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.

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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?

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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?

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On the next page:

Women want revenge for perceived wrongs …

Pages: 1 2

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About Tom Matlack

Tom Matlack is the co-founder of The Good Men Project. He has a 18-year-old daughter and 16- and 7-year-old sons. His wife, Elena, is the love of his life. Follow him on Twitter @TMatlack.

Comments

  1. @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:

        Ritalin.

        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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

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

  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. 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.

  9. 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.

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

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

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