Why do we let cheaters off the hook?
Powerful men, listen up. If you’re not having an affair, you’re probably shirking the responsibilities that come with your top-level job.
And ladies, if you want to keep your husband, then keep yourself tidy. If you’re a little heavy or dowdy, then you only have yourself to blame if your man fools around with a younger, hotter woman.
These are the take-home messages from this week’s US Army sex scandal that was triggered by the shock resignation of CIA director, General David Petraeus.
Petraeus resigned because he had an affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell, a woman 20 years younger and 20 kilos lighter than his wife Holly.
Although many commentators think Petraeus was wrong to have an affair as CIA director because of possible security risks, no one seems to think any less of him as a man.
In fact, many seem to think it’s part of a powerful military man’s job description to cash in on his status, position and access to big weapons.
And if the woman pursuing him is younger, sexy and very determined, then it seem to be only natural for him to stray.
Articles such as “Why Generals Cheat” spell it out: when you are a top-ranked military man, the “sense of self-supremacy that goes with the job can extend to other realms of life”.
Looking through this week’s analysis of the scandal, the subtext is clear: Petraeus is a “foolish” man who just “let down his guard” while Broadwell is the “vengeful other woman”.
Why are women always the villains and men the victims? Or, as one commentator has pertinently asked this week: why is there no male equivalent of the word “mistress”? (Or the word “slut”, come to think of it).
According to one account, Broadwell’s “zealous devotion” to Petraeus “inadvertently ended his CIA career”.
This is absurd. Broadwell didn’t end Petraeus’ celebrated military career: he ended it himself by having an affair with her.
Despite being one of the most powerful men in the world, he’s portrayed as little more than the hapless victim of a conniving woman.
Why should we let men who cheat on their wives off the hook in this way?
Broadwell, for instance, has received much more censure than Petraeus.
In fact, she’s little more than a laughing stock given her gushing biography, and her determination to snare her man on those intimate runs in Afghanistan.
But no one much seems to be thinking about Petraeus’ wife Holly, except to insinuate that she was asking for it by letting herself go.
The way I see it, Holly is the elephant in the room no one wants to acknowledge. No-one is actually saying it out loud, but all the photos the media have been using of her are very unflattering, highlighting the fact that she is grey-haired, matronly and overweight.
It doesn’t seem to matter that Holly is from a distinguished army family, has borne Petraeus two children and created a role for herself helping soldiers make good financial decisions.
Wives like her are often the collateral damage thrown aside when a younger, better-looking substitute comes along. Her right to expect her husband to do the honourable thing and end their 37-year marriage before he started seeing another woman doesn’t seem to come into it.
No doubt the future for Petraeus is rosy: TV commentary, a six-figure book advance, and approval from the sort of men who think infidelity is admirable.
Many men, after all, will agree with TV evangelist Pat Robertson. He says Petraeus shouldn’t be condemned because Broadwell is an “extremely good looking woman” and “he’s a man”.
It’s as if military leaders like Petraeus aren’t expected to show some restraint when their little soldier stands to attention.
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