Summary: The way we construct gender and morality screws both women and men: women for failing to be bastions of virtue, men for having no virtue at all.
It’s a step in the right direction. The staff at Lemondrop.com conclude an article on hetero men’s reaction to their partner’s infidelity with a list of women celebrities who’ve had (publicly acknowledged) affairs.
That’s a good thing because the chronic meme has it that only men are unfaithful to their partners who, invariably are blameless women who wish only to mother children and also, I guess, wear crinolines and eat crustless cucumber sandwiches. Leaving the (cough)Rule #1(cough) question of who, then, they’re being unfaithful with.
Getting across the idea that women are really people, real people, instead of marble fixtures and magazine-cover decoration has to happen sooner or later.
It’s a step in the wrong direction too, though. The main focus of the Lemondrop post was about how men are way less forgiving of their partner’s infidelity than women are.
If I started quoting disappointing paragraphs from the article I might never stop. So go read it yourself.
Here’s one, though:
“Men can forgive themselves for their indiscretions but find it harder to forgive their partners for the same,” therapist Phillip Hodson explained to England’s Daily Mail. “For a betrayed woman, an affair is an offense against her dignity. For a betrayed man, it’s an offense against his manhood. It goes right to the core of his identity.”
They said it here.
Men can “forgive themselves?” Hello? Everybody can forgive themselves for stuff they want to do! From cookie jars to corporate corruption people practically have “just this once won’t hurt” tattooed on their foreheads, backwards, so they can feel reassured every time they look in the mirror.
And Hodson gets his attribution completely backwards. For a betrayed woman an affair is an invitation for everyone else on the planet to impugn her dignity. For a betrayed man an affair is an opportunity for everyone else to question his “manhood.”
Screw that too.
Circling back to my first point, affairs are supposed to be an affront to women’s dignity (as opposed to, say, a simple uprooting of her trust and sense of place in her relationship) because up on those pedestals women are supposed to be dispensing virtue, restraint, and other civilizing influences on the men and children in their lives. In that mindset men’s infidelity is “solvable” by even more virtue and more scolding. That plus, having vested all that corrective authority in women society is likely to stand behind her whether she stays with or separates from him.
Meanwhile, I guess the idea must be, if a woman is unfaithful to a man there really isn’t much corresponding social scripting. Outside of a few very conservative, very patriarchal and primarily religiously-focused subcultures there’s not much tradition of men correcting women’s morality. In fact there’s really not a lot at all men in particular or society in general is supposed to be able to do about a “fallen” woman. Instead in social terms the man who’s hoisted the wrong moral beacon up onto his particular pedestal has no option but to drop her and replace her with someone more reliably stalwart.
Thus the proscriptive “intolerable” clauses in the bogus Two Rules of Desire.
Another step in the right direction, by the way, might be the startling idea that no individual adult is responsible for the morality or the behavior of another, and that therefore no one adult is ever responsible, nor is their dignity or “manhood” injured by the actions of another.
(Note: that this concept of individual responsibility is perpetually overlooked by Bill Bennett, Newt Gingrich, and myriad other social conservatives is yet more evidence of the inconsistency of their positions.)