We have our fair share of stereotype-laden expressions that attempt to neatly package up the male of the species. You know what I mean. “Boys will be boys.” That sort of thing.
When we make these pronouncements, as though accepting the vagaries of the opposite sex as encapsulated by cliché, do we accomplish anything? Does this move us closer to understanding ourselves, each other, or a tricky set of circumstances?
When we say “boys will be boys” in response to philandering, are we reinforcing self-defeating expectations? Are these (lower) expectations the real rationale behind a woman looking the other way?
Is this why so many women are unconcerned with Anthony Wiener’s assumption that he can reintroduce himself into political life, or more recently in the news, Eliot Spitzer?
Behavioral Acceptance vs Forgiveness
I am not comparing these two men in terms of knowledge or experience. For that matter, their “indiscretions” were of a very different nature as well. That said, according to Kate Taylor, writing for The New York Times, women seem to be the more forgiving sex as exemplified by the return of transgressing candidates to the political arena.
But I’m not convinced that’s true. I am convinced we’re socialized to accept certain things from men, for which we ourselves would be held to a different standard.
In “Testing the Consequences of Male Misbehavior,” Ms. Taylor includes former New York governor Eliot Spitzer in her news analysis and supposition that women may be very willing to let go of sexual misdeeds by men.
Are women actually outraged about the Weiner and Spitzer candidacies? In interviews, some New York women said they would not consider voting for the men because of their conduct, but others said they were more concerned about the men’s politics than their behavior.
Noting that Gloria Steinem and other well-known supporters are in Mr. Spitzer’s corner, the article suggests that we’ve become inured to sexual missteps, and that may well be the case.
Forgiving Sexual Indiscretions
When it comes to infidelity, whether we’re talking about emotional affairs or otherwise, some of us are more hard-pressed to move beyond the trust issues. Some of us “forgive” more easily, or we look at ourselves, at the inner workings of the relationship, and at what led us to a place where we violated rules we anticipated following. We seek to understand. We work to do better.
Pop culture psychology instructs us that we are to forgive all sorts of misdeeds, and that carrying around enmity isn’t good for us, but also, it isn’t good – period. While that may be another discussion, I can’t help but note that we toss around the term “forgiveness” blithely, as we forgive debt, forgive our enemies, forgive ourselves, and so on.
As for accountability, it seems to have a short shelf-life.
So what if forgiveness is not only the wrong word but the wrong concept at work? What if we’re in a place of acceptance, not forgiveness? Is that better? Worse? Should we examine when acceptance makes sense and when it’s destructive to practice or to expect?
Private Lives, Public Lives, Living in the Spotlight
I am a believer in committed relationships, and particularly in giving our all to marriages in which children are impacted by adult decisions. Some marriages cannot be salvaged for any number of reasons. Others can – if both spouses are willing to work on them. But it takes two, or it’s not going to happen. And of course, infidelity may be the first thing that comes to mind when a marriage breaks up, but most of us know that family life is far more complicated than that.
As for our politicos, they make an explicit choice to live their lives under a very public spotlight. I am reminded by these stories of both Mr. Spitzer and Mr. Weiner (more so the former than the latter) that charisma carries considerable weight. That is not to dispute their knowledge, experience, or competence. But don’t we continue to turn a blind eye (or a “forgiving” one) more willingly when we’re talking about men – especially powerful and charismatic men?
Feminism? Say What?
While I can’t say I’d like to be the wife of either of these gentlemen, that’s their business and not mine. Personally, I don’t care who does what with whom, as long as consenting adults are involved. Still, I’m ambivalent when it comes to these conclusions:
One challenge for feminists in mobilizing women against Mr. Spitzer and Mr. Weiner is that feminism itself has evolved, with some young women rejecting what they see as a prudish attitude toward sex by early generations of activists. Today’s feminists tend to be more accepting of individual sexual choices — including, in some cases, the decision to sell sex — and less likely to view women as victims.
Were I in the voting booth, I would likely choose the candidate whose views most suited my own. But I say that fully aware that while I’m all for rejecting knee-jerk prudish attitudes, and I’m accepting of individual choices, I would prefer my political candidates not frequenting prostitutes. To me, this isn’t about women selling sex. This isn’t about feminism. It’s about adult men and a lapse in judgment (you may term it something else), and more so the presumption that if times passes, “forgiveness” is their entitlement.
After all, boys will be boys.
Would we ever shrug off similar indiscretions for women, and focus purely on the political savvy and skill they bring to the table?
Probably not. We’re usually too busy worrying about their hairstyles.
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