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updated 7/25/2013 9:47:07 PM ET 2013-07-26T01:47:07

Are women forgiven for sex scandals the same way men are?

Following the news of Anthony Weiner’s explicit text message exchange with 23-year-old Sydney Leathers, the conversation dominating mainstream media has centered around the former lawmaker’s political future.

On Thursday night’s All In, Chris Hayes addressed another side of political sex scandals: “While we all talk about whether Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer can redeem themselves and re-claim their careers, we don’t think in the same terms about whether the women involved in their indiscretions will get a chance to re-build their own lives.”

Are women forgiven for sex scandals the same way men are? Former sex worker Melissa Petro told Chris Hayes she thinks not. “We’re really portrayed as victims or villains. And any sort of complicated story that most of us have actually fits in between that. There’s little room inside society’s sexual imagination for those stories.” Petro insists, “we are branded by these experiences.”

MSNBC’s Krystal Ball agreed with Petro on All In: ”As soon as you turn a woman into a whore, you undermine her credibility.”

Video: The gender divide on sexuality

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    >>> we're talking about how men are often given second chances in society when it comes to sandals involving sex and how women are rarely afforded that same opportunity. even when there was, well, in the case of anthony weiner , no actual sex involved. my two guests have firsthand experience with this. krystal ball "the cycle." she returns from maternity leave on monday. we're joined by writer and educator melissa petro. krystal , i didn't know about this story.

    >> really? i'm glad.

    >> it was lodged in the back of my head. that's exactly the thing. you succeeded in bumping that off the front page of your google results. for people who don't know, what went down?

    >> i was the democratic nominee for congress in the first district of virginia in 2010 . not the best time to run as a democrat, anyway, but i was very serious campaign, raised over $1 million. it was a long shot to start with, but, you know, really proud of what i did to establish a serious and credible campaign. and about a month away from election day , a right wing blogger released these pictures of me at a party, fully clothed with the standard red solo cup that we all know so well.

    >> i've been there.

    >> in some fairly sort of provocative poses with actually my at the time husband. overage, no drugs.

    >> they're not that provocative. they're sort of tongue in cheek and jokee.

    >> it was a costume party . and the thing went crazcrazy. within days i was once of the most googled things on the internet. it was just absurd. my whole campaign became about this particular thing. and the advice that i got from, actually, the women 's campaign fund, which is an organization, bipartisan, that promotes women seeking office, was to address it directly. call it out for being sexist and then pivot back to the campaign. and that, in fact, was the best advice. because once you say this is a bunch of bull, people go, you're right, this is a bunch of bull. but they need to hear that first.

    >> so here's my question.

    >> yeah.

    >> we don't do -- i think about monica lewinsky right now who just turned 40 and there was all these headlines about her. it's like, she was 22 when that thing happened and that name is attached to this tiny sliver of her life. bill clinton , way the by, it's no his obit, but there's a lot of other stuff in there.

    >> right.

    >> my question is, i feel like the way we handle a scandal like the one that's happening right now makes things worse because the impulse through shame is then used in the case of your situation, in the case of your situation, which are very different, but in both cases, right, there's this kind of public shaming that fwoez on.

    >> yeah.

    >> and when that is done, women are always going to end up with the worst par of that.

    >> absolutely. well, and this is an old technique because as soon as you sort of turn a woman into a whore, you undermine her credibility so this is something that's done intentionally to women and you will note that it's hard to make an equivalence how would the press or society treat a female in the position of anthony weiner ? we haven't had a female politician go close to the sort of sex scandals we've seen from men. the public cannot handle any sort of sexuality in female politicians and females in sort of high positions of any field.

    >> do you think that's true?

    >> absolutely. i just wanted to add to that, any woman who presents herself as a sexual being which all people are can't necessarily be turned into a quote/unquote whore. that's our impulse.

    >> rebecca chaser, who's been on the show, was citing a book, reports, janet granholm, getting advice to take herself off her own political ads because she was too attractive and it was actually -- and they were running focus groups and they were running polling and it was doing -- it was triggering some part in the male voter that was mutually exclusive with taking her seriously as an authoritative --

    >> do you ever despair for your gender? just looking at some of these stories.

    >> all the time. consistently and constantly.

    >> there is this double bind. god forbid you be ugly as a female politician or public person .

    >> and what i've been thinking about today because of the revelation of the woman who was on the other side of these texts. again, i don't want to rob her, she chose to gave these texts and has now chosen to come forward. i don't know how much that was coerced. there was this piece in the "times" when anthony weiner launched the mayoral race about the women on the other side of the first go-round of this. they had a brutal terrible time. conservative minded colleagues sought to have one of the women fired. the press lined up outside of her house and showed up at the casino where she worked causing her to miss work for weeks. she drank heavy amounts of alcohol, a habit that persists. i obsess about it, she said, every day.

    >> and for her there is no redemption. there is no public apology to her. that's it. that's all the public knows of her. that's how they've defined her in that place.

    >> what do you think would happen, to game this out? there's a great film called "the contender" in 2000 which was all about a vice presidential candidate and female politician possibly having a sex tape . and it's a great movie. i'd recommend people see it. what would happen if something, if we, for a second, play the thought experiment of anthony weiner as a female member of congress?

    >> you know, partly i think it would depend on the circumstances of the sex tape .

    >> obviously.

    >> and how the woman responded to it. because i do think the response is key. if you point out the fact that the response would be different if it was a man, that's helpful, but i do still think we are at a place where the public cannot accept --

    >> they would --

    >> the sexuality.

    >> let me end the suspense in my own thought experiment . no chance they ever come back again, ever, absolutely.

    >> i just want to say that the way krystal ball handled your situation was so eloquent and inspiring and really the direction we need to go in that women can be both sexual beings and fit for serious public service . and hopefully we'll, someday, be ready for that.

    >> i think it's going to change.

    >> the other thing i would say, the sum total of their being is not any one individual moment of something that is embarrassing. that, you know, that doesn't make, or even not embarrassing. just sexual in nature, right? that's not the sum total of who a person is. which, of course, is the argument a man like eliot spitzer , anthony weiner , bill clinton have made.

    >> they have the luxury to make it that others don't.

    >> i want to see a world in which that argument can be made on both sides of the gender divide . msnbc's krystal ball and writer melissa petro. "the rachel maddow

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