today in my women’s studies class, in what was supposed to be a group discussion about the secret lives of bees, the conversation somehow came to tiger woods and the scandal surrounding him. someone informed me that his wife, elin, had returned to him and that they were going to try to work things out. i can’t even begin to describe how disappointing this is.
i can’t even imagine being in the position that elin has been in for the past few months, being publicly humiliated and knowing that everyone in the world is aware of her husband’s infidelity. in light of tiger’s recent public apology (which, to me, seemed robotic and disingenuous), elin is put in an even trickier position now, having to choose whether or not she will leave him. it seems to me like she’s damned if she does, and damned if she doesn’t: if she leaves him, she’ll be seen as a bitch who isn’t big enough to accept his apology and try again, but if she stays, she can be viewed as weak and dependent.
it would be easy for someone to argue that this tiger woods scandal has no bearing on the everyday lives of normal people, but that would be a false assumption. this scenario in which a famous man cheats on his wife repeatedly, and, under public scrutiny and the threat of his wife leaving him, makes a public apology that gives no solid indication of whether or not he is really remorseful about what he did aside from getting caught and that results in his wife’s subsequent return to him, is something that will subconsciously reinforce male sexual entitlement and sexism toward women who are victims of adultery.
i read an article on npr about tiger woods and the culture of celebrity cheating, and how men are often the ones who get caught up in adulterous affairs because men’s heads inflate when they realize they have power, and women are more attracted to powerful men than men are attracted to powerful women. this statement makes sense to a certain degree, but there’s a sexist twinge to it that reverberates in my ears. this statement almost makes it sound like men have these noble intentions, and shoot, they can’t help it if they’re powerful, but then these darn women come along who are enticed by their power and seduce them into an affair, and men can’t help succumbing to their sexual desires. men being tempted into sin by a woman and her (undoubtedly attractive) physicality? sounds like an argument straight from augustine, but we’re not living in the 4th century, so i’m not buying it. a massive ego doesn’t seem like enough of a valid reason for men’s cheating, so i’m going to posit that it has more to do with privilege.
i can think of probably twenty male celebrities off the top of my head who have been caught in an affair and whose good-guy image was restored after they apologized and stayed out of trouble for a while. bill clinton comes to mind, as do hugh grant and kobe bryant. it is a privilege particular to men that allows for the fact that an affair is not a career-ender for men and there is no social stigma placed on them for cheating (which unfortunately can’t be said for the northern ireland first minister’s wife, who will probably never regain credibility). however, many men are able to keep it in their pants and be faithful to their wives. how? personal virtue and morals. but virtue doesn’t reinforce a man’s sense of his own power. taking what one wants and feels entitled to via engaging in an extramarital affair can, or at least it did for tiger. what this teaches men is that as long as they go through the motions of apologizing and expressing contrition, the whole thing can be forgiven with little to no harm done, and that their wives will always take them back.
one could argue that it’s honorable for elin to return to tiger, and i definitely think there’s something to be said for trying to make a marriage work when fifty percent of americans just give up and divorce at the first sign of trouble simply because it’s easier. but at the same time, it makes me wonder how much a woman should be expected to endure. i could maybe understand if elin forgave tiger for one isolated incident of adultery with one person, but when it’s many incidents with many women over the course of many years, that’s irreparable damage to a marriage, in my mind. even when women are the ones being cheated on, they still managed to get blamed for the dissolution of a marriage; as i said before, you’re damned if you and damned if you don’t. women shouldn’t have to bear the burden of having to try to fix a marriage that can’t be fixed for fear of social chastisement. sadly, this elin-tiger debacle is doing just that: elevating the level of betrayal and infidelity that a woman should put up with from her husband, who made a sacred vow to honor and cherish her, and failed; making women feel like men are entitled to a second (or third, or fourth) chance when they would not be afforded the same if the tables were turned.