Adultery’s Double Standard

Tom Matlack explores why we tolerate—and, in many cases, celebrate—when celebrity women cheat on their husbands.

When was the last time a woman got dragged through the mud for cheating?

Inductees to the men’s hall of shame include Tiger Woods, Jesse James, Charlie Sheen, Mark Sanford, John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, and any number of Republican congressmen who have an affinity for boys. But where are the gals expressing their sexuality in equally twisted ways? Do men have a complete monopoly on bad behavior, or do we just view female transgressions through a different lens?

I realize there are still countries were women who cheat on their husbands are sentenced to death by stoning, and that the religious myth of female virginity as a moral test has, in some quarters, persisted despite many advances in the fight for women’s equality. I’m not about to question the outrageously sexist assumptions and brutal realities that lead to the virginity myth and the stoning of female adulterers. But I do want to question the standard by which Americans judge adultery in popular culture.

In my personal life, I know of more women who have cheated on their husbands than men who have strayed. I’ve had to sit for hours with a close friend dealing with the shattering consequences of learning his wife had lied to him about an affair (and not for the first time). The women have their reasons, which include taking charge of the one thing (their bodies) that they can use to get back at a husband who they feel has wronged them. I don’t believe you can judge a marriage from the outside; all you can do is be a good friend to those you care about.


But still, I wonder: why do we have a national obsession with men’s infidelity? Is it some kind of backlash, a hidden gender war buried in our collective subconscious? I just don’t get it, and it’s beginning to piss me off.

LeAnn Rimes, Anne Heche, Tori Spelling, Jennifer Lopez … None of these women has been blackballed for her behavior. Does anyone care?

What follows is a list of just a few female celebs who have cheated: LeAnn Rimes reportedly cheated on her husband of seven years, Dean Sheremet cheated with married actor Eddie Cibrian. Tori Spelling cheated on her then-husband, Charlie Shanian, with Canadian actor Dean McDermott, who was also married. Anne Heche reportedly cheated on her then-girlfriend, Ellen DeGeneres, with a cameraman. (She later married that same cameraman and had his child.) Heche then supposedly cheated on him with and left him for her Men in Trees co-star, James Tupper. Jennifer Lopez supposedly began having an affair with Ben Affleck while she was still married to her former backup dancer. I won’t go through the list of switches that culminated in her current marriage to Marc Anthony.

But none of these women has been vilified for her behavior. Does anyone care?


There’s a book about a suburban woman in a six-year marriage to a nice fella—a marriage that just doesn’t feel right. She hits an existential, spiritual, and creative wall. She also meets and becomes infatuated with—to the point of addiction—a little eye candy.

I’m talking, of course, about Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, which started out with a modest, 30,000-copy hardcover printing and has gone on to sell more paperback copies than any memoir in recent memory.

“I moved right in with David after I left my husband,” Gilbert tells us at the start of the book. “He was—is—a gorgeous young man. A born New Yorker, an actor and writer, with those brown liquid-center Italian eyes that have always (have I already mentioned this?) unstitched me. Street-smart, independent, vegetarian, foulmouthed, spiritual, seductive. A rebel poet-Yogi from Yonkers. God’s own sexy rookie shortstop. Bigger than life. Bigger than big. Or at least he was to me.”

Man! No wonder they had to recruit James Franco for the role.

Gilbert goes on, talking about her sexual obsession in language that’s reminiscent of Tiger Woods’ first post-golf-club-to-the-head press conference.

The fact is, I had become addicted to David (in my defense, he had fostered this, being something of a “man-fatale”), and now that his attention was wavering, I was suffering the easily foreseeable consequences. Addiction is the hallmark of every infatuation-based love story. It all begins when the object of your adoration bestows upon you a heady, hallucinogenic dose of something you never even dare admit that you wanted—an emotional speedball, perhaps, of thunderous love and roiling excitement. Soon you start craving that intense attention, with the hungry obsession of any junkie. When the drug is withheld, you promptly turn sick, crazy, depleted (not to mention resentful of the dealer who encouraged this addiction in the first place but who now refuses to pony up the good stuff anymore—despite the fact that you know he has it hidden somewhere, goddamn it, because he used to give it to you for free). Next stage finds you skinny and shaking in a corner, certain only that you would sell your soul or rob your neighbors just to have that thing even one more time.

A few pages later, Gilbert sums up her sexual fixation: “David was catnip and kryptonite to me.” After that, the author takes us on a year of adventure and renewal, as the book’s subtitle—“One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia”—promises.

Let me get one thing straight here: I don’t blame or criticize Elizabeth Gilbert. She wrote a nice little confessional about being a cheater and trying to find herself by traveling the world. My own opinion of her writing (not great) is beside the point. The issue here is how this book—about female adultery and sexual addiction that turned into a shallow search for self—became a national bestseller. And we all give her a free pass about the premise (the cheating part). Or do we?


On the next page:

Women want revenge for perceived wrongs …

Pages: 1 2

About Tom Matlack

Thomas Matlack is a venture capitalist.


  1. handsomerandyblackladbrad1953 says:

    Demosthenes XXI,though I praise Winfrey for her giving voice to sexual abuse victims,of whom she is one,otherwise she’s like MOST black women,particularly the obese ones;she hates black men who aren’t TOTALLY p-whipped and would date/marry fat broads!!!!!!!

  2. handsomerandyblackladbrad1953 says:

    Can you imaging how I’d be treated in school today?I’m black,cover boy handsome (today at 61 as well as then),150-160 IQGENIUS LEVEL!!!!!-speak/comprehend English at 16.4 Grade Level-first-year
    university postgraduate level-totally un-athletic,small (then;today,I’m five-nine or thereabouts,205 lb.,boasting 181/4″ biceps,though I’m 20-25 lb. overweight),and into heavy metal and Country (yes,I’m BLACK!!!!!),plus preferring buxom blondes.Today,all my propensities get my “blackness” questioned;but about adultery,Woods’ cheating is viewed by many blacks as his lack of “racial consciousness” because he’s married and trysts only with white women.

  3. I’m sorry, but Kristen Stuart can prove your whole argument wrong.

  4. Good blog post. I absolutely love this site. Stick with it!

  5. I’m not wholly convinced of your point. The men who face the most scandal when they cheat are powerful politicians. We don’t have enough powerful female politicians to compare. I think movie stars get more of a pass partly because they are expected to misbehave and partly because we don’t vote for them. Celebrities like Tiger Woods, Jesse James, and Charlie Sheen are such extreme cheaters it’s impossible not to condemn their actions – and it makes for exciting stories.

    On the other hand, I think you have a point about Elizabeth Gilbert. In a guy her actions would be condemned and they probably should be for her too.

    You might want to read Pepper Shwartz’s book about her mid-life crisis and decision to get divorced and explore her own sexuality.

  6. The root of the issue you prompt tom, is religion. The false ideas of all religion to give a womb to every man is the destruction of the equality and/or any possible equality of the sexes. A real shame.

  7. As a parent of children with ADHD, including a DAUGHTER with ADHD, I take offense at the suggestions that boys are being over medicated.

    Yes, ADHD affects more boys than girls… Part of that is because it tends to present in girls in the form of impulsiveness and inattention, which gets far less attention than hyperactivity, it also tends to not need medication until the kid has a heavier load of school work.

    Ritalin is actually no where near as bad as many of the alternatives. Unfortunately the bad name Ritalin was given caused my ex-husband’s parents to tell the doctor not to give him that, and instead he was put on Dexedrine… which has far worse side effect, including aggression…

    When my daughter was presented with medication options, it was concerta (a long acting form of ritalin) and Straterra (not a stimulant). When the doctor described both medications, I chose Straterra. Prior to that appointment, I had no idea the medication existed. However, I had my daughter evaluated by a psychiatrist, rather than her pediatrician.

    ADHD is real, and my daughter has a mild form of it. To the point where she can probably go off medication within a few years. There are far more severe forms of it, and ritalin is a short acting drug that lasts not more than a few hours. If the child is not really ADHD, it will not help and will NOT calm the child down because it is a STIMULANT. Blaming perceived over-medication only does a disservice to those who really, truly do need the medication.

  8. Don’t forget Bridges of Madison County! Whores.

  9. I was disappointed with this article for failing to offer analysis. The author identified a trend (male cheaters being regarded more negatively than female cheaters) and offered some examples to support this trend. (I don’t know if I agree, but he did do his job as an author up to this point.) I was waiting for a hypothesis about WHY this might be true, and he failed to offer one. Very disappointing!

  10. Tom, in consideration of your article, you have to realize that many mainstream American women (not all) are products of the “Oprah Era.” Ms. Winfrey and her show absolved a lot of women for their wrongdoings on her show and as a result, she engendered a lot of false empowerment for a lot of things that should have been socially reprehensible; adultery being one of them.

    She promoted the idea that if a woman did something wrong especially to a man, it was because the man did something to deserve it. Actor Sasha Mitchell was falsely accused of domestic violence and spousal abuse by his then ex-wife. Oprah had the woman on her show and vilified Mitchell, causing him to lose his spot on the hit show “Step By Step,” and other movie contracts which were pending. When it was discovered that she made up the accusations from whole cloth, nothing was done. Oprah didn’t even offer to apologize to Mitchell, claiming that “he still probably deserved it.”

    Most recently, he recap show with Lorena Bobbit demonstrated her true colors as the two of them and the audience joked and lampooned the now, world famous castration attempt performed by Bobbit on her husband. Why don’t we have a show with that Arab fellow who threw acid in his wife’s face and see if we can get the audience to laugh about that too, eh?

    There is a whole generation of women raised on Winfrey’s misandry; absolving women of guilt for any wrongdoing enacted upon a man and framing such wrongdoing as “cathartic” and “empowering.”

    By the way, Tom…great article.

  11. Freemage says:

    This whole article can be answered by the “More feminism” article also currently active on this very site. The reasons for the double-standard in celebrity infidelity is, in large part, because we have a different set of standards for men and women. It seems biased against men at the top of the social scale simply because that’s not the whole picture. Let’s head down a few notches–watch a week’s worth of the Maury Povich show.

    Okay, wait–I won’t put you through that. Let me sum it up instead. The MPS has one major theme–infidelity. Couples come on, with one partner seeking to prove that the other is cheating on them. However, accusations against women and men are handled very, very differently, and in a very telling fashion.

    Men accused of cheating are almost always given a lie-detector test. Personally, I think the show way overhypes the accuracy of their polygraph, but set that aside for now. The point is, the guy is asked about cheating–both specific incidents (like “the time your wife found a pair of thong panties in the van”) and general (“Have you ever cheated on your wife with a woman she doesn’t know about?”). The truth/lie for each answer is then revealed by Maury in front of the audience. If the guy passes, the woman usually apologizes; if the guy fails, he usually storms off camera, or the woman goes running backstage to have a breakdown.

    Women, on the other hand, are almost never given a lie-detector test. Instead, their kids are given DNA tests, to establish the paternity. If the test comes back positive (proving the husband/boyfriend is the father), she’s invariably treated as if she were a man who’d passed the polygraph; likewise if the DNA test comes back negative. In other words, a man’s fidelity is important as a thing unto itself; a woman’s is important only to the extent that it entails her role as a life-support for her uterus. So long as she hasn’t been making babies outside the marriage, it’s just fine (or more to the point, not considered interesting) if she’s been making whoopie.

    This brings us to the heart of the matter. The old saw goes, “Women have sex to get married; men get married to have sex.” The marriage part there is derived from the ‘traditional male breadwinner’ role–it’s assumed that the guy is the primary financial supporter of the couple. So if he’s cheating on her with any other woman, he’s probably also giving that other woman financial rewards (gifts or other support, or even just paying prostitutes) that “belongs” to the wife as her part of the marriage pact. However, a woman who gives sex to another man (but does not bear any children by him) isn’t necessarily denying her role as her husband/boyfriend’s sex partner; so long as he’s not being ‘tricked’ into supporting another man’s kid, who cares?

    Now, if we follow that back up the social ladder to the celebrity sphere, we hit the level where the women are unlikely to get pregnant due to an affair (they have more power than non-celebs, which lets them insist on condom use, and can easily be using contraceptives themselves), or have ready access to the morning after pill or other, fairly simple abortion procedures if they do become pregnant. As a result, they are far, far less likely to be giving birth to a child that might not be their SO’s. Since that means that, by the Povich Standard, they cannot be ‘meaningfully’ unfaithful, the press gives them a pass.

    • Freemage says:

      Oh, and one other element–most celebrity gossip is driven by a handful of publications and websites. Until recently, almost all of these were marketed and targeted almost exclusively towards women (People Magazine, Nat’l Enquirer, etc). It’s one of the few media environments where there really is a preference to appeal to women (at least, to women in traditional roles within a patriarchal society). As such, women having an affair get the “New true love” line, while guys get accused of being philanderers. Most mainstream media, when talking about celebrities, take their cues from the tabloids, so they follow that lead. And the newer media (TMZ, I’m looking at you) tends to prefer to express disapproval of SINGLE women’s sexuality (see coverage of Spears, Hilton, et al).

    • Feminist institutions actively lobby for double standards, bigotry, and sexism against men. They are neither shy nor secretive about it.

    • Interesting analysis!

  12. Tom, I know I’m late to the party here and perry has hit all the good fastballs but something else to consider.

    adultery isn’t even looked at in divorce court the same between genders. If a man cheats, it can be a basis for dissolving the marriage and awarding more assets than a no fault divorce would allow. while female adultery, unless the children are present when it happens is not looked the same by judges. Judges and lawyers even argue in open court that female adultery is likely caused BY THE HUSBAND.

    The problem isn’t confined to celebrities and Oprah and The View. We need remove gender politics from everything. This is a mens rights deal or a womens rights deal, it’s human rights.

  13. @Tom Matlack

    You are begining to understand the energy that drives the MRM.

    I wonder if you have noticed that, before me, the MRM was completely absent from this discussion. The feminists are out in force, but the MRM did not bother to show up. Why is that? If MRM hate women so much, why are they completely absent from a juicy discussion where women can be shamed and dehumanized en masse?

    Answer: MRM have nothing against women. MRM have no interest in an opportunity to attack women as a gender. MRM have bigger fish to fry, like defending our children from feminist violence, especially feminist enforced substance abuse by boys.

    For anyone who doubted it, here is proof positive that the MRM beef is with feminism, NOT WOMEN. An opportunity to humiliate women as a gender is of no interest to us.

    • Freemage says:

      Actually, Ant, there’s been several MRAs on this very thread already. I counted about five on my way through the comments list. “Feminist enforced substance abuse by boys”? Bwuh?

      • typhonblue says:


        That stuff is toxic and it’s mostly given to boys. Who are being medicated because they don’t fit the ‘system’.

        The problems likely predate feminism, but they seem to be coming to a head now.

      • One consequence of the criminalization of masculinity is that parents are forced to dope their boys on Ritalin or other psychotropic drugs. This is done when threats and coercion fail to convince boys to act like girls. Methamphetamine like drugs are some of the heaviest weapons deployed by feminists in their war on boys.

        • This is another example of MRAs correctly identifying a problem (over-medicating children) but incorrectly identifying the causes — they just blame feminism for everything.

          Reality is much more complex than “us vs. them.”

        • I am loving this e-zine and pretty much agree with everything. And yes, being from outside the USA, I think that the USA media portray female adultery as some sort of good. I always wonder (in horror) if the portray of females as shown in TV series like “Sex and the city”, or worse “Desperate Housewives” has something to do with reality in that country. “Desperate Housewives” simply made adultery “good” when a woman did it, and “bad” when a man did it. Plus, all the women were basically hysterical and acted quite stupid, except for the working one who was a sort of executive, she was the only decent and competent of the lot. I always wonder if there’s truth in those shows, because if women in America think it’s proper to behave like those women did, USA certainly has an attitude and ethics problem. It’s like if American women felt entitled to everything without work.
          But this one criticism, “Ritalin is given because boys don’t behave like girls”… I don’t know what you do in your country, but I hate it when boys behaviour is justified with “Boys are adventurous by nature and the naturally tend to break the rules”. Behaving meekly and tolerating authority has been the way to educate both genders since the Industrial Revolution. No matter how much Roald Dahl or Winston Churchill hated their teachers’ authority, they had to be disciplined at school, and they had to obey orders, and no one would ever have said that it was girly behaviour. Nowadays, some people try to think that forcing kids to stay quiet and attentive at a class is somehow a brutal authoritarian torture that should be stopped, because kids aren’t wired to be attentive and polite.
          The facts is kids are taught to be attentive and polite. Of course, there must be cases of real natural hyperactivity. But I hate the facts that some parents are doing excuses. If your kid can’t stay quiet at any moment of the day, he probably can’t stay quiet in class. If he can stay quiet and focused for two hours while watching TV or playing with the XBox, but will disrupt his class and not pay attention to the teacher, surprise! Your kid isn’t hyperactive, he is just undisciplined and poorly educated. And no, it’s not because he’s a boy, but because he doesn’t want to listen to the teacher, for whatever reasons.
          What I mean here is that the soon epidemic of “hyperactivity” and other behavioural patterns that are solved with Ritalin are not only a question of feminism involvement. Whenever kids have needed to be educated, they had to shut the hell up, sit down and listen. And maybe the teacher’s crappy and doesn’t motivate them, but it means nothing. When I was a little girl, I had to pay attention at school and avoid disrupting the class, and not being motivated was not a reason, I was raised with some discipline.
          So, I don’t know which kind of behaviour demands the use of Ritalin… But I think it has to do more with a lack of proper education (the culture of self-discipline, hard-work and long-time earnings has been replaced by the stardom of Paris Hilton and the quick-profit culture), than with feminisms. Boys had always had to behave properly at school, they were required to show respect and obedience, and that didn’t stop Winston Churchill from becoming the man he came to be. I think the unrulyness that is being fought with drugs is a result of an improper ethical education. And I don’t think feminism is to blame for that.

      • I was put on Ritalin too when I was young. While I think that Ritalin is used (misused) to try to make children behave like adults, I’m don’t think its a feminist weapon.

  14. Whores! The whole lot of them!

  15. The problem with this article is that it compares public reaction to particularly outlandish examples of male infidelity to more mundane examples of female infidelity – Eliot Spitzer using hookers while in office and John Edwards knocking up his mistress while his wife is dying of cancer & trying to pass off the child as someone else’s – these guys were just INSANE. Politicians, including women and liberals, cannot get away with this in the U.S. This isn’t Italy.

    Then there’s Tiger Woods and his bottomless well of Vegas strippers, all of whom seemed quite happy to prolong the scandal by speaking to the media and Jesse James with a tattooed, porno-video making Neo-Nazi who also loved talking to the press.

    Charlie Sheen shouldn’t even be on this list – he’s not getting scrutinized for having affairs. He wasn’t even scrutinized for beating (or in one case, shooting) his girlfriends. He’s getting attention for his public drug-fueled manic episode. He’s like Mel Gibson – very little public condemnation for Gibson when he dumped his wife for his knocked-up Russian mistress. The outrage only came later due to other bad behavior (i.e. over the tapes of him yelling at the mistress, because he used racial slurs)

    You should have compared public anger to these women to public anger to male cheaters like Denzel Washington, Brad Pitt, David Beckham, David Boreanaz, etc. The situations are much more similar.

    By the way, adulterous women who have received the most public condemnation – see LeeAnn Rimes & Meg Ryan – had good girl images. And there are plenty of NFL & NBA players who have done the same as Tiger Woods. The difference is that they didn’t have that conservative, clean-cut image, so no one cares.

    The lesson here seems to be that if you are a famous man or woman who wants to cheat, but not get too much grief for it:

    1) Make sure your image is not based on you being moral, America’s sweetheart, a family man, the nice guy/girl next next door, etc. America loves to nail hypocrites. This is behind a lot of the glee at the downfall of cheating, “family-values” conservative politicians.

    2) Don’t work in a field with relatively conservative social standards (i.e. country music, politics) People have higher expectations.

    3) Avoid having affairs with sex workers (i.e. porno actresses, strippers, hookers)

    4) Stick with one lover at a time.

    5) Avoid cheating while your spouse is dying or pregnant. People will hate you.

  16. AmazonOllie says:

    “Tom Matlack explores why we tolerate—and, in many cases, celebrate—when celebrity woman cheat on their husbands.”

    You know, if the writer of this article does not know the difference between “Singular” and “Plural” nouns in the article title – then I will not waste my time reading the rest of this. Get your act together Editors.


  17. courtney says:

    It seems you’re overlooking the magnitude of the transgressions here. The Tiger Woods scandal involved, what, dozens of women? Jesse James had several women too. Charlie Sheen is just a total mess (and I’d argue he got more than his share of free passes when it comes to domestic violence). Mark Sanford left his whole state — let alone his wife — with no idea where he was so he could chase tail. John Edwards was running for president and supposedly caring for his sick wife. And Eliot Spitzer used taxpayer resources and got caught doing exactly what he used to bust people doing.

    By comparison, the women you cite seem to jump from one relationship to another, not multiples (okay, JLo may be an exception here). It doesn’t excuse the behavior but does give a different perspective than the guys.

  18. The men mentioned in the article cheated in particularly skank ways. That’s why they get drummed. Women cheat as much and are as selfish as men as far as all that goes, but they generally aren’t hiring prostitues (Spitzer) or sleeping with every checkout boy and adult film star they come across(aka Woods). Basically married women cheat in ways that are basic and boring. As soon as women at large are on an equal financial/power footing with men, rest assured they will use their resources and privilege to be every bit as skank as their compadres.

  19. Katherine says:

    “I realize that the popularity of Gilbert’s book is due to the fact that women want revenge for perceived wrongs. She did to the guys in her life what so many women have had to endure.”

    This comment makes me think that Mr. Matlack didn’t read the book that he’s using as an example. Most of the book doesn’t deal with either of the men mentioned or even sex or romance. (And when these men are brought up, there is no triumph, just pain.) The point of the book is finding yourself and being happy (through a one-year self-centered vacation). Mr. Matlack’s other points may be valid, but he undermines himself when he uses sources he hasn’t investigated.

  20. I find it hilarious you guys are all up in arms about a book like Eat, Pray, Love when book’s like Tucker Max’s “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” fly off the shelves just as fast. If we are talking sheer lack of moral center…


    Plus, who (save J.Lo) is even relevant on that list? I mean, I haven’t heard of them or they were already has-beens when the cheating occurred, that is probably more likely why it didn’t make headlines.

    Now if it was Angelina Jolie cheatin’ on Brad Pitt.

    • typhonblue says:

      So you’re saying the protagonist of ‘Eat, Love, Pray’ is morally equivalent to Tucker Max.

      Okay, I’m fine with that. Except that she wasn’t really portrayed as a amoral, selfish, hedonistic bastard. And, as far as I know, Tucker didn’t cheat on anyone and doesn’t hide his selfishness behind some sort of ‘spiritual quest’ so he is, actually, a rung above her morally.

  21. There is no double standard. These types of books are also written by men. Have you read “High Fidelity?” The book depressed me to no end because it described a guy cheating as some kind of totally normal reaction to the blandness of a relationship that he was actually responsible for…

  22. Jay Hammers says:

    Men are bad, women are good, and don’t you forget it!

  23. Id like to add one more thing. I didnt read Eat Pray Love, but I know that the crux of that story was a divorcee off to find herself and in her journey finds a new man. What that book is NOT about is the pain of an affair. On both sides. The pain is very real. She doesnt address that. Sure there are people who cheat just for the sex, but I would argue that affairs that have been caused because a partner fell in love with another are excrutiantingly painful, and hard decisions abound. AND, I would also argue, that MEN are more hard wired to give up that affair if they have kids, to keep the home life stable and to be a live-in dad, whereas women might, and this is a guess, leave because they know that all they lose is the man they no longer want, rather than lose their children and — potentially — their home. This doesnt mean that women in divorced situations are not worse off financially than when they were married. Some are, some arent. Im speaking in generalities.

    • Greg Penski says:

      I also think men feel they can stay in an unhappy marriage until the kids are grown-up because they can leave eventually and still find a new partner whereas a woman might leave an unhappy marriage for another partner earlier on, feeling that her chances for finding love again greatly diminish with her age.

  24. When you cloud it in “woman learns lesson, becomes a buddhist” I guess you get a free pass. Did you read the countepart to that book, written by a man? Drink, Play, $&@K?

    I dont recall the writer having an affair before breaking off her marriage. If so, I woner how her ex feels about having her affair turn her into a best seller, and with Julia Roberts playign the part of you. What a kick in the balls!

  25. David Wise says:

    Incidentally, good piece!

  26. David Wise says:

    Of course, there’s a double standard. The same as it ever was. Btw, I found Gilbert a very swallow person as depicted in the movie, which I enjoyed. ***½

  27. Good article Tom. The problem is that women are seen as the eternal victim. This results in female infidelity being seen as a blow against the patriarchy, while male infidelity is seen as yet another example of men oppressing women.

    The extract below is from an article written by Annie Lennox for international women’s day. What she has said below is blatantly wrong. This misinformation and blatant lying creates an environment where men can be vilified and discriminated against with impunity.

    “The statistics are sobering. Across the globe, gender-based violence causes more deaths and disabilities among women of child-bearing age than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. Even in the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo, it’s safer to be a soldier than a woman.
    Women do two-thirds of the world’s work for a paltry 10 per cent of the world’s income, and own just 1 per cent of the means of production.”

    I don’t know what she is meant by “Gender-based Violence” she did not define it or reference it. It cannot include war because that is mentioned in comparison. I haven’t got the stats in front of me, but this type of claim has been proven wildly false in the past.

    She did not say that in the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo it was safer to be a man than a woman. She said it was safer to be a soldier than a woman. I’m pretty sure it is safer to be a woman than a man there. (Hint, all the missing men are buried somewhere.)

    If women do two thirds of the world’s work, that means on average women do twice as much work as men- I don’t think so.

  28. Anonymous says:

    If a man cheats, he has to take full responsibility for his actions. He made choices, “it” didn’t “just happen.” Talking about what other people did takes no responsibility from him. Giving any attention to the bad things his mistress(es) did should not get him off the hook in any way.

    BUT, I think there’s plenty of blame to go around in cases where a woman gets involved with a man who she knows in married. Whatever Tiger Woods said to them, I’m guessing all those women knew he was married and they did it anyway. I didn’t take a full sampling of all media outlets, but I didn’t see a lot of media coverage about why women get involved with married men. Sure there was the “Rogue’s Gallery” list of his women-friends, but the subtext was usually “they’re weird, desperate women and bear no resemblance to women like you and me.”

    • Gloria Allred was appearing on …some tabloid show… representing the mistresses who wanted an apology from Tiger.

      You’ve come a long way baby…gutter.

  29. Anonymous says:

    I would add another wholesome example from American pop culture celebrity: good ol’ sweet Meg Ryan. I bring her up also because I kept thinking about the movie _Sleepless in Seattle_, a great romantic comedy, one of my favorites and an icon of rom/com pop culture. But, it always bothered me that basically the Meg Ryan character is having a secret emotional affair behind her live-in boyfriend’s back. No one is supposed to feel sorry for the boyfriend, no one ever stands up for him, he’s pretty much disposable. I seriously doubt that if the roles were reversed and Tom Hanks was the attached one that it would have been as well-loved a movie.

    • *Fictional character.* I wouldn’t get too mad about it. Not like there aren’t a million *fictional* men who cheat in the movies.

    • I see where you’re coming from about “Sleepless”, and I appreciate that they didn’t vilify the fiance in an attempt to justify her behavior. I felt sort of bad for Bill Pullman’s character, but I don’t think we’re supposed to because of the larger message of the movie: that there’s someone out there who’s perfect for you, and the person you’re with–however great–may not be that person. If that’s the case, and Meg Ryan’s character’s perfect person was Tom Hanks’ character, then Bill Pullman will find the perfect one for him and Ryan just moved out of the way. That’s how I took it, anyway.

      But the movie is also successful she didn’t have a sexual relationship with Hanks’ character prior to ending it the relationship with the fiance. If you get out of relationship because you’re unfullfilled or are looking for something else–I don’t think people have any real problem with that (which is why it was acceptable to audiences). People have a problem when people stay and lie and deceive their partner into thinking things are fine, when they’re not, and go off and cheat. The movie would not have been so well received if she had slept with Hanks’ character in the middle of it.

  30. Nice piece Tom,

    I cringe when I see respectable media outlets engaging in petty gossip. It’s also quite sad how Eat, Pray, Love has been so widely embraced by women to leave their families and find themselves.

    Need a laugh…look who’s #3 on the list:

  31. Amanda Hess has written a fantastic rebuttal here. It’s a complicated issue. We might not always vilify the wife cheating on her husband, but we certainly blame the ‘slut’ who lured the husband away from his wife:

    • Thanks for this, Stephanie…Amanda is a great writer, and so often says most of what I would want to say. She hits the nail on the head with this one.

    • I don’t think so, Hess ssys the exact opposite: the man, not the slut, is blamed for cheating on a good wife with a “bad girl”. The relevant dichotomy in that article is that between the woman slut and the man slut, and she says the male slut is dreamy.

      • typhonblue says:

        Who says male sluts are dreamy?


        If women want to end the male slut/female slut dichotomy then they need to start stigmatizing sluttiness in men. It’s as simple as that.

  32. Don’t forget Amy Grant – unrepentant and still doing gospel!

  33. kryptogal says:

    I think there’s a few things going on here.

    First, people tend to be more sympathetic to cheating when there’s some kind of narrative involving love rather than sex, or some explanation involving problems in the existing relationship.

    Tiger Woods and Charlie Sheen and Elliot Spitzer got blasted because it was clear in all those cases that the cheating was purely about the pursuit of extra-marital sex and nothing more. But in all the examples of women you gave, the cheating involved falling in love with and forming a long-term relationship with another man. And in fact, in cases where it is a man who does that, people are generally much more sympathetic (i.e Gavin Newsom, Brad Pitt). If we ever discover a female celebrity who has an otherwise happy marriage but is caught serially cheating with dozens of younger men on one-night stands — especially if she has young children — I guarantee you will see outrage akin to that in reaction to Tiger Woods.

    Second, I agree with you that in my social circle, I know of many more women who have cheated than men. It was the trigger for divorce in literally every divorce I personally know of. (As an aside, my theory on the reason for this is simply that married women have more direct and easy opportunities to cheat than men). And it’s also true that none of these women have become social pariahs. I think this is because people (including the cheating women themselves!) refuse to believe that women have a pure need for sex the way men do, so they always invent some narrative or explanation for WHY she cheated: her husband was neglectful, he didn’t make her feel attractive, he didn’t connect with her emotionally, etc.

    I have listened to many female acquaintances give me these so-called explanations for their affairs, when it’s perfectly obvious to me that the real reason they cheated is the same reason EVERYONE cheats: because sex with the same person over time is boring, and sex and romance with a new partner is incredibly hot and enticing and powerful. For everyone. But men admit this and women don’t, not even to themselves.

    Think about it this way: a married person meets someone new at a party and there’s instant chemistry, conversation that flows and sparkles effortlessly, and a static attraction between them. The married person goes home and is tormented by thoughts and dreams about this person. They think about that person while they’re having sex with their spouse. Their heart races and their pupils dilate when they see this person.

    Now how does a man interpret these feelings? He says to himself that he really really wants this new person and wants to have sex with her. How does a woman interpret the SAME EXACT sensations and feelings? She says to herself that she might be falling in love, that there might be something wrong with her relationship, that she might be “destined” to be with this new person. And she does so because she’s been taught by her culture that women don’t want to have sex with men who are not their husbands unless something is seriously wrong with the relationship, which is a lie.

    If our culture can stop lying about female sexuality and admit that women desire sexual novelty and get aroused by new flesh just like men do, then maybe we’ll start blaming women for cheating just like we blame men. But until then, we’ll always invent justifications and back stories absolving them of guilt.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      kryptogal standing ovation. really awesome comment.

      Here’s the thing. I don’t think the sex thing when it comes to men is what it really appears. Women do view things in terms of narrative, love, etc. Our culture tells men that it all about sex. Drilled into our heads by porn and sex trade and Madison Avenue by the time we are 15 (the age of me son). Sex is what matters.

      But men are human with compassion and narrative and story. It just gets all twisted up. Honestly that is the whole point of The Good Men Project. To untwist it.

      With any addict the thing you are addicted to–sex, booze, drugs–it’s about the thing itself but really its about the underlying causes that have nothing to do with the need to drink or drug or sex. Tiger Woods or Elliott Spitzer didn’t tell the narrative behind why they did what they did because they were not capable and the world sure didn’t want to hear it (in his own way I give Tiger some credit for trying). An addict knows that the thing they are using is killing them, that it’s a black hole that is sucking them down and the only way to go straight is to face the black hole in order to stop.

      I do have to take a bit of issue with you about your scenario of a man or woman falling in love with someone at a party. While I agree with you in principal, I actually think that marriage is about focusing on your spouse exclusively and not putting yourself in the situation where you fall in love with someone else even when things in your marriage are tough. Perhaps that is idealistic of me and a response to my own evolution in my thinking about what it means to be a good husband to me in particular. But I honestly think a good marriage involves devotion of a sort that doesn’t look for an easy out.

      What I have been surprised by is the number of women I know who don’t go through the calculus you describe. They cheat because its fun, because there is something missing in their marriage that they will never address, that they are horny and their husband is rich and too old to get it more than one in a blue moon. Honestly in each case, I feel compassion for both the husband and wife since they aren’t getting what they bargained for. But it just flies in the face of the public perception of it always being the guy’s fault if a wife cheats. Sometimes a wife cheats because a wife wants to. Not because its part of some love narrative. Sad but true. Just like the guys who do the same, that isn’t really an answer to anything of course. A hit of crack isn’t going to make you a millionaire, having an affair isn’t going to make you happily married.

      • kryptogal says:

        “While I agree with you in principal, I actually think that marriage is about focusing on your spouse exclusively and not putting yourself in the situation where you fall in love with someone else even when things in your marriage are tough.”

        I totally agree with you on that one! But in fact, it’s precisely because I know how *easy* it is for men AND women to fall in love/lust with others that my primary strategy is to avoid putting myself in those situations in the first place, and to focus on my partner. I think that unfortunately many women believe that just because they love their husband, that it means they’ll never lust after another man, and then it really hits them with a wallop when they do (which leaves them much more vulnerable to cheating). Being prepared and having a good defense is the best offense, I say. 😉

        Also, you’re absolutely right that men are taught NOT to create a narrative around love when it comes to lustful feelings, and to focus on the sexual aspect. Which leads to them being blamed more (and accepting blame) for cheating. I hadn’t thought of that, but it’s the flip side of my argument. Mark Sanford was an interesting outlier because he DID announce a “true love” narrative, and I think that did in fact earn him a lot of sympathy that he wouldn’t have otherwise received.

    • Stop chalking things up to “cultural messaging” people need to take responsibilities for their own actions. Stop giving people an automatic “out” for crappy behaviour.

      • She’s not giving people an “out.” She’s saying that people use different strategies to rationalize their behavior, and that those strategies often have a gendered component.

    • Carla Smith says:

      To Kryptogal from another woman… so very well said. Particularly the part about women lust for great sex, for some of the exact same reasons men do. Not to justify it but we are not so different. There are not enough labels to compartmentalize all the reasons people do what they do. Including the umpteen number of reasons people need to hang draw and quarter those who cheat. Those reasons themselves are very interesting.

    • Jeanette says:

      Totally agree with this comment! Women like sex too. It’s that simple. The only thing I’d correct is that new sex is not the only reason people cheat. I think there are women and, surprise!, men, who cheat because they are missing something emotional in the relationship or fall in love with someone else as in your examples, etc.

  34. I think that instead of blaming the media, we should blame the audience. The media is simply pandering to the audience.
    The audience being mostly females. Women are not going to vilify other women. They vilify men who perform such acts.
    Even here in the comments, the only people standing up for LeAnne Rimes are women. The vast majority of people who have read “Eat, Pray, Love” are women.
    Men get a bad rap because the media knows it is women buying the gossip rags, watching Oprah and Ellen and who spend their days discussing it ad-nauseum.
    The worst the media is guilty of is pandering to their audience.

  35. “I realize that the popularity of Gilbert’s book is due to the fact that women want revenge for perceived wrongs. She did to the guys in her life what so many women have had to endure.”

    The way it was written, it seems like women have it worse than men by the passage.
    That should have been followed up with a statement acknowledging that women are known to commit to having more adulterous affairs (infidelity, cheating, etc) than men. ‘…what so many women have had to endure?’ Obviously men have had and continue to endure worse.

    BTW, according to the CDC, women also initiate the majority of one-way domestic abuse attacks among homosexual couples.

  36. In the case of Tiger Woods and Charlie Sheen, don’t you think that the fact they are vilified has a lot to do with the sheer number of women they cheated with? Also, the fact that they have young kids (which none of the women you mentioned do)? Or even the fact that Charlie Sheen has a long history of violence against women? You are missing some variables that led to these men being tarred. Otherwise, it is pretty well accepted for both men and women to cheat if they can articulate why this was what they needed. My dad cheated, for example, because my mom was abusive–no one holds it against him because he was trying to keep the facade of a marriage together for us kids.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Agree that we should try to be careful to define serial monogamy, adultery and sex addiction. And agree that plenty of guys who are vilified are addicts first (to coke or sex or all the above). But there are plenty of men who have one relationship outside their marriage, like John Edwards or Mark Sanford, who are equally judged. Frankly I probably have more sympathy for the addicts. But that is because I am one, sober now for 15 years. When you drink or take drugs you are not in your right mind. Does not excuse anything. But just is its own category.

      • Jeanette says:

        But John Edwards and Mark Sanford are politicians. Now, I know that has nothing to do with their ability to govern, but that could be a variable that explains the discrepancy. If a woman politician cheated, it would be crazy news and she would probably be punished for it. Agree with you about sympathy for the addicts though.

      • Also, you should read some feminist objections to Eat, Pray, Love… I have to say that book was NOT well received in the several feminist communities, and was panned as “priv-lit”:

  37. Carla Smith says:

    It is so easy to judge. Relationships are complex personal growth journeys and two people with varying histories living lives bring dynamics that are only damaged by blazing media headlines and sensationalism. In my experience lives are unique of their own rights and grouping by gender merely skips over real life. “You have no right to judge anyone else, unless they live within their minds and hearts.” Orianna Fallacci. One of the hardest lessons to learn.

  38. Carla Smith says:

    By buying into the need to judge either way you buy into the right to be judged. Unless you live within a marriage, within the hearts and minds of those being vilified you have no right to judge. Lives are journeys of very individual personal growth, and often very painful ones at that. You have no idea of what came before or what comes after. The sensational makes unfortunate headlines. Media does an excellent job at promoting this particular circus and it does no one any favors. Perhaps it is media that should be a little more careful. What goes around, comes around.

    • With all due respect, that’s crap. I’ve never murdered anyone, and I’m guessing you never have either, and yet both of us, never having engaged in that particular behavior, are perfectly capable of judging it. It’s a logical fallacy to say that just because one has never engaged in a particular behavior one can not evaluate or judge it.

      • Carla Smith says:

        You are entitled to that opinion, Pilgrim. But where does it get you? You don’t know all the facts. I’m not saying it is right. Personally, I think it’s a personal failure with very hurtful consequences. But where does the judgment get you? Superiority? Feeling a little more sure of your own opinions? An “ah -ha”, they are not as great as everyone thought they were?” There’s a lot of negative energy that goes into vilifying and labelling and sterotyping, into allowing you to think that you have someone ‘all figured out”.

    • There it is. Blaming the media. I knew it had to come up eventually. The ultimate get out of jail free card.

      Stop. Blaming. The. Media. Seriously, just stop. The media didn’t make these millionaires cheat. But the millionaires did cheat, and they did so knowing full well the circus that would follow should they be found out. Yet they did it anyways. The blame (and the judgment) is deserved and it’s all on them.

      And if you want to blame someone for the coverage, blame the public. The media is only successful if people are reading. So if a story takes off like a bat out of hell, it’s because a multitude of people can’t get enough of it. If no one cared, the media wouldn’t print it. But people do care. So until they stop, this will continue. Hence it’s not the media’s fault, it’s OUR fault as consumers.

      But please, let’s stop passing the buck and blaming others for the messes we create.

      • Carla Smith says:

        No one is “blaming” the media. Quite literally, it is not until one accepts their own role in any sort of relationship breakdown that any growth at all will occur. And it’s not just millionaires who cheat. It’s just fun to watch them fall off the pedestal we put them on and that they played into completely. They don’t have my sympathy. So far to fall. But go ahead, blame and judge and vilify all you like if that makes you feel better.
        Yup… the public reads it and feeds the market. But those are moral editorial decisions based on garnering profits from gossip. Seems like there’s a lot of people with not much better to do than enjoy watching others fall.

        • Catullus says:

          Don’t make me laugh!! These lurid stories take very little time and effort to digest and titter over.

      • I like your take on things (Daddy Files). I do actually blame the media to a certain degree, but I agree that consumers are largely responsible. I don’t read/watch any of the media about celebrity affairs, ever, and it drives me nuts that I have to hear about them anyway (friends posting on facebook, for example). Commentary about double-standards about it are exempt of course. 🙂

        • I think that is the point the author is getting at: the media gives us what we want. The question is, why do we want to vilify one group of cheaters more than another? (If you accept his premise.)

    • Catullus says:

      Not only am I happy to be judged, I think ‘don’t judge’ is the apex of jejeune lunacy. What, I’m not supposed to have an opinion of Newt Gringrich because, gosh, we dare not impinge on complexities of personal history? I’m glad the media outed him as a cheater; just another side of him that’s scum.

  39. I haven’t watched Spelling’s show or read her books given that she’s basically glorifying her relationship with a man she cheated on her husband with. I support her right to be a dick by cheating – women don’t get a pass by dint of gender – but I choose not to entertain myself in it.

    There are celebrity men who cheat on their wives that aren’t vilified in the press, either. I don’t believe Tom Cruise was divorced when he hooked up with Nicole Kidman. Was the ink dry on Jim Carrey’s divorce papers before he was with Lauren Holly? Donald Trump continues to ride the waves of popularity. I don’t think it’s as out of whack as you are saying here.

  40. LeAnn Rimes gets crucified every single day for what she did both by the public and the media.You’d think she murdered someone and got away with it.It’s been exactly 2 years since her and Eddie Cibrian were caught on camera the first time,but people still act like it happened yesterday.She’s no different than anyone else.Yes,she deserves critisism for it,but it’s gotten way out of hand and it’s time for people to let it go.Seeing as her and Cibrian are about to get married,they’re clearly not going anywhere anytime soon.

    • Yeah, right.. says:

      Go tell that to Tiger Woods.

    • Catullus says:

      Rimes is in the wrong line of work, though. Country fans seem to cling to the idea they’re what’s left of the moral backbone in this country.It might be different if she were a rock singer.

      • I wonder if this gets at the question: people like an “oh, how the mighty have fallen” moment. Maybe we love to hate male cheaters more because we see them as having more privilege, so it’s more fun to feel superior to them?

  41. Infidelity is not the only area where there are double standards. We need look no further than areas of abuse, reproductive rights (prochoice, what a misnomer), custody and several areas of employment. Unfortunately in many instances equality is the furthest thing on the mind of many women. For if it was we would have to address many issues in relation to accountability and responsibility. Sadly, I dont see that happening anytime soon. The current trend of bashing all perceived slights that men have done to be fashionably correct in this day and age. One thing I do try to help correct this imbalance is to teach my daughter that if she wishes to be treated equally then she should hold herself equally responsible and accountable in these different areas. Great article by the way.

  42. As everyone in our society knows, when women cheat, they do so because they have been driven to as unfulfilled, abused victims whose emotional needs should have been met by some incommunicative lout who stupidly went out to do crazy things like provide for his partner and maybe their kids. Victimhood gives a woman license to screw around, dump a husband, dump a lover, pound her fists on the floor, go to Europe, and find spiritual completeness in an ashram and, later, with a swarthy Brazilian, if one his handy. All of life can be controlled through proper diet.

    Though this behavior is admired, most women—and men—will find this solution out of reach unless they are childless as they enter their mid-30s, having turned a deaf ear to any biological clock, and are able to persuade a publisher into a $150,000 book advance that will pay for the adventure.

    As everyone in our society knows, when men cheat they do so because they are predatory, lying scum whose only purpose in life is to bed evermore, younger, women. Testosterone robots, with a permanent hormonal imbalance, they have no emotional needs and even less freewill. No one has ever been able to explain how such men are able to find so many willing sexual partners; one rumor has it that there are only a handful of young women each sleeping with dozens and dozens of married men, and only doing so because these men swallow their wedding rings when they walk into bars or onto airplanes, thus deceiving their victims. But fear not, those sluts will unfairly age far faster than their male lovers and get their just desserts as new, younger, sluts willing to be bedded take their place. With careful planning, however, they’ll pitch a tell-all book deal and come up smelling like a slightly soiled, triumphant rose.

    When it comes time to dissolve the bonds of matrimony or domestic partnership, victims are awarded children, possessions, domicile, and a book contract.

    Predators get a kick in the ass, and since men neither read books nor watch morning talk shows—stupidly being off at work instead of hanging with Ellen or Oprah—no one gives a rat’s ass.

    • Perry, great comments. I wouldn’t have written my thoughts exactly this way, but you get to the heart of something I do think about often, and that is that I think women are forgiven for this behavior more readily because they more readily articulate how they got there. It may have happened, but I don’t recall hearing a male cheater talk about his unmet emotional and intellectual needs. It usually falls squarely in the realm of sexual needs, but I don’t buy it. I think both men and women stray when things are thing on both ends, and sometimes when they are extremely thin on one end. All to say I do not condone it in either case, but I do sympathize with whatever it is that keeps people from getting their needs met honestly with their current marriage partner.

      • Devonian says:

        “It may have happened, but I don’t recall hearing a male cheater talk about his unmet emotional and intellectual needs. It usually falls squarely in the realm of sexual needs, but I don’t buy it.”
        Of course, there’s a very good chance that “sexual needs” is just a societally-acceptable way (nay, pretty much THE acceptable one) for them to express that whole emotional needs thing.

        • Catullus says:

          Or it could just be that men and women find either their partners or monogamy or both to be inadequate (sorry,Elizabeth, I do buy it).

      • Whiskeyjack says:

        I can tell you that my, “…unmet emotional and intellectual needs,” were the main cause for my affair.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Thanks Perry, as usual you are way more articulate than I am. The real core of what I am saying, which you echo so well, is when a woman cheats its a guy’s fault and when a guy cheats, well, it’s the guy’s fault. I am not saying cheating is good or desirable. Honesty and loving relationships are. But if we are going to judge let’s do so independent of gender.

      • Catullus says:

        Missing from this and Pery and Elizabeth’s comments are how easily we pin two distinct attitudes on the respective genders. Deep down, we believe women see sex as relationship glue and men see sex as its own end. Think of the old joke of a husband who wants a quickie and the wife who demurs. Or cuddling; I don’t need to spell who is thought to be behind the desire for that. Combine that with the current chestnut that men are shallow while women are deep and it’s no surprise Anne Heche—who admitted she played at being gay in order to be cool– gets away with what Tiger Woods couldn’t.

    • Yes, yes, yes! I have hated this book just on its premise and author background alone. Thanks Perry!

  43. LeAnn Rimes hasn’t been vilified?

    Shape Magazine issued an apology to its readers for putting her on the cover, over a year after her relationship with Cibrian began, which began with “”Please know that our putting her on the cover was not meant to put a husband-stealer on a pedestal…”

    I haven’t read an article about her in years that doesn’t set her up as the Hester Prynne of my generation.

    • Calling her a “husband-stealer” suggests that the offence she committed was wronging another woman by “stealing” her husband, not wronging her own husband by cheating on him.


  1. […] year, Tom Matlack of the Good Men Project took objection to that. “When was the last time a woman got dragged through the mud for […]

  2. […] From Tiger Woods and Jesse James to LeAnn Rimes and Jennifer …Mar 11, 2011 … Most people cheat for the same reason: monogamy can be difficult and boring, and taboo sex with a new partner can be incredibly hot. […]

  3. […] year, Tom Matlack of the Good Men Project took objection to that. “When was the last time a woman got dragged through the mud for […]

  4. […] year, Tom Matlack of the Good Men Project took objection to that. “When was the last time a woman got dragged through the mud for […]

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