Shaming Women

I recently watched the first two of the Atlas Shrugged trilogy. I loved how the decor and much of the clothing was very Art Deco, but the story itself is set just two years in the future. Well, started just two years in the future, anyway. I think someone had a lot of fun with that.

The story itself, much like the Leonardo DiCaprio’s Romeo and Juliet is very true to its source yet set in a different time. Unlike Shakespeare, though, this one blends pretty well. Unfortunately, there were unintended bits that wouldn’t raise eyebrows when the book was written in the 1950’s, but still apply in 2014. The one that really struck me was the reaction to the proof of infidelity.

For those who haven’t read the book or seen one of the movies, the government is pressuring Henry Rearden to give up the patents to a metal alloy he created that is putting regular steel to shame. He is a married man, and to turn up the heat, the government official shows him pictures of himself and Dagny Taggart, a woman who is not his wife. The most scandalous thing they’re doing is sharing kisses, but they do look very happy in the picture that has them walking hand-in-hand.

I don’t imagine you’ll suffer much, since your wife already knows . . . but, I can’t say the same for Miss Taggart, one of the most respected business women in the nation. Spotless reputation, a source of inspiration to young girls all across the country.

I don’t have a copy of the book, so I can’t compare it to the actual text, but that does seem pretty 1950’s, so I’m guessing it’s close. The problem is, I can also see it being said now. The person cheating? Eh, whatever, he’s a man. The person he’s cheating with? That whore! That homewreaker! She should be ashamed of herself and can’t be looked up to anymore as an inspiration!

That’s actually a pretty standard reaction to a situation where a married man cheats. Was it Bill Clinton who was shamed for the Cigar Incident? No. What about Brad Pitt? It was all that hussy Angelina Jolie’s fault. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single cheating man who got as much or more blame than the woman he cheated with. If I remember correctly, though, Kristen Stewart got all sorts of blame for cheating on Robert Pattinson.

The problem with this situation is that it takes two to tango. Dagny and Rearden fell in love because they were well suited to each other in a world that didn’t take kindly to either. It was mutual. Bill Clinton is pretty well recognized as a flirt and possibly a womanizer (or as much of one as Hilary lets him get away with). I doubt his affair with Monica Lewinski was one-sided. Kristen Stewart? I haven’t heard anyone suggest that she was seduced by the director and then given the movie role to keep her quiet.

Cheating is bad, but the one-sided shaming is worse. If a man who cheats can still be considered a hero (JFK comes to mind), then why can’t a woman? Or have we still not moved past a woman’s sexual fidelity being a very large part of her worth? When I think of our First Lady, the first thing that comes to mind is her arms, and how awful people think it is that she wears sleeveless blouses. After that comes her organic garden on the White House grounds and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. When I think of her husband, it’s his political wins and losses that come first. Somewhere down the line, way down the line, is that he pulls off polo shirts really well. There’s something wrong with giving what a woman does with her body the same level of importance as what a man does with his mind.

Why are women still bearing the shame for something that happens between consenting adults? Why are we permitting it? Why are men allowing it? If we are going to shame cheaters, then we need to shame the parties as they have earned it. Or, we need to rethink why we need to shame anyone.