Women have long been unfairly assigned the role of gatekeepers of sexuality morality, a designation that makes them easy to blame when men fall short, said Occidental College professor of politics Caroline Heldman. “The onus should be on Petraeus,” she said. “He has a lot more to lose and he’s a lot more to blame in that breach.”

Instead, said Heldman, media coverage give “the impression that Broadwell’s the bad woman, the slut, manipulative and conniving, a climber.”

But Broadwell’s poise and leadership abilities impressed classmate Morra Aarons-Mele, founder of the digital marketing agency Women Online who attended graduate school at Harvard with her.

“She was so accomplished and beautiful, the kind of person you’d look at as a woman leader. I thought, Wow, that’s what I want to be like,” said Aarons-Mele, who added that the attacks on Broadwell—who in addition to being Petraeus’s biographer is a triathlete and a Harvard and West Point graduate—are “comfortable for us as a society,” a way of forgiving the general his sins.