Why Can't a Woman Be a Chum?

I have tried very hard not to write about the Tiger Woods kerfuffle, because, quite frankly, I don’t really see as it’s my business. Tiger certainly cheated on his wife multiple times, and I don’t condone that behavior, but his offense really is against his wife, and he owes her explanations and apologies, not me. (His wife may or may not have committed assault with a deadly weapon against him, which would be a more serious transgression than cheating, but we don’t know that for sure, and I’m not going to speculate further about it.)

At any rate, the Woodses will split up or stay together, and whatever; it’s not really my business. And quite certainly, it isn’t a “scandal,” unless you’re the sort of person who is deeply shocked that in 2009, there are rich, handsome people out there cheating on their spouses.

Enter Richard Cohen, WaPo resident concern troll and sexual harasser, who asks a question that has been on nobody’s mind ever since the Woods “scandal” broke: why don’t women cheat on their spouses like men do? If you don’t want to read any further, the answer is that they’re not driven to conquer things, which is also why women aren’t that successful.

No, really.

Cohen starts his post by noting that every white, middle aged guy he knows doesn’t know why women don’t cheat, which is because, I assume, most of these middle aged white guys Cohen knows have wives cheating on them:

It’s not that there are no women in the Tiger Woods category of professional sport. No woman makes Tiger’s kind of money, of course, but plenty make good money and become celebrities in golf or tennis, and you don’t hear about them hitting on every caddy, pool boy or masseuse. Why?

Well, until the last couple weeks, we didn’t hear about Tiger hitting on every caddy, pool girl, or masseuse. As far as anyone knew, Tiger was playing it straight and narrow, and totally faithful to his wife.

Or take politics. There are now 90 women in Congress, and yet you don’t hear about them recommending their lovers to be a U.S. Attorneys or hiking the Appalachian Trail all the way to Buenos Aires. No female member of Congress is known to have offered the wife of her lover the chance to become a major lobbyist or, just for nostalgia sake, to have had a bit too many and gone for dance in the Tidal Basin. Why?

Well, there are 445 men in Congress. The odds favor men. Also, a quick googling found that Rep. Loretta Sanchez, R-Calif., is currently being accused of carrying on an affair with a defense contractor. I don’t know if she is or isn’t, but it rather undermines Cohen’s point.

Or take corporate America. Fifteen of the nation’s top CEOs are women and there are lot more women one ore two rungs down the cooperate ladder. Yet, you do not hear of them taking their lovers on the company jet and checking them in to resorts as their research assistants. I’m not saying these things never happen, I’m just saying they happen so rarely as to amount to not happening at all.

Uh…yeah. Look, Richard, I don’t remember the last CEO sex scandal that made the news, because frankly, CEOs are screwing all of us all the time, and finding out that they’re screwing someone else specifically really isn’t all that surprising.

Even women entertainers do not carry on like the men do. Okay, Madonna was famous for bedding much of New York’s outer boroughs, but this was no scandal since she was intent on proving… something. Whatever the case, she was not married at the time. Men get caught with hookers and men have multiple lovers and men have groupies, but not women. Why? Why? Why?

Well, Richard, let me tell you about a little thing called the patriarchy, which punishes “slutty” women much more than it punishes “caddish” men, which means that the female entertainer/politician/CEO caught cheating on her spouse is likely to take a much more serious tumble in the eyes of the public than a similarly situated man.

This doesn’t mean women don’t cheat on their spouses. 15 percent of women and 22 percent of men have had intercourse outside of marriage, numbers that are frankly not that different. And the numbers of men and women who have been unfaithful in any relationship are both majorities — 57% of men and 54% of women, numbers that are essentially the same. Women cheat at a healthy rate, nearly as much as men, and it is ludicrous to think that no famous women are among that number. It’s just much more likely that they place a very high value on discretion.

Consider: Kobe Bryant confessed to raping a woman, and is still considered a superstar. Nike still hires him to do ads. He’s still a multimillionaire. Do you think that, say, Mia Hamm would have kept getting endorsement deals had it come out that she cheated on Nomar Garciaparra? Of course not. Her “all-American girl” image would have been shattered. Her endorsements would have been pulled. Her reputation would have been permanently damaged.

Now, I don’t know that Mia Hamm didn’t cheat on Nomar (if she’s interested in cheating, she should feel free to give me a call, as I’ve had a crush on Mia Hamm for something like 20 years). But if she did, she damn sure had to be careful about it, make sure because it simply wouldn’t do for a woman to be caught in the same type of situation as a man. And certainly, if she was tempted, she would have had the previous scenario in the back of her mind in a way that Kobe obviously did not. This is the slut/stud dichotomy, Richard, and I understand why you don’t know about it, because you’re a douche.

But even if you don’t understand it, you still should know better than to spin elaborate just-so stories out of misunderstood ev-psych studies.

We start with a backhanded complement.

We can guess. The first guess is that women are simply smarter than men. Say what you will about Woods, it’s not his wholesome image that has suffered, it’s his standing as a sentient being. A person with the wit of a mosquito knows better than to leave a voicemail message on a mistress’ phone or to text women who, from the angelic looks of them, would sell their own dear mothers for a chance to appear on Inside Edition. Few women are that stupid. Few men aren’t.

Except, Richard, that women aren’t inherently smarter than men. They’re not inherently dumber, either — men and women are cognitive equals. Women are prone to make dumb mistakes and rash decisions just like men are, and if you don’t know that, you don’t know many women.

It’s just that for women, the stakes are much higher in things like this than men. Bill Clinton largely survived his infidelities; do you think Hillary Clinton would have been electable if it turned out she was having an affair with an intern? No. She would have been pilloried for it, even as people allowed that she probably had earned the right. Good girls don’t, cool boys do. Slut/stud, Richard.

When you’re dealing with something that can end your career, or at the very least ruin your reputation, you’re more apt to be very, very careful. Tiger Woods didn’t worry about leaving messages and sending texts because he realized — accurately, I misdoubt — that the disclosure of his infidelities would not destroy his career. And it won’t. He may take a bit of a financial hit in the short term, but in the long term, he’ll be fine. A woman in a similar position would be a fool to take a similar risk. And so they don’t.

This is also probably a good time to note that there is no “female Tiger Woods,” period. Tiger Woods is on a different plane when it comes to endorsements. Only Michael Jordan comes close. The only woman with the kind of drawing power Woods has is Oprah Winfrey, and she’s chosen to build her own brand, rather than shill for others. And, for what it’s worth, Oprah’s been careful not to get married, hasn’t she?

All right, so women smart, men dumb. That may be it, Richard, but it’s not offensive enough. Can you really be obnoxious?

The other possibility that strikes me is that women seem not to have the evolutionary urge to couple with cheaply dressed strangers. They have a stronger need to mother — to have a child and then raise that child.

Ah, yes, ladies! I know, you say you liked New Moon for the level of shirtlessness involved, but you’re lying. What you really want is to birth babies. There’s no better proof of this than my seven-year-old daughter, who has told me flatly that she doesn’t want to birth babies, because it looks like it’s painful, and there are a lot of kids who don’t have parents who could be adopted. See? It’s so natural that a seven-year-old doesn’t know it!

Also, just so we’re clear, men have no interest in children. My daughter comes up in this column only so I can prove I had sex, not because I love the fact that she’s thinking that deeply about stuff at seven, and find it adorable and sensible.

The male equivalents of the sort of women who have courageously come foreword to claim their reward money for entertaining Tiger are evolutionary bad material. No woman would want them as husbands and fathers. They are what Darwin called dreck, which is Yiddish for cocktail waitress. Since recreational sex can lead to diapers, women have to be prudent. As they say down at the Fed, they have to consider the out years.

Yeah, cocktail waitresses are scum of the earth, and while men may have sex with them, they certainly don’t want to marry them. Also, women never have one-night-stands because evidently it’s 1523 BCE, and the only contraceptive that’s been invented is crocodile dung.

To be fair, in Richard Cohen’s America, abortion is something you probably can’t get, so there is that to consider.

This is why women more than men link sex to love and commitment. I’m not saying that all of them do or all of them do all the time. I’m just saying that there seems to be few women who behave as Tiger Woods did. Even women who have no moral compunction against multiple affairs draw the line at a number somewhat below Tiger’s.

Well, I mean, Jesus, even men who have no moral compunction against multiple affairs draw the line at a number somewhat below Tiger’s. Tiger’s kind of in a league of his own there, too.

Men, like the poor polar bear, have seen their ecology change. Their youthful aggression, so useful for wars of choice (not to mention necessity) or merely hunting saber-toothed tigers, is now just a social menace. Their urge to have sex with just about any woman with a pulse makes them crude laughing stocks. Tiger Woods has become a punch line — and so have men in general. (Thanks, Tiger.) We are a sorry lot. Almost no one, save maybe lachrymose country western singers, will defend the cheatin’ man.

I don’t even know what the hell Cohen is talking about here. Our “youthful aggression” is tied to sex somehow, which I thought was about love, or at least general friendliness. Also, saber-toothed tigers.

As for men becoming a punch line because of Tiger — well, no, you see, just no. Tiger’s a punch line, but if the statistics can be believed, 78 percent of men don’t cheat during marriage. That’s what statisticians like to call “an overwhelming majority.” I’m not saying men never consider cheating — nor that women don’t. (If statistics can be believed, roughly 70 percent of both sexes have said they’d have an affair if it could be guaranteed never to come out.) But most men and women don’t cheat, ever.

The fact that 78 percent of men and 85 percent of women don’t cheat during their marriages suggests to me that, as per usual, men and women are more alike than different. Or, possibly, it proves that women aren’t that driven, not like men are.

But it could be that the urge to get closer to cocktail waitresses and denizens of dimly lit hotel lounges is in some way linked to the drive to conquer, to prevail — to succeed. It could explain why all this time into the Age of Feminism, years after women were liberated, women make up less than 20 percent of Congress and only 3 percent of those top CEOs.

The reason the Glass Ceiling has not broken is that women have other priorities — maintaining relationships and being a mother. This is the way it is, and this is the way it has always been. As any of Tiger Woods’s cocktail waitresses could tell him, Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

N’est ce pas?

Yes, that would be one explanation of why systemic sexism has prevented women from reaching parity with men. And I’d totally buy it, if it wasn’t the biggest load of shit produced on land since Amphicoelias fragillimus went extinct 150 million years ago.

Men are successful because we like sex? Really? Well, then, what of women who like sex, a group that includes, at last count, the vast majority of women? Certainly, they would seem to be likely candidates for success, would they not?

Oh, but there’s that slut/stud dichotomy, Richard, which holds women back. You see, women are taught that Good Girls Don’t, remember? So when you’re hitting on a waitress at Perkins at three in the morning, because Cool Guys Do, the woman across the way may be just as interested in hitting on the waiter, but she doesn’t, because she doesn’t want to be That Kind of Girl.

This is tragic, evidently, because a willingness to engage in random sexual encounters is evidently the key to success in life. And women are kept from that success by societal pressures. Too bad.

Of course, the irony is that women are kept from success by societal pressures. Just not the ones Cohen identifies or cares about.

Richard, do you want to know why there aren’t that many female sex scandals? Well, first off, recognize everything I’ve said here as a factor. Now, note that overall, the number of women in all of these “famous” situations are dwarfed by the number of men. Female athletes get nowhere near the endorsement deals that men do. There are far fewer women in Congress than men. There are far fewer female CEOs than men. Only in the case of entertainment is there rough parity, and frankly, I can think of several “sex scandals” involving women there — Britney Spears, you may recall, saw her career crippled by one.

Famous women aren’t that plentiful, and they have strong incentives to be discrete. That, it seems to me, is a far more likely answer than the idea that there aren’t that many famous women because women don’t like sex. They may not like sex with you, Richard, but that just shows they have good taste.

No, much as you may want to think that your propensity for sexual harassment and general rape apologism is the key to your success, it isn’t, Richard. It’s just proof that you’re a douche, like the small minority of men and women who cheat on their partners. Only douchier.

This entry posted in Feminism, sexism, etc, Media criticism. Bookmark the permalink. 

22 Responses to Why Can't a Woman Be a Chum?

  1. 1
    headbang8 says:

    I have rarely heard common sense stated so clearly and thoroughly, Jeff. You’ve won a fan.

  2. I’m going to guess cocktail waitresses who read the Washington Post don’t appreciate being called “dreck.”

  3. 3
    nojojojo says:

    Richard Cohen, WaPo resident concern troll and sexual harasser,

    You forgot racist. Cohen’s opinion of black men (and white women, and white women with black men, and obviously white women of the working class) is probably complicating all the dumbassery he’s spouted on Woods, but he’s been smart enough not to say it (this time). He’s probably seen the Tweets about this racist dumbass and figures that angle’s covered, so he can go whole hog on the sexism.

  4. 4
    leah says:

    The reason the Glass Ceiling has not broken is that women have other priorities — maintaining relationships and being a mother.

    Yes, it’s womens fault that women are oppressed. Because woman necessarily = baby and baby = no career, right? Hmmm, men have been having kids for millennia yet somehow that doesn’t interfere with their careers, how is that, Mr. Cohen? I dare you to come up with an answer that doesn’t state or imply that taking care of children is women’s work.

    But to get back to the article, well done. I saw this covered in less detail elsewhere and thought pretty much every point you wrote down here. I’d just add that extramarital sex isn’t just riskier for famous women – it’s riskier for all women in a straight marriages. We typically lose more in divorce cases, even in no-fault states like MN, many of us fear DV as retribution for affairs, etc.

    Edited for massive spelling errors.

  5. 5
    Politicalguineapig says:

    I’d love to see an article about the concept of monogamy being stupid and outdated. Monogamy gives neither sex an advantage. Polygamy isn’t a good system either, but polyandry seems to be worth a try.

  6. 6
    Allison says:

    Thank you for taking on the intellectual dreck that is Cohen’s article. You’re eloquent and right on, as always.

  7. 7
    Mandolin says:

    “Polygamy isn’t a good system either, but polyandry seems to be worth a try.”

    You could try looking up articles on polyamory. (or failing that, read the anthropological literature on polyandry)

  8. 8
    Robert says:

    I’d love to see an article about the concept of monogamy being stupid and outdated. Monogamy gives neither sex an advantage. Polygamy isn’t a good system either, but polyandry seems to be worth a try.

    Possibly. The emotional makeup of most people seems to make monogamy problematic to execute perfectly, but poly-whatever-y raises its own concerns. Every social arrangement involves costs; it is an easy fallacy to decide that the existing system’s costs are real, but that the proposed new system won’t have any such costs. That doesn’t mean you should never try a new system; it means you should be aware that your new system seems costless because you haven’t seen it in operation yet.

    To put it another way, 100 years after the polyamory revolution sweeps America, there will be a blog named “Dangit” where a poster named ‘Governancehamster’ writes comments about how polyandry is a stupid and dated system, what were those idiots in 2000 THINKING, and maybe people should just get their sexual and life partners from the new Love Lottery.

    As for monogamy not giving either sex an advantage, that strikes me as a benign design feature, rather than a bug.

  9. 9
    Kevin Moore says:

    This is an awesome take-down, Jeff. I hate essentialist arguments about men and women, which is just the kind of thing patriarchal idiots like Cohen traffic in.

    Point of disagreement: I don’t think Kobe Bryant admitted to raping his accuser. He is essentially agreeing to disagree about what happened on the night in question, acknowledging that he and she had different interpretations of events and intentions. This is not to say that he did or did not rape Katelyn Faber. I don’t know. But reading the statement you quote on your blog, it doesn’t seem like a confession. It reads more like, “we disagree on what happened, but neither of us can prove anything, so here’s some money to make this unpleasantness go away.”

  10. 10
    Kevin Moore says:

    To put it another way, 100 years after the polyamory revolution sweeps America, there will be a blog named “Dangit” where a poster named ‘Governancehamster’ writes comments about how polyandry is a stupid and dated system, what were those idiots in 2000 THINKING, and maybe people should just get their sexual and life partners from the new Love Lottery.

    That made me laugh.

  11. 11
    Manju says:

    That made me laugh.

    Ditto. Quadruple “Heh”.

  12. 12
    Doug S. says:

    That post title reminds me of this:

  13. 13
    Jeff Fecke says:

    That post title reminds me of this:

    It should — I lifted it straight out of the song. :D

  14. 14
    Politicalguineapig says:

    Here’s what I mean by monogamy disadvantaging both sexes: both lose the right to screw around, men have to reign themselves in, and women (and sometimes men) put themselves in danger if they choose the wrong partner.

    Which is why I dislike monogamy so much. At least polyamory gives an abused partner a built in escape route.

    And for the record, I think women do want to screw around as much as men do, but they have more to lose if an affair is brought to light.

  15. 15
    Jeff Fecke says:


    My feelings on polyamory are like my feelings on homosexuality — it’s not for me personally, but then it doesn’t have to be. It’s a perfectly cromulent way to live your life, and I don’t see a moral problem with deciding, with your partner, that you’re going to have an open relationship, so long as the rules are the same for everyone involved. This stands apart from polygamy, which is essentially patriarchy to the tenth power.

  16. 16
    That Teowonna! says:

    One question in response to your opening sentence: Isnt that what bloggers do, render opinions about things that may or may not be there business? If bloggers only wrote on things that were “their business”, there wouldn’t be much need for public blogging. Just keep a personal journal. Furthermore, Tiger Woods is a public figure, a member of society. Society is all of our business because we all contribute to it.

  17. 17
    Jerad says:

    Very minor correction, Loretta Sanchez is a Democrat, I believe the only one in orange county.

  18. 18
    Smeg says:

    Jeff – I see what you are trying to say here, but I’d ask that you try to look at it from a slightly less mono-centric point of view. First of all, being poly is not something that should be decided ‘with your partner’. Mostly because poly, by it’s very definition, will generally include more than two people. Some people are single when they become poly. Some are in dyads, some in triads, etc. Being poly is something first of all you must come to by yourself, and then with anyone you wish to be in a relationship with.

    Secondly, the idea that in polyamory “the rules must be the same for everyone” is a concept that gets a lot of people into trouble. One of the things I find the best about being polyamours is that the rules are *not* solid, that they can be whatever the people want them to be. For example, if I’m comfortable letting my wife stay over at someone else’s house over night, and she doesn’t have the same comfort for me, and I’m okay with that, this “not fair” rule is perfectly okay.

    Taking it the other way, some rules that seem fair aren’t. Many married het couples have a ‘no sleeping with men’ rule. This may work great for a straight guy, and less well for his straight wife.

  19. 19
    Doug S. says:

    This stands apart from polygamy, which is essentially patriarchy to the tenth power.

    (I think you mean polygyny, but whatever.)

    Standard economic analysis indicates that (as long as marriages are freely chosen by both parties) polygyny tends to benefit average women and highly desirable men at the expense of highly desirable women and average men. Some women would rather be the second wife of Mr. Awesome instead of the only wife of Mr. Ordinary; if the Mr. Awesomes of the world also prefer to take second wives, this benefits them and their extra wives. On the other hand, the losers in this arrangement are the Miss Awesome that would have been Mr. Awesome’s only wife, and the Mr. Ordinary that would have been married if Mr. Awesome hadn’t taken a second wife.

    Of course, in the real world, when polygyny exists, it often isn’t a decision that women make under the circumstances in which standard economic analysis applies. “Average” men still get the proverbial shaft, though, even when women don’t benefit; for example, I’ve read that the FLDS tends to exile large numbers of young men because they don’t have enough wives for everyone…

  20. I wouldn’t mind polyamory becoming mainstream in the sense that a particular number and arrangement of partners would no longer be societally privileged over other possible combinations (as a particular combination of sexes and genders shouldn’t be either). This wouldn’t affect my personal inclination to be in a dyad with a cis woman, but that wouldn’t make me any more normal than anyone else

  21. 21
    Politicalguineapig says:

    The only way polygyny “benefits” women is that they get a roof over their heads and food. In every society that promotes polygyny, women basically have the same status as herd animals. Saudi Arabia and Salt Lake City are /were horrible places to be a woman. And the FLDS encouraged pedophilia, so it’s really not a healthy religioncult at all.

  22. 22
    sylphhead says:

    Politicalguineapig, what definition of “polyandry” are you using? Because I don’t see how this:

    Here’s what I mean by monogamy disadvantaging both sexes: both lose the right to screw around, men have to reign themselves in, and women (and sometimes men) put themselves in danger if they choose the wrong partner.

    … can be true if you’re saying what I think you’re saying. Are you just using it as a synonym for polyamory?