Flight Papers

feminism and creativity, art, madness, and play

Cheating cheaters who cheat.


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I didn’t have any desire to write about the Edwards thing, but, I suppose, this isn’t just about what I want.

In that post on Punkass, Lisa takes issue with Rielle Hunter’s sister trying to “defend her honor” against a flurry of vicious attacks.

Lisa does not come to her rescue,

Excuse me. What honor? This woman had a blatant affair with a married man, whom she obviously knew was married, for at least a year. She’s a “good and honest” person? What on earth is your definition of good or honest?

Which is, I think, a rather severe character judgment to make when you know exactly one thing about a woman, and it’s presumably the worst thing she’s ever done.

The problem with this kind of criticism is that precisely fits the narrative of monogamous marriage. This is the one where you meet someone (a man, of course), fall in love, decide to be with him for ever and ever, get married and live happily ever after—unless a treacherous red-haired mistress steals him away (or maybe a witch poisons him, which is more or less the same thing).

The mistress is an integral part of this story. Should the man fail to cheat with her, this is proof of his loyalty, and while he is slightly emasculated for not tapping that ass, he is judged faithful. Should he decide to cheat with her, this is proof of both his and her moral reprehensibility, as the only reason they could possibly flaunt their vows in this way is that they are terrible people who probably deserve to die.

And, I mean, most people will agree that they shouldn’t have done that, and it hurt some people, and there might be more to the sentence, but it tends to get cut off, because, well, they shouldn’t have done that! They hurt some people! Grab me a stone.

This is really convenient if you’re trying to maintain an oppressive institution—say, marriage—as a social and economic necessity. Even putting aside the patriarchal power dynamics that marriage still connotes, it’s simply not the case that the structure of marriage is right for all committed relationships, yet it has a total monopoly on their social sanction. You don’t, in a real way, have a choice. Sure, you shouldn’t make a promise you can’t honor, but it’s difficult to imagine a situation where you have less ability to determine whether you can or can’t honor this one. For your entire life, you’ve been told (and likely believe) that your value as a person hinges on your ability to make and keep this promise. If you’re a woman, you’re told (and likely believe) that your economic survival hinges on it, to various degrees. And, of course, that you must never, ever speak of someone not your spouse. Particularly not to your spouse! Monogamy is the one and only true way you have serious, committed relationships; non-monogamous relationships are just playing around, un-serious, and un-committed.

We are not, therefore, especially likely realistically assess our ability to be monogamous. So, inevitably, cheating becomes an integral part of the institution of marriage. As does the resultant apologizing and slut-shaming.

So maybe Rielle Hunter is a terrible person. Maybe she just didn’t care about Elizabeth Edwards at all. Maybe she did, but felt pressured into sex. Maybe Elizabeth Edwards actually knew, but the arrangement became sour for some reason. We aren’t in their relationship, and we don’t know; pretending we do requires writing patriarchal assumptions onto their relationship.

Which is, I think, why you don’t see that line of criticism much in feminist writings. (You do, actually, but it tends to be lead up to, “And this is why women should be lesbians. Because men are socialized to be fucking pigs, and straight women can’t help but exploit other women in this way, but lesbian relationships are immune!” Which has, I think, a degree of truth, but probably not two.)

4 Responses to “Cheating cheaters who cheat.”

  1. Sarah J Says:

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    Thanks for writing this.

    It is…funny…to me how infidelity is so common in this world and yet is the one single thing (besides murder) that people feel qualified to make value judgments about other people over. How many times have I heard “once a cheater, always a cheater” and statements like that made?

    I don’t hold with slut-shaming, and while I’m not a particular fan of lying and breaking vows, I think you have an excellent point here and I hope more people read it.

  2. season of the bitch » That Edwards Thing. Says:

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    […] Flight Papers has a quite thoughtful post on it. And a quite good blog, if you haven’t read it already. […]

  3. Being Amber Rhea » Blog Archive » links for 2008-08-13 (manually again!) :P Says:

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    […] Flight Papers » Blog Archive » Cheating cheaters who cheat. “The problem with this kind of criticism is that precisely fits the narrative of monogamous marriage.” […]

  4. The Widening Gyre » Is oppression an excuse for immorality? Says:

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    […] in crude attention-grabbery, but it’s also essentially what I’m asking. Violet recently responded to a post by Lisa Kansas in which the latter got fed up with feminists excusing women, including […]

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