With all the media frenzy over John Edwards, Mark Sanford, Tiger Woods, and now Al Gore, you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd heard everything worth hearing about celebrity infidelity. But in The New York Observer, under the spectacular headline "The Postmodern Hester Prynne," Maria Russo makes fresh arguments about women's roles in these scandals.
First she points out that the outcry over cheating men obscures the fact that "a lot of men want to think of themselves as naughty" and "know that other men will envy them" for it. These feelings, Russo argues, explain why men often boast in magazines about "how hard it is to be monogamous when you have such a monster sex drive."
Russo contrasts this showiness with the fact female celebrity cheating does happen, but is less discussed. When it does happen, the media frenzy is "short-lived, even, in the end, a bit ambivalent." Meanwhile, in "real life," the rates of infidelity of men and women are close, and the image of randy, unfulfilled husbands initiating affairs "seems more and more passé," she writes. "It's female desire, above all," points out Russo, "that is notoriously difficult to sustain in a long-term relationship." How so?
As an observant friend of mine once noted, heterosexual men may be the only ones ideally suited to monogamy, anyway, since only they can reliably be turned on by anyone, even a long-term partner. When a woman's desire for her husband wanes, it's all too convenient to assume her sexuality itself has been put aside.
One reason female non-monogamous lust goes unnoticed, Russo concludes, is that while "sex means just as much to women as to men," secrecy is more important to women. Meanwhile, female infidelity can be "much more varied," eroticism not always coinciding with a particular hotel-room act they'd feel compelled to report. The exception, she concludes, may be the few women who deliberately "sleep with the married alpha males" and want to tell everyone about it. And it's partly because of those women "that the public face of cheating is so overwhelmingly male."