Time for a Speak-Out

Mark Sherman says it’s time for men to stop feigning shock and outrage when a famous man is accused of adultery—and even take the next bold step. 

Please note: The following is meant to be a tongue-in-cheek look at an undeniably difficult problem. It’s a kind of “modest proposal” for dealing with a clearly painful issue that has become a staple of the modern media’s constant focus on celebrities, but one that has personal ramifications for many of us. Please keep in mind that whatever truths it may contain, it is ultimately intended to be humorous!

How many have there been, in just the last 25 years?  Let me just mention just the few that I can remember: Bill Clinton and Bill Cosby in the late 1990s; Elliott Spitzer and John Edwards in 2008; Mark Sanford and Tiger Woods in 2009; and, most recently, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

What have all these men had in common? One or more of the following: power, talent, fame, charisma, and—every one of them—a wife who was left very upset over their infidelities.

Some of these guys may have not had unblemished reputations prior to the revelations about their straying, but at least three of them—Bill Cosby, John Edwards, and Tiger Woods—had seemed to be paragons of virtue. “How could they do it?” we—well many of us, anyhow—asked ourselves.

I still remember the shock when Cosby admitted his liaison, after being confronted by a woman claiming she was his illegitimate daughter. After all, this was Bill Cosby—brilliant comic, educator, and star one of the finest TV shows of the 1980s, a show that, along with its wonderful humor, promoted good parenting, and included a solid relationship between Cosby’s Cliff Huxtable and his wife, Clair.

On the other hand, right from Day 1 of his presidential campaign in 1992, rumors about Bill Clinton circulated widely (remember Gennifer Flowers?), and in 1998, with Monica Lewinsky, the dam broke—so to speak. But Cosby? Woods? Edwards?

Well, yes.

And these revelations should never surprise us. After all, it is typically the bright, talented, kind, funny, high-achieving men who are most “at risk.” If a woman marries a man because he is highly desirable, that means she is not the only woman who desires him. And sexual interest from a woman is very hard for men to resist.

So to rephrase the words of an old popular song, “If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, be an uncharismatic man’s wife.”

Keep in mind that in many of these kinds of cases men do not admit their liaisons until the women involved come forward and accuse them (actually, I don’t remember Clinton ever formally admitting anything about Gennifer Flowers, but then again, he didn’t inhale either). And that’s got to send some fear and trembling into the hearts of the millions (worldwide, possibly billions) of married men who have strayed. Guys can be pretty sure that if they even begin to achieve some kind of fame and/or fortune, a woman is going to come out of the woodwork and say, “Hey, remember me?”

Looked at in a certain way, this media frenzy over famous men’s infidelities is just another escalation in the ever more bitter war between the sexes. They say that hell hath no fury like a woman spurned (or is it scorned?), and women all know that it is very embarrassing to a man to accuse him publicly of violating one of the Ten Commandments. Let’s face it, no one likes to be caught violating a Commandment. It really does not look good on your résumé.

As for the “other woman,” it’s much harder to be angry at her. She is typically younger than the man, and while he may be a president, governor, athlete, or entertainer, she is a virtual unknown, usually scraping by to make ends meet. So women know that in their attempt to bring the entire male population to its knees, this is a very strong weapon indeed.

Well, guys, it’s time to be honest! Are we going to just let Clinton, Spitzer, Cosby, and Woods swing in the breeze, relieved that everyone was paying attention to them so they didn’t notice us? Are we going to join the finger-pointing and feign incredulity at the indiscretions of our brothers? Or are we ready to do the unthinkable, and confess that we too have strayed?

Yes, that’s right, I am suggesting a national speak-out, where men of all races and all strata of society will come together as one and say, “It’s not just the much-loved Clinton, Cosby, and Woods. We, too, have done it. We’re not happy about it and we’re not proud of it. But we have done it.  Sadly, it’s who some of us are. And none of us were as bad as John Kennedy, and he has an airport named after him!”

Who is ready to take this bold step? Which man will come forward, without being publicly provoked, and say, “I’ve had enough. I’m sick and tired of living in fear. I confess.”?

Think of the relief, the oneness men will feel when someone somewhere says, “I surrender. I’m not perfect. I’m not a saint. I’m just a flesh-and-blood man.”

Then millions of other men can rally round this brave soul—and he’ll need those millions of guys to protect him from his wife—and finally, for once and for all be able to drop their feeling of shame when they realize that they are not alone. For solidarity, even those—it’s gotta be at least several hundred thousand—married American men who haven’t once played around can say, “I’ve done it too.”

Ultimately, this will also be benefit women. They will realize there’s nothing wrong with them. As usual, there’s something wrong with us guys. So perhaps some day women as well as men will celebrate that great day when a man willingly stepped forward and said, “Yes, there was this time ten years ago…”

So who will it be?

It won’t be me, of course, but who will it be?

This piece is an updated version of one that appeared on Mark’s Psychology Today blog

About Mark Sherman

Mark Sherman is editor of the Boys Initiative blog (www.theboysinitiative.wordpress.com), and also writes one for Psychology Today (Real Men Don’t Write Blogs). He received his Ph.D. in psychology at Harvard, and has taught, researched, and written on gender issues since coauthoring Afterplay: A Key to Intimacy in 1979. Having three sons and four grandsons, he is especially interested in how boys and young men are doing both in and outside of school.


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  3. I don’t know any man feigning shock and outrage over the Petraeus affair. Most guys understand why he did it and realize they’d do the same if their wives looked like his wife and they had access to younger, more attractive women. And besides, it’s not like women are speaking out against the homewrecker—after all, they know what it’s like to married to a boring man and longing/fantasizing about a sexual relationship with a more masculine, alpha-male type.

    People will be people. There is nothing to see here or “speak out” about.

  4. Hank Vandeburgh says:

    I did it. I liked it. It served a purpose. And I’m not doing it now. I’m not going to follow the whole script on this. But it IS a good idea for us all top tell.

  5. wellokaythen says:

    Perhaps this will lead to a re-examination of what marriage and monogamy actually mean in practice, and whether we are being realistic about how we expect people to behave.

    Somehow, other famous men have affairs, and it has no impact on their reputation whatsoever. Stephen Hawking left his wife to be with his nurse, with whom he was having an extramarital affair.

    Besides, I’m not so sure that these dalliances have always hurt these men’s long-term reputations. Isn’t JFK more of a hero because of these things than despite these things?…..

  6. Mark Sherman says:

    Thanks for your comment, but right at the outset I said this was meant to be
    humorous, and the line “As usual, there’s something wrong with us guys: was
    really said in that spirit. As a man with sons and grandsons, I am very
    pro-male, and really hate male-bashing.
    I was kidding around in this piece (even if there is some truth in it about some
    men’s proclivities).

  7. feminizm rulez bro! says:

    jesus, reading further into this article makes me cringe 🙁 how are these tidbits of wisdom pushing men forward?? the author offers us this beauty, “Ultimately, this will also be benefit women. They will realize there’s nothing wrong with them. As usual, there’s something wrong with us guys.” lovely, so with the media berating men any chance they get, this supposed bastion where men can feel safe does the same thing. i’m ashamed of this blog.

  8. feminizm rulez bro! says:

    again, more male apologists. all these sycophants on one website is overwhelming. this is all well and good, considering women initiate divorce an overwhelming amount of the time, and are actually 20% more adulterous than men are. time for women to “man up” and take responsibility?? not for these faux noble, chivalrous, benevolent neanderthals. the author is going to get a good pat on the head from his wife, he’s been a good boy!! maybe he’ll even get a treat 🙂 not bad writing for a cuckold.

    • I am always seeing comments about women initiating divorce more than men. Assuming it’s true (which it may be), it certainly doesn’t mean that all those men are stunned when their wives suddenly file for divorce. Usually, a woman files for divorce at a point when both parties know the relationship is over. Maybe there was infidelity (on either side). Maybe they are fighting constantly to the point they hate each other. Maybe the husband moved out and the wife eventually files divorce papers. It’s not like tens of thousands of men are out there begging their wives to stay in failed relationships. I don’t know, all I can go on is my own observation of dozens of couples I’ve seen go through divorces during my lifetime. Women just seem to be better at organizing themselves to see lawyers and file the paperwork, for whatever reason. The men are often relieved that she took the first step so they didn’t have to.

  9. I didn’t stray during my (admittedly brief) marriage, but that’s probably because I got that mistake out of my system a few years before, about a year into a previous relationship. I’m not sure if there’s a difference between serial philanderers and those who make a one time mistake, but I’ll tell you what, it was easily the worst thing I’ve done in my life and I haven’t even come close to that line since then.

    You also reminded me of two things — one is that in American culture we often place a premium on physical intimacy at the expense of emotional and intellectual connections. Meaning that if two people manage to stay sexually faithful in a 20 year marriage we applaud that, even if they spiritually, intellectually or emotionally terrorize each other. Having been on the other end of infidelity I can attest to that being MUCH more painful….though obviously the actual physical reality of cheating is painful too.

    The other is that, for all of the press and demonizing of men, I’m not sure women are any better about this. It’s hard to say because the availability and restraints when it comes to infidelity have certainly been different for women than men. I’m not a scholar in that area, and it’s not a can of worms I want to open, but like anything I do think it’s more complicated than the simple phrasing we hear regularly in books, TV, film…which reinforces ideas like “men cheat more often than women” and “men are serial philanderers due to biology, and women are the settle down type” etc… I’m just not sure it’s that simple, but I’m not really big on universal statements these days either, I can only say what I’m seeing.

    Also if you’re interested, I’ve got an idea for a start-up: infidelity admittance helmets. We could make millions.

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