Men are Dogs. Who Cares?
by Sirenita Lake
Barack Obama is a cool drink of water for those of us who remember Ronald Reagan. I haven’t felt this positive about the direction of the country since our troops were pulled out of Vietnam. But Barack Obama was not my first choice in the Democratic primary. It was John Edwards, a thoughtful, thorough politician on the right side of the issues, who had a fair amount of charisma and more experience than Obama. My next choice was Hillary Clinton. So, delighted as I am in Obama’s election, much as I love him, and as great a president as I expect him to be, I have some emotion invested in his primary opponents.
I could not be more satisfied that Hillary is our new Secretary of State. If I could have picked a job for her in the new administration, that would it. Obama has been admirably prepared to make his executive appointments from a politically progressive or at least highly skilled and ideologically flexible talent pool. So where is John Edwards, my fantasy Labor Secretary? Sitting it out, having become toxic after revelations of an affair during his wife’s illness.
Modern American views on extramarital sex, for men as well as for women, are as extreme as, say, Middle Eastern views on women’s sexual freedom. Movies, TV shows, your friends, all reinforce the idea that the worst thing a husband can do is have sex outside the marriage. The wife is torn apart, her trust shattered, her life derailed, the previously fine marriage is in tatters, because her man did the nasty with another woman.
I don’t get it. The need to dictate what someone else does with his body seems like just one more American emotional excess, like the need to always have your space (you know how many people in the world have their space?), to display your feelings in public, to avoid uncomfortable situations, especially with people who are not like you, to have your crimes excused because you weren’t feeling well, and to have constant emotional reinforcement.
How can a wife help but be hurt? Well, there are rules. He has to treat you with love and respect. The dog should not take the rent money and blow it on a babe. He must not come home with an STD. He should take his lead from you as far as any public acknowledgement of, and affectionate behavior with, his mistress or fling. He should avoid becoming involved with neurotic women who will expect him to leave you and marry them, just because they are younger and more fertile.
Your marriage is primary and believe it or not, a man can have affairs and avoid hurting it by picking the right girlfriends. Bored housewives are good. Tortured artists married to their work are good. Traveling businesswomen are good. Anyone who just wants sex and a little company is good. Yes, women can want these things, now that we are not all Victorians. There are women who just want some fun and don’t want to poach your man. How bad can it be?
However tragically a woman reacts to her husband’s doggy behavior, can we please call a moratorium on public discussions of other people’s--particularly politicians’--sex lives? I say this as someone who has advocated sexual freedom, openly discussed sexual issues, attended sex-themed events and published stuff that may shock you. Sex is not a taboo subject or activity for me, and maybe I’m jaded. On the other hand, as a Latina, maybe I come from a culture less idealistic and more realistic, which encourages us to respect others’ privacy out of politeness and an expectation of reciprocity.
I simply do not want to read media accounts of sexual peccadillos. More, I do not care. That’s right, I’m so lost to morality and proper feeling that I do not want to choose my public servants on the basis of what they do in bed. I have carefully considered the issue and have not found any correlation between, say, insight into the economic plight of the American worker and a desire to have sex with someone not your wife. Look at a couple of our favorite presidents, FDR and JFK. Try to find a mistake or weakness in their administrations traceable to extramarital sex. Can’t do it.
My husband disagrees. He says it’s a character issue. It’s not that a politician had sex, it’s that he lied about it. That’s why Clinton was criticized and Giuliani got a break. I don’t buy it. I think Clinton lied because he cared about his wife’s feelings, whereas Giuliani wanted to rub his wife’s nose in his affair. Clinton was the more honorable in my opinion.
Anyway, no one should ever have to make the choice between lying or embarrassing his family over something legal but private. As Obama ushers in an era of pragmatism over ideology, can we please go back to what worked in the past, a media policy of "don’t ask, don’t tell" with respect to a politician’s sex life? Imagine FDR having to take time out from the depression or the war to explain his relationship with Lucy Mercer to an entitled, curious public. Our modern prurient, politco-paparazzo reportage is a waste of time and embarrasses us in front of the world. Even puritanical fundamentalist Muslims take having a bunch of wives for granted.
History is different. Just like it’s ok for us to know now that FDR was in a wheelchair, we can handle knowing that he had a mistress. The principals are dead and can’t be hurt. The political system won’t suffer an upheaval and the public will not be bereft of an able politician for an irrelevant reason. History needs to be accurate and anything is fair game. Once Nancy Reagan dies, I don’t mind hearing about all of Ronnie’s affairs--hers, too.
Hypocrisy is also different. If you harp on family values and the sanctity of marriage, if you politicize these private notions to increase your own power and deny rights to others, you are inviting an outing. House Republican leader Newt Gingrich was rightly criticized for divorcing his dying wife for a younger woman. John Edwards has not to my knowledge made the sexual behavior of others an issue, and he deserves privacy, and if it’s not too much, understanding. Maybe watching your wife suffer is hard to bear, maybe a little rest and relaxation in the arms of another woman makes it easier to go back to the task of taking care of her.
I don’t expect to ever know what went on between Edwards and his wife. I’m not even curious. I have enough to do watching the stimulus package. I’m wondering how we are going to make the next leap up the fish ladder of constitutional interpretation to a higher level of worker protections. I’m concerned about Justice Ginsberg’s cancer. I’m busy being affronted by Wall Street bonuses and wondering if golden toilets have heated seats. I trust that Edwards and his wife can work out their stuff without my help.
Meanwhile, my fellow Americans , keep your eye on the political ball, and then to go out and have every kind of sex you’ve ever read about or imagined. You will be completely bored with other people’s sex lives. Stumble It!