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.
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.