Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fault Lines

I'll make this quick. The subject admittedly deserves deeper thought and a much more analytical and articulate tone, but I just don't want to get too far into it.

I rarely like to generalize when it comes to the supposed differences between the sexes; it's so often the stuff of hack comics and the authors of mindless self-help books. But what I'm about to bring up we've witnessed far too often in our culture to simply dismiss as a few random coincidences.

Would somebody please explain to me why when a man cheats on his wife, women seem to come from out of nowhere to shout about how it's another example of men being untrustworthy pigs; to rally around the victim with words of encouragement that always go something like, "You don't deserve that, you can do better than him"; to link arms and stand in solidarity with their "girlfriend" -- but when a woman cheats on her husband, even serially and in a way that causes the maximum possible humiliation, the man is often expected to plumb the depths of his own soul to try to ascertain what he might've done wrong in the relationship that would lead to his wife feeling that she needed find love or sex outside the marriage?

I ask this because a quick skim of the blog posts popping up like rodents in a game of Whack-a-Mole over at the Huffington Post reveals that -- surprise, surprise -- a whole lot of women seem ready to dole out advice to poor Sandra Bullock these days. Granted, I don't know a damn thing about what did or didn't go on in the home of Bullock and her husband Jesse James, and yeah, I'm the first one to blame the hell out of James for what he did; it was reprehensible. But if the roles were reversed and it was discovered that she'd been the one rampaging through the bedrooms of half the city, would people -- women particularly -- have been as quick to come to his defense? And if a man dared to say to Jesse James, "Dude, fuck her -- you don't deserve that," wouldn't that person automatically be tagged as some kind of one-dimensional sexist ass for not digging deep and considering the reasons she might've strayed?

I get the impression that with women, there has to be an excuse -- with men, it's just the way things are, and maybe the male sex bears a lot of responsibility for stupidly perpetuating that ridiculous stereotype.

Now of course Bullock's a celebrity and therefore almost every rubbernecking fuckwit who's parasitically attached him or herself to that community feels like they have a stake in what happens to her -- like it's their God-given right to stick their nose into the whole sordid mess. And maybe it's simply a case of the person who's more famous being the one coddled; if James were the Oscar-winner and his wife had cheated, people might be rushing to his defense. But when it comes to the way men and women react to infidelity, the response we're seeing right now really does seem like a kind of macrocosm of the way a lot of cases like this go.

So again I ask -- why?


SteveR said...

Got an example of the woman-cheating, man-disrespected scenario, Chez?

Or do I need to ask?

Chez said...

Keeping this strictly impersonal and abstract. Call me curious.

L. said...

Today I've decided I side with Bullock. She may make loads of shitty movies, but I saw a picture of Jesse James in overalls and non-farmer grownups should not wear overalls. He loses.

But seriously, why does this behavior surprise you? The average person is well aware of the term 'misogyny', but how many people know what the male-hating equivalent is off the top of their heads? (It's misandry for the record.)

I understand that women get the short end of the stick on a lot of stuff, but when it comes to taking sides in emotional issues the pity/empathy typically goes to the woman. We're as a gender automatically assumed to be better parents and for some reason more moral beings without having to prove anything to anyone. It's not particularly fair.

Le Penseur said...

It is still deeply ingrained in our society to view women as the 'fairer sex' and the wife as the 'better half' in spite of numerous examples to the contrary.

Janiece said...

Beats me, dude. I happen to think crappy behavior is an equal opportunity endeavor for most folks, regardless of their gender. And I think the only generalization you can make about infidelity is that it typically doesn't happen in good relationships (regardless of which partner is cheating). The problem with the relationship may be that the cheater is an unrepentant douchebag, but there you go.

Alanna said...

The same way we see partisanship displayed with bravado on the House + Supreme Court floors...we see in defending the female sex when in wake of her infidelity.

We blame biological wiring for man's infidelity - "oh, it's just a matter of when, not if he will seek out newer, younger, better" - as opposed to women cheating; in which we automatically assume a woman's needs are more psychological than physical and therefore blame the man for not fulfilling his pre-ordained role as caregiver, protector, so on + so forth.

We rely on these excuses of biology as neat little compartmentalized justifications for behavior - when, in fact, they are just BS excuses most women use to convince themselves their infidelity is completely justified.

Society's acceptance of these norms will not change until we break the stereotypes; in particular the Hard-as-nails biological justification. Good luck to the next person who promulgates a day time talk show with the premise that infidelity is not biological but, perhaps, a societal construct.

Although, I'd support this person all the way.

DragonIV said...

Let's about, roles reversed over time. Rewind back a few decades, and the woman was to blame and the men had the support group.

It's a pendulum...eventually, it'll come to rest in the middle. But not in anyone's lifetime by my guess.

Chez said...

That made me smile, Janiece. It's a brilliant circular argument: Well, the problem with the relationship is that somebody's cheating.

Alanna said...

This subject hits too close to home, so I'll keep out of the remainder of the comments here -but @Janiece - I'd like to beg to differ.
I've seen (and experienced) cheating in what I would consider a "good relationship" (however you wish to define that).

Janiece said...

Chez, it made me smile, too. The answer, of course, is that if you don't want infidelity in your relationships, then don't be in a relationship with the type of unrepentant douchebag who cheats.


Chez said...

Actually, I'm willing to give Janiece's theory a bit of credence. A very long time ago I was in a relationship that I thought was terrific and therefore I couldn't figure out what led me to cheat. Turns out I was a selfish asshole. So yeah, there was a problem with the relationship.

Janiece said...

@Alanna, I won't pretend to know your situation or comment on it, but I would say if two partners agree that fidelity is a condition of the relationship, and one partner chooses to cheat, then I believe there's something fundamentally wrong with the relationship. YMMV, of course, but I've been on both sides of that fence, so my opinion is based on my own experience. As is yours.

Chez said...

Sorry, Janiece. I'd stop at "don't be in a relationship."

Janiece said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Janiece said...

We've already established that you're a cynic. Don't rub it in. :)

Anonymous said...

Fuck her, you didn't deserve that. Neither did the little one.

Deborah said...

I know plenty of women who cheat, and it's the providence of celebrities that their dalliances become the stuff of scandals. But - and I've been thinking hard about this - I'm not certain that I can come up with a female - who's made the tabs, that is - whose cheating was so...I don't know what to call it: Egregious? I mean...this is coming on the heels of the Tiger Woods scandal, too, and what a prolific cheater HE was! I guess what I'm saying is that, while women certainly do cheat, men seem to do it in such an incredibly high-profile way; i.e., with strippers, call girls, government money, etc. Am I generalizing, or oversimplifying? I'd be interested to hear if anyone has an example that contradicts this, because I really have tried to think of a woman whose cheating matched the scale of some of the men about whom we've recently heard.

AKB said...

My gut reaction, if we were to reverse the situation, says that women (in a very broad, general sense) would be perfectly happy to throw Sandra under a bus. Maybe they wouldn't form a support group for Jesse, but they sure as shit wouldn't mind taking a few verbal punches at Sandra if she was running around behind his back. You know, the whole stereotype of women being the first to drag another woman down at the first hint of scandal or poor judgment.

My thought is that maybe women just react to the women in these situations. If the woman is cheated on, they rally around her. If the woman is the cheater, they throw rocks at her. So to speak.

(don't know why I felt this post deserved to drag my out of my perpetual status as a lurker, but there you go. Love the blog, Chez)

Marsha said...

Janiece insists that if "one partner chooses to cheat, then I believe there's something fundamentally wrong with the relationship. "

Sometimes there is something wrong with the relationship, but I beg to disagree that this is always the case. No relationship is perfect. No husband is the perfect husband; no wife is the perfect wife. They all (relationship, husband, wife) have ups and downs, problems and issues, the need for give and take. But the commitment made between the two is supposed to help both get through the vagaries, ideally addressing problems between the two when they arise. This goes double when there are children involved!

Your statement indicates that if a husband cheats, it's at least partially the WIFE'S fault because if the relationship has something wrong with it, she bears some responsibility in fixing it! BULLSHIT! If he is unhappy in some way with the relationship he needs to speak up and say so, not continue to function normally and let her draw the conclusion that everything is OK or that he's just under stress from work and it will pass or [choose your own alternative].

Cheating is an action, a choice. Whoever cheats is at fault, not the spouse -- that person chose to not address whatever s/he thought was wrong in the relationship, deceive the spouse, and break the commitment of fidelity. It takes two to make a marriage but only one to destroy it.

Perhaps the problem is related to Chez's statement and the cheater has just begun channeling his/her inner asshole.

As far as the original question, I suggest that the double standard, still alive and well in this country, assumes that, if one spouse is cheating, it's the husband. (Statistically they are in the majority, though it seems that women are, unfortunately, catching up.) Therefore the "wronged" spouse is most likely the wife and she receives the sympathy and empathy benefit particularly if she's a public figure with whom women (especially) can empathize (Sandra, not Angelina). If she's just an everyday person, the assumption that the husband was the cheater is still there. How many men are willing to admit that their wife cheated on them? That would somehow translate into sexual terms (he wasn't "man enough" to keep her). Though the cheating is about far more than sex IMO.

Having seen many, many cases of both ways, my empathy is NOT with the cheater, but with the spouse. That is, if I can tell one from the other.

(Sorry for the lengthy post, but it hit a nerve.)

J. Dack said...

"Women need a reason to have sex. Men just need a place."

Sorry. Couldn't resist.

(My actual opinion is that of others: that we're equal-opportunity pricks regardless of gender but there is a double-standard just like with every other gender issue.)

Meredith said...

The answer to your question, "But if the roles were reversed and it was discovered that she'd been the one rampaging through the bedrooms of half the city, would people -- women particularly -- have been as quick to come to his defense?", at least from this woman's perspective, is a resounding YES. A cheater is a cheater is a cheater, regardless of the genitalia they possess. Unlike feeling an attraction to someone who is not your spouse, acting on those feelings can be controlled. Cheating is a choice, and it's a selfish, immature, disrepectful choice. Excusing one gender for making that choice is unacceptable.

I'm curious if there exist high-profile examples you're thinking of as the gender flip side to the Bullock/James coin?

lisa said...

I can only imagine why you have a vested interest in this subject.

Alanna said...

I always thought the Kate Hudson/Chris Robinson split was due to her infidelity. But that's speculation.

I grew up in a household where my mother cheated on my father (with his best friend, too) for years before divorcing him. His best friend divorced his wife 3 months later - and they are together today. No one sided with my mom. Not her family, not my father's. Women aren't always given a "pass". Her justification? She was unhappy for years. What did that really mean? She didn't have the money to move out on her own with 2 young kids.

Nothing lasts forever, I guess.

Peach said...

If you want equal culpability you first have to have equal treatment.

Since women are infantalized constantly throughout their life and treated as though all their choices are open for debate, naturally we are more willing to excuse her actions as 'confused'. She just wasn't in her right mind. She just *needed* that emotional connection she must not have been getting...

Rather than assuming she just wanted some brand new bits to make her feel good. No, no, she could never be as decisive and biologically driven as a man. That behavior is simply too unseemly for the ladies.

It's bullshit. A consequence of other sexist bullshit.
Fix the source of the bleed, heal the wound and all. I'm cynical of this changing.

Alanna said...

This website is like a celeb-relationship spectator Fantasy team cheat sheet.

Anonymous said...

If SB was cheating on JJ with - oh let's say Jon Goesling or Michael Lohan or some trashy kid from Jersey Shore, most women would be saying what a dumb whore.

As a general rule if you're in a relationship and you feel the need to cheat because you're a) not emotionally satisfied b) not sexually satisfied or c)want to achieve your career goals by fucking your way to the top just leave before you get caught. It'll still hurt the other person, but at least you'll be apologizing for hurting the person by ending the relationship instead of apologizing for getting caught.

BTW Chez I think you once wrote you're only as faithful as your options. Wow Jesse if white power white trash strippers were your best options, you should have left Bullock a long time ago.

Chez said...

The only as faithful as your options line was taken from a Chris Rock bit in reference to men. I brought it up because I think it applies to both sexes.

French Anonymous said...

Women getting a free pass in cheating stories, really ?

Wasn't Sienna Miller called 'slutty' because she had a relationship with a married man ? She was not cheating on anyone, but she got most, if not all, of the blame.

When a male is cheating, the "other woman" is a whore who "stole a husband".

When a female is cheating, the "other man" is either a lucky chap who jumped on a great opportunity, or a stallion who is better in bed than the spouse.

Why ?

Shannon from Saskatoon said...

Just a thought, this discussion started around the behavior of celebrities as depicted in the media.

So it strikes me as a bit of a wasted exercise discussing on those bases alone.

Personal morality debates in public is one those topics best filed with the other non-consensus hot buttons.

Fidelity you discuss with your partner and make your wishes known. Hope for the best, because we are all pretty capricious and selfish quite a lot of the time.

In my experience, being 'right' when you've been cheated on never makes the agony go away, it just distracts for a while.

Chez said...

It doesn't even do that.

French Anonymous said...

I've come to wondering : why should fidelity be such a big deal in a relationship ?

I mean, from the Stone Ages on, I guess human males have had a big interest in females being faithful, because otherwise they wouldn't have known whether they'd be raising their own kids. We females have no such worry. We could have sex with more than one partner, the kids would still be ours. Thus men have enslaved and exploited women to make sure the kids would be theirs.

But nowadays, with our better knowledge and condoms, we are totally able to have children only with the man we live with and love and respect, and not with the one-time fuck buddies.

So, if there is an understanding on who will father the children, why should the male or the female abstain from one-time fuck buddies ?

Do we really need fidelity to have a satisfying relationship ?

I'd really like to know, because after 10+years being unhappily married with a man on whom I never cheated - despite a lame sex life - and to whom I've given 3 gorgeous kids, and who rewarded my fidelity by very publicly cheating on me - hey, I'm not that eager to give another try to the "fidelity promises" in future relationships.

Chez said...

I think it's safe to say that the decision to have an open relationship has to be something both parties agree to. Doesn't really work if only one side of the equation has made that choice.

Anonymous said...

Cheating isn't about the cheated on, it's about the cheater. It's incredibly selfish but not a true reflection on the depth of feeling for ones S/O. it's impossible, when you've been hurt so deeply by someone you love wholly and completely, to see that what the other person has done has nothing to do with you. But reasons and the "goodness" of a relationship aren't in play. Even if you want to say that cheating happens because something is "lacking" you're ignoring that it's the perception of the cheater that determines something is lacking and not reality.

Liz in Austin said...

Hmmm... Elizabeth Taylor, Jennifer Lopez, Tori Spelling, Leanne Rimes, and uh...yeah, MEG RYAN. I can remember plenty of women up in arms over these cases. Granted, J.Lo escaped major scrutiny since she cheated on a no-name, Chris Judd, with Ben Affleck.

Amy said...

I loved Jessie James until this, but let's be real here - neither he nor Sandra has confirmed that he had affairs. I might have missed something, and I'm sure I'll be corrected, but all we have is a trashy whore's word. Why are we just assuming it's fact?

On the other side, you get what you pay for. His last wife was a porn star. What did anyone think was going to happen?

Anonymous said...

Nothing interests me more than my own sex life, nothing interests me less than other peoples sex lives. She's a big girl, let her figure it out.

Anonymous said...

Forgot Anne Heche (twice).

Mr_Wonkles said...

I place blame for ideas (or stereotypes) like this squarely on the shoulders of the media. We're saturated by it's ideas how things work and act together since birth, and the media is slow to change anything they think might lose them ad revenue.

It's 2010, now think (specifically in commercials, but anywhere really): How many interracial couples do you see on TV, or father figures that seems too dumb or bumbling to live with wives that always "make it right." Gay guys are all funny and say "fabulous" and white people are painfully lame. I mean, I could go on, there's so many of these. These conventions have been with us a long, long time. And once you hear things like that everyday, you accept that it's just the way things are, unless they give it a moment's thought.

What I find strange is that this seems to be common sense to people who actually take a moment to genuinely consider what they're seeing and hearing, but most don't even get that far. They just experience whatever stereotype it is, absorb it into the backs of their minds, then when they hear about it happening in the real world, it "makes sense" to them.

It's like walking into a bookstore, directly into the mystery section of books and then wondering to yourself "Why is this store only stocking mystery books?"

< / rant >

The Mama said...

This is bringing me out of lurkdom.

My husband cheated on me twice (that I'm aware of). The first time, I will admit that while I was not responsible for his actions, I was partially responsible for the breakdown of our relationship. The second time truly came out of nowhere, at a time when I felt that we were both in a really good place with regard to our marriage. Currenty, we're struggling with what's known as an emotional affair. No physical inappropriateness has occured, but I know he has feelings for another woman. And yet, here I am.

The only thing that those two (three) experiences taught me was that you cannot make a sweeping generalization about any kind of cheating. Each time was completely different from the last. Cheating happens for all kinds of reasons: boredom, fear, hope, love, addiction, stupidity, hatred, opportunity, desire. And sometimes, cheating happens for no other reason than it can.

I always thought that I was the kind of woman who would kick my husband out at the first sign of infidelity. But what you think you'll do in the abstract is very different when you're faced with a cold, hard reality.

To that end, I think that a lot of the women who "rally around" the wronged wife have not experienced the special hell that is the discovery of infidelity in their marriage. They're simply projecting the "if-he-ever-did-that-to-me-he'd-be-so-dead" frame of mind that we all thought we had before it actually happened to us. Once it actually happens, you realize that it isn't black and white, and that you can't make a broad statement about other people's relationships.

Hmmm... this got long. And kind of inarticulate. This is a tough subject to write about.

And now for some suck-up: Chez, thanks for always writing something that makes me think.

C.L.J. said...

Marsha, I think you've misread what Janiece is really trying to say.

Infidelity is not the problem with the relationship: it is a symptom of the problem.

While it's easy to take your position and say "the cheater shoulda said something," it ignores the more complicate reality: most of us have no idea what we're really feeling. There is no objective scale to help us determine if we're really, truly, in love, or simply in lust. We can only guess, based on vague notions passed on to us by others.

People cheat on each other because they can't face up to the fact that they don't really love the person they've committed to. We rationalize, telling ourselves that our mate is attractive, and the sex is good, and we have things in common, we'd be crazy not accept that we're in love with them. The chemistry is good, so it must be love.

I have a friend who stayed in a bad marriage for years because her SOB husband could bring her to orgasm: she can laugh now, but at the time, she didn't understand that really great sex did not indicate really great love. When they weren't fighting, he made her feel good, and she thought that that was love.

Another friend took back his cheating wife because he believed that because he was overwhelmingly in love with her, she must also love him the same way. And she believed that because he loved her, and she got along with him, that it must be love and she just had to "work harder" at it.

And I know a few couples who are totally, truly, committed. They do not cheat on each other; they concept simply can't enter their minds.

Which doesn't help those of us who aren't in that kind of relationship. We have to suffer along, and hope that we don't get our hearts broken. Sucks to be us.

CNNfan said...

I heard on the radio, that he has just as much money as her, because of his motorcycle shop, and they have a prenuptial.

Lastly, a show of support for Alanna.

Adrienne Saia said...

In my experience, women who cheat are vilified to the same extent of any man who has cheated. The only double-standard I've seen, in the cheating situation, is that a woman whose man has cheated on her will blame his mistress for "luring" her man away rather than put the smack down on the dude (and often end up taking him back, which is Palin spawn retarded). Men call their ex a cheating whore and move on.

Chez said...

Palin spawn retarded.

You rule, Adrienne.

Melissa said...

WOW. I came across this because I now have a burning question of my own.

After several years of faithful service to my husband (he is 49 I am 40), supporting him emotionally AND with creation of all his exhibits for three lawsuits and an investigation by the medical board, being a trophy wife (but an engineer so with brains), helping his kids with school projects and social activities, handling all our investments, blah blah blah ... I suddenly find myself jobless (he fired me from his practice but didn't bother to tell me), broke (he opened new accounts but I have no access), and repeatedly alone ("oh, I am just thinking about my life and what to do next so I'm not visiting you this week."). So I hop a plane to his location (we have several properties and I was out of state at the time) and show up unexpectedly...and catch him in bed with a 24 year old!! Tattoos, piercings, and all....gross. I calmly talk to both of them, explain that I know his drugs and his midlife crisis are causing this but we can work through it, think about it. So what does he do? Files for divorce last week. And here's where the question comes in:

WHY on EARTH are our friends siding with him and his tramp??? I know technically I am a stronger person than he is, so really if anyone NEEDED the support it would be him (very very fragile ego). But still! Why are people rewarding bad behaviour?? Is it his charisma? The money he makes and throws at them? The "oh poor me, let me squeeze out a tear while I talk about how I messed up" bullshit? The mind games are just blowing me away right now.