Adultery’s Double Standard

In 2007, Jezebel published a piece titled “Did Eat, Pray, Love Sell Millions Because Elizabeth Gilbert Cheated on Her Husband?” The piece hit the point I’m trying to make here, at least with the headline. Far from judging the female cheater, readers by the millions root for her. With the incessant headlines of guys behaving badly, the fact that the whole premise of a book could be about a woman behaving badly, admitting it openly, and then going on a grand spiritual journey to fix herself is a breath of fresh air. We skip right past the behaving badly part and suck up the escape fantasy as an elixir for all that is wrong with the world.

That, in a nutshell, is what pisses me off. It’s hypocritical and a double standard. What would happen if the genders were reversed? A guy cheats on his wife of six years because he just isn’t that into her anymore. His mistress is some much younger actress with eyes the size of saucers. But she dumps his ass eventually, setting him on a year of eating, praying, and loving as the solution to his sexual addiction.

Man isn’t the only gender that cheats. Last time I checked, heterosexual sex requires a man and a woman to work properly.

Just imagine, for instance, if Mark Sanford, the former governor of  South Carolina, decided to write a tell-all book about leaving his wife in favor of his South American mistress, including his trips to Argentina to enjoy the cultural delights and the food of the faraway land. That book might, in fact, sell—but not for the same reasons that Eat, Pray, Love spent 57 weeks atop The New York Times bestseller list. Mark Sanford as memoirist wouldn’t be celebrated as the guy who has reached into our collective souls and spoken to our deepest desires as men. No, Sanford would still be in the headlines as yet another example of manhood gone desperately wrong.


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. I get it. 
But the question remains: Does that make it right? Men aren’t the only ones who cheat. Many married women cheat, and any woman sleeping with a married man is, in my view, equally culpable. So again, why the beating of the drum about men-as-scumbags?

I’m not expecting our culture to stop obsessing over men’s infidelity anytime soon. But I would ask that you consider, for one moment, that we obsess about men being good, rather than bad, once in a while. The pass we give female adulterers—as a reaction to the implicit assumption that men are the real cheaters—is a sign of how far we have to go in that direction.


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About Tom Matlack

Thomas Matlack is a venture capitalist.


  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:


        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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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!!!!!!!


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