to clear his name.

This tale has all the usual elements of a political sex scandal -- namely, the younger lover and blatant hypocrisy. Not too long ago, Robinson publicly condemned the "abomination" of homosexuality from high atop her perch as a good, cross-wearing (and adulterous) Christian. (Show me a self-righteous politician with a taste for moralizing over other people's bedroom behavior and I'll show you someone with a secret, shame-filled sex life.) What makes this story different, of course, is that the adulterous politico is a woman, not a man.

We've seen women do the stand-by-your-man routine countless times before -- but, in this case, the cheated partner held his own press conference. Mrs. Robinson issued a statement through a spokesperson, while Mr. Robinson invited reporters into his home for an intimate chat about his wife's infidelity. He verged on tears, but he owned his own story. Meanwhile, Mrs. Robinson -- who admitted in her statement that she tried to kill herself after the affair was revealed to her husband -- checked herself into a hospital for psychiatric treatment. Famous male philanderers have routinely sought out treatment of some sort, but there are noteworthy differences here -- like the suicide attempt, which casts her hospital stay in a different light (the florescent glow of, say, a mental institution as opposed to the sunny environ of a luxury rehab facility).

I could perform a lengthy exegesis of this scandal as contrasted with those of high-profile male cheaters, but, ultimately, this isn't about sex differences so much as it is about similarities: Clearly, women are fully capable of screwing up their families and careers with tawdry sex scandals, too. Go, humanity.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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