Female Infidelity and the Anti-Family Agenda

Posted: Jul 13, 2004 12:00 AM

A recent Newsweek cover story about the rising incidence of female infidelity perfectly embodies the pop culture's anti-family agenda.

The article begins with a married woman confiding to her circle of friends that she is having an affair. In between huffing gin vapors, she spills the details about "heavy petting" and "the kiss that would just launch a thousand kisses." The tone is consciously tantalizing, designed to make female readers lean forward conspiratorially, and male readers fantasize about swooping in and poaching the unfulfilled wife.

A couple of the ensuing paragraphs are dedicated to cultural changes fueling the trend, such as less severe divorce laws, decreasing social stigma for women caught in secret trysts, the glorification of sexually predatory behavior by women in the pop culture and the role of online communications, text messaging and cell phones in aiding secret dalliances. A few more words are dedicated to how economic equality is empowering women to follow their passions rather than merely clasping onto a male to avoid welfare (to borrow from Gloria Steinem).

What's striking about the article is not that the rate of cheating by women is approaching that of men but that our so-called hard-news outlets are depicting the trend with so little depth or introspection.

The Newsweek article, for example, provides almost no counterbalance regarding personal or moral responsibility. Mostly, the article is just a second-hand retelling of stories about voluptuously contoured, middle-aged married women getting mounted in dimly lit locales. The article suggests issues about our bodily needs. But mostly it just invites the reader to peek over the windowsill and enjoy the vicarious gratification of other people's sexual stealth and subterfuge.

At one point, the article shares "Jodie's" story. A 40-year-old marketing executive, Jodie recalls how she gradually began seeing a co-worker on the side. "We just had so much fun together, and we laughed together and it grew and grew until ... he kissed me. And I loved it." Anecdote ends.

Absent is anything even resembling introspection about Jodie's decision to cheat. There is no real discussion about the pain of having your marriage fall apart. No talk about how the pain of broken marriages can be so horrible and overwhelming that it drives thousands of ordinary everyday people into deadly crimes of rage and passion. Certainly, there was no mention about the 60% of women who never cheat and remain true to their vows. Nor was there real comment about how broken marriages often sew a lifetime of confusion and fear into the children of divorces. In short, this seemingly reasonable, hard-news magazine presents virtually no look at all at the ugly reality of having your life ripped to shreds by infidelity.

Call it the "Sex and the City" effect. I am referring to the hit HBO TV series that depicts a wild pack of 30-something females hurling their bodies at whomever and whatever suits their whims. The show is a comedy. The sexually predatory behavior of the women suggests the freedom of pursuing your bodily needs without the oppressive social elements that for so long stifled women's sexual desires.

Whereas past literary concoctions tended to punish the cheating female - Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, Hester Prynne of "The Scarlet Letter" - with social disgrace, and sometimes death, for subverting the preeminent role of family in society, the new pop culture depictions passively glorify such behavior by matter-of-factly portraying it done by ordinary women while offering little comment or introspection.

Of course, this is somewhat disingenuous. Most Americans still consider marital infidelity to be a serious moral problem. So why the trend of depicting disintegrating family values with such casual ease?

In many ways, it seems our serious news outlets are now following television's lead. The cable TV network explosion created an incredibly splintered television market throughout the '90's. Amid this brutal competition, high mindedness became an afterthought.

The question became how to grasp the attention of an increasingly fractured audience. The answer came from media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who used his Fox television station to belch out one enormous orgy of tawdry and titillating television morsels. His populist model proved wildly successful. Soon others followed suit until gross self-parody and dark humor became the dominant currency for depicting popular culture on TV. Thus was television's anti-family agenda born - not out of a moral lapse as much as out of perceived economic necessity.

That this anti-family message is now slowly permeating even our so-called reasoned, hard-news outlets is not only morally reprehensible and culturally destructive, it is, artistically speaking, quite boring.

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