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