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Abstract

A rash of three political sex scandals within the span of less than two years, from 2012 to 2014, shook the New York State Assembly. All of the sex scandals involved male politicians accused of sexual harassment of female staffers and subordinates. This study investigates how New York State assemblywomen were impacted by the scandals of their male colleagues, exploring the “contagion” of scandals (Adut 2008). Interviews were conducted with eight assemblywomen in 2014, although all 33 assemblywomen serving in the legislature at the time of this research endeavor were invited to participate in a research interview. Findings indicate that assemblywomen felt compelled to defend their sullied institution, and that the private behavior of their scandal-tarnished male colleagues blemishes their reputations as well, even though they played no role in the scandalous events. This reinforces the notion of scandal as “contaminating,” and demonstrates that further exploration is needed in gendering scandal, where male bodies become a liability to the state, and female bodies assume the gendered characteristics of rational, stable and competent.

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