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?
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