Trigger Warning: if you are one of those people who thinks people who spray paint the word “cheater” on cars, trash other personal property and try to humiliate their exes on social media are exhibiting appropriate adult behavior, (whatever the inciting incident), this article will trigger you.
I recently got involved in a Facebook thread discussion where I was amazed by the number of intelligent, seemingly evolved people who quite emphatically give this sort of behavior a pass when it comes to “cheating.” I think nowhere in our culture will you see a more flagrant display of our Puritanical roots than a discussion of infidelity.
The scarlet letter is alive and well in the United States of America, 2016.
Once upon a time even a whiff of this sort of scandal would derail a political campaign, but now we have two candidates for leader of the free world who have been touched by it—one as “perpetrator” and one as “victim.” And in what is a clear case of blaming the victim, liberal media be damned, it certainly feels like I hear a lot more about the fact that Hillary Clinton’s husband was unfaithful to her in the course of their long term marriage than the fact that the Republican nominee was unfaithful to all three of his wives (sorry, Melania…maybe his bragging was wishful thinking, but based on allegations, it’s more than likely this is something you actually have in common with Hillary).
In the interest of full disclosure, when I was on the dating scene myself I never understood the culture of “cheating” at all. My feeling was that if you are in relationship A) and are drawn to person B) and want to engage with them intimately, then relationship A) is already over.
I also particularly never understood, even in the context of marriage, the tactic of confronting the other woman/man (unless you have a personal relationship with her/him). Otherwise, this person owes you nothing and frankly you are just degrading yourself by engaging. Confront the person you had an agreement with if it gives you closure. But then, we’re moving on.
However, my point of view is not a popular one—the scarlet letter is our cultural norm.
Of course a marriage vow may or may not include a promise of fidelity, but those of us who believe it should always impose that standard on others, don’t we? We LOVE vilifying people who “cheat” and defending those who have been cheated on; remember “Team Jennifer”?
So the question we must ask is: why has this kind of support managed to elude Hillary Clinton? Why are we assigning her more blame for being cheated on then her opponent for cheating?
The Scarlet Letter is a morality tale which illustrates the double standard of how women are punished for infidelity more harshly than men; this ties back, of course, to the “original sin” of Eve’s disobedience.
Women have a much narrower parameter of “acceptable behaviors” than men, perhaps especially when it comes to relationships. If Hillary had divorced her husband for being unfaithful, there is no doubt that her status as a divorcee would have made her candidacy for the highest office in the land even more unlikely.
In other words, she was damned if she did, damned if she didn’t.
It is interesting to note, however, that there have been studies confirming a broad stereotype we seem to all accept: woman can tolerate sexual infidelity better than emotional infidelity and men are the opposite. So even in this way, Hillary conforms to the standard. I don’t think anyone believes her husband had some great intellectual or emotional connection to Gennifer Flowers.
I think it is important at this juncture to say that generally speaking, other people’s marriages are none of our damned business. Unless we suspect abuse? None of our damned business. We have no idea what agreements are in place and frankly, they are none of our damned business. In this sense, I could not care less about Donald Trump’s multiple marriages and enacted infidelity.
But when Donald Trump introduces the topic by inviting Bill Clinton’s alleged conquests to a debate? He opens the playing field and puts himself in the crosshairs. If he believes Bill’s behavior was wrong, he believes his own behavior was wrong. So what is his point? That they are both dogs? He can’t have it both ways.
As for Hillary (and Melania), they are both in partnership with powerful men and have chosen to remain so during challenging circumstances. And while I certainly believe it takes two to tango, women who choose to stay with errant partners may have much more complicated reasons than we understand. And they are none of our damned business.
But at this point in our political history, I would like the American voters to pick a narrative and stick with it, please. I don’t care if you think Donald and Bill are A-W-E-S-O-M-E for cheating on their spouses or awful, as long as you are consistent. Do you know what being inconsistent as far as moral application is called? Being HYPOCRITICAL.
As for Hillary—the woman “wronged”—the scarlet letter she seems to bear, as far as the American voter is concerned, is one of being inscrutable. Perhaps, not unlike Hester Prynne, it is her stoicism that we find so unacceptable. Real Housewives and shows of that ilk have made us feel entitled to be in on other people’s messy lives and ugly pain. In this sense, we may be more at home with Donald’s public displays of personal mess.
And as with Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter, people resent Hillary for not exposing the motives of her private heart and for conducting herself with dignity when we feel she should be more ashamed because of her husband’s conduct.
The politics of infidelity is a deck stacked against her, and she knows it.
And like all women, when we are vilified or oppressed by an unfair double standard, she knows she must persevere in spite of it.
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