It’s a common tale among women: a male friend gets a new girlfriend, she becomes suspicious of his friendships with women, and encourages him to spend less time with them (and time alone is off limits). It’s always irked me, because it suggests my platonic friendship is merely a ruse for a romp. If she believes her boyfriend has sexual feelings for other women, that’s something they should hash out together. If she doesn’t trust him enough to be alone with another woman, how is that my problem—or any woman’s problem?
I couldn’t help but feel that same rub while reading Real Housewives of New York star Bethenny Frankel’s tweets about a recent wave of celebrity splits:
Wait…. Who hires a hot nanny? U gotta be outta ur effin mind…— Bethenny Frankel (@Bethenny) August 7, 2015
Right. Trust is important but i ain't puttin' a raw steak in front of my dog @bschumac— Bethenny Frankel (@Bethenny) August 7, 2015
Frankel’s series of tweets came in the wake of two big breakups—between Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner and Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale—allegedly because the men began affairs with their family’s “hot” nannies. In less than 140 characters, Frankel reinforces a number of troubling stereotypes. It assumes all men are attracted to younger women, look for any opportunity to cheat, and that husbands are idiots who can’t be trusted. What people like Frankel don’t understand is that they’re actually rehashing a tired, incorrect assumption about heterosexual relationships: If a man cheats, it’s the woman’s fault.
Rich, famous men sleeping with younger women is nothing new, nor are the endless pop-psych thinkpieces about why people cheat, with or without nannies. Despite the reasons why, be it power, lust, or sometimes even love, it’s ultimately a private matter that couples need to work through.
What matters, though, is the public discussion of how these men treated their wives. The wives are pitied, but they’re also nitpicked and questioned. Were they icy in bed? Were they “letting themselves go?” These assumptions blame wives for not offering whatever their husband needed. Many people believe it’s the wife’s job to keep things together, when relationships require mutual effort and attention.
Instead of keeping the accountability where it belongs (on the husband), the wife blames herself for her husband’s infidelity.
Earlier this year, Eva Mendes told Vanity Fair she would never wear sweatpants at home, calling it the “number one cause of divorce in America.” Gwyneth Paltrow said if you’re mad at your husband “go at him with love and you give him a blow job.” In the Sex and the City movie, Steve cheats on Miranda, and though he is remorseful, she says it’s because they “hadn’t had sex in a really long time.” It is always the wife’s job to stay sexy, to keep her husband interested, and to behave in ways that won’t leave him angry and looking for thrills elsewhere. Be quiet, be cool, and give good head.
But when it’s the wife’s responsibility to keep the relationship together, that labor gives way to harboring distrust for anyone else her husband could find attractive—and they become the enemy. And if husbands cheat, the wife internalizes that it’s her fault, and that she must’ve dropped to ball on keeping his interest. Instead of keeping the accountability where it belongs—on the husband—the wife blames herself for her husband’s infidelity.
It’s an unfair burden that reflects negatively on both parties: Husbands are infantilized in this narrative as much as wives are burdened.
@Bethenny Thats what I'm Sayin… Really? You kinda of asked for it.— KAREN D (@Kazport) August 10, 2015
Blaming the hot nanny is, frankly, the easiest way out of an emotional minefield. Trust is hard. It’s not easy to admit to being unhappy, to being disappointed, or to lying. Having big, scary conversations about anxiety and jealousy feels ugly and goes against how many women are conditioned to express themselves.
So it becomes easier for scorned wives to blame the other woman, instead of the person they believed could be trusted. “She tempted him” seems a lot easier to swallow than “he broke a promise.” “He can’t control himself” seems easier than “maybe we should have discussed these underlying problems.” Pointing your finger at an outsider and saying it’s just men’s “nature” is easier than reckoning with betrayal or recognizing that you threw out all your sweatpants for nothing.
These assumptions blame wives for not offering whatever their husband needed. Many people believe it’s the wife’s job to keep things together, when relationships require mutual effort and attention.
We see this logic in many aspects of pop culture, where women twist themselves into awkward shapes in order to be liked by men. We see it when women are taught to cover their bodies, instead of teaching men not to objectify women. We see it when women are told to alter their speech patterns, rather than everyone accepting that all women communicate in their own way. We see it when young girls expect to be groped because “that’s just what boys do.”
Somehow, it’s easier to explain away sexist double standards, making it a woman’s responsibility to adjust her behavior accordingly—rather than to raise men who respect boundaries and promises. And when men act on those nurtured impulses, women get blamed for supposedly facilitating it.
Being cheated on sucks—plain and simple. But when it happens, it’s not because the wife should have worn more makeup, nor is it the fault of the other woman who, while perhaps an accomplice, never vowed to keep someone else’s monogamy intact. Hot nannies are not juicy steaks and husbands are not dogs who cannot control their hunger. Husbands are indeed people who are capable of breaking their word, and relationships fall apart for plenty of reasons.
We will never know what happened privately, between Affleck, Rossdale, and their respective nannies. However, women like Garner and Stefani shouldn’t publicly take the blame for their husbands’ infidelity.
Jaya Saxena is a writer from New York City, and still lives there, making her somewhat of a townie. Her writing has appeared on the Toast, the Hairpin, Men’s Journal, Gothamist, First We Feast, Serious Eats, the Guardian and others.
Photo by andrewrennie/flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)