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Saturday, September 29, 2018

Did He Or Didn’t He? Sex, Sexuality, And Fidelity In Today’s Sanctimonious Age

There was no question about infidelity in an earlier age.  Men were the breadwinners and women were dependent on them.  Things have changed since the days of patriarchy and male privilege.  Once women attained parity – social and most importantly, economic equality – men's wanderings and dereliction would never more be overlooked.  Straying men would no longer be tolerated and their aberration from the female norm of fidelity and good faith would be condemned out of hand.  No second chances, no absolution, and what’s more, no forgiveness.  How could a woke woman possibly put up with a philandering husband in this day and age?  His infidelities are not mere peccadilloes but serious breaches of trust.  

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When feminist conviction meets socio-economic reality, it is no wonder that tomcatting husbands, if not a thing of the past, are no longer considered relevant.  One and done is the rule.  Whether admitted or found out, infidelity is a cause for breach of contract, moral, legal, and ethical. 

This, of course, is the American model, not the French according to which sexual mobility is factored in to the sexual equation.  Regardless of civil or economic equality, sexual liberty is taken as a given.  In a mutually corresponding relationship, say between faculty members of the Sorbonne, directors at Credit Agricole, or entrepreneurs at competing hi-tech enterprises, sexual independence is never a question.  Men and women both will have their cinq-a-septs, the traditional hours for assignations after work, and be home for dinner.  Perhaps too little time for a completely relaxed and intimate encounter, but enough for sexual satisfaction and a renewal of friendship.  There is no question of falling off the moral falaise or even close to toppling over.  Such intimacies are taken for granted, accepted, and ignored.

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Francois Mitterrand, former President of France, had a longtime mistress also mother of his child; and all three stood at attention at his funeral ceremony along with his legitimate wife and family – in public, before the cameras, and in plain view.  Nicholas Sarkozy, another more recent regent of France invited his lover to move in with him to the Elysee presidential palace; and while his wife may have whinged and complained, the whole affair was treated with a Gallic shrug and yawn.   Of course Sarkozy like Mitterrand, Giscard d’Estaing, JFK, Johnson, MLK, and Clinton had their paramours.  No less than Henry Kissinger admitted that power was the ultimate aphrodisiac and even a short, unattractive European refugee like him could have as many women as he wanted.

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France, for all its Revolutionary credentials, ridding the country of noble autocracy and the right of kings and doing its part after England and the United States to establish democracy as the be-all and end-all of political systems, is as importantly but less known for its sexual egalitarianism.  Men, women, rich  or poor, aristocratic or from la France profonde, have the right to stray.  Political scandals as well as civil disputes in the provinces are rarely about who slept with whom, but who did what to whom.  What bribery or breach of communal contract is brought to trial?  The Salem Witch Trials, although ostensibly about demonic possession, were no less than sexual trials.  Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter was not about Hester Prynne’s defiance of God but her promiscuity.  The red letter ‘A’ was emblazoned on her breast not so much as a marker of her sin against God but her defiance of Massachusetts Puritan morality.

The French and most Europeans are necessarily cynical about the course of history which has been nothing if not a trail of autocracy, hegemony, and brutal, immoral quests for power.  Kings, princes, emperors, and popes met their demise not because of any sexual deviation but because of political overreaching or weakness in the face of a more determined, equally amoral enemy. Sex had nothing to do with it.

America, of course, has a different socio-cultural trajectory.  We were born into Puritan rectitude and have never lost it.  The fate of politicians, preachers, and Wall Street investors has always had less to do with their dishonesty, shady dealings, and financial deviousness than their sexual lapses.  Taking a bribe here or there, greasing the wheels of the marketplace, currying favor, or feathering one’s nest have always been lesser crimes.  Cheating on one’s wife, frequenting prostitutes, keeping mistresses, or simply enjoying the odd affair were more damning. 

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Who, the French offer, cares about sexual improprieties?  Of course Donald Trump in his days as a mega-rich real estate magnate took liberties with women; and of course ambitious, beautiful women took advantage of his meal ticket. Of course powerful men in Hollywood made unwanted advances to young starlets.  In many if not most cases, the affair was consensual.  The beautiful young things from Iowa and Nebraska put up with the moves of ugly, rich, newly-assimilated European Jews because their careers depended on it.  What was lost? And what was gained.  The calculus of American capitalist enterprise is not so difficult to understand.

Of course fraternity parties are ragged, unholy affairs.  No woman in the Ivy League hoping for High Mass would ever set foot inside ‘Deke’, DKE, Yale’s animal house.  A world-renowned brain surgeon, responsible for saving countless lives from unnecessary death, stirred martinis with his dick at DKE in the late Sixties.  No harm intended.  No offense meant.  Just drunken, sexual hijinks which not only were expected but hoped for.  If the future Dr. Henry Caruthers had not stirred martinis with his dick, the invited would have demanded their money back.

All of which leads to the issue of marital infidelity en masse – i.e. between normal, ordinary American husbands and wives. Is there some socio-cultural or temporal firewall that prevents the spread of adultery?  Do only today’s feminized, woke women demand Puritanical obedience to the marriage contract? Probably.  There are legions of men who have ‘bought into’ the assumption of male aggression, sexual depredation, patriarchy, and retrograde ideas of masculinity; who have taken women’s side in a revisionist view of biological and social sexual history; and who have capitulated their essential (viz. D.H. Lawrence) maleness to a feminist ideal.  For them adultery is now a capital offense, a hanging offense.  Sexual libertinage is tantamount to animalistic primitivism.

Having a string of sexual partners whether during, before, or after marriage is inherently wrong, debased, and intolerable.  Fidelity – celibacy even – is the highest and most telling standard of moral probity.

In today’s MeToo accusatory age, anything goes.  Any 'unwanted attention’ is considered abuse, and infringement of a woman’s civil and apparently sacred right to self-determination. Who says so?  Not the French or Italians who have always whistled at a beautiful woman and gotten a smile in return.

Of course when ‘unwanted attention’ turns to physical coercion, the calculus changes; but in today’s censorious age, where is the line drawn?  Lord knows, millions of teenage boys groped, fondled, and caressed their hoped-for lovers in the back seats of their fathers’ Fords without incident.  The girls knew what they wanted, why they were there, and how to stop ‘invasion’.  It was the way of the world played out at drive-ins.  The heroines of Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Strindberg knew exactly what was what.  They understood their innate power and the weaker ascribed power of their husbands and lovers.  There was no distorted calculus.

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A well-known Washington lawyer had been married for thirty years.  She was born into an older, pre-feminist generation of the 40s and 50s but matured in the feminizing years of the 70s.  She loved her husband, was attracted by his sense of humor and especially his bad boy attitude, but found herself unsure of her decision once she found that he had been having affairs – not just one or two, but a series of long and short encounters that had persisted since the day they were married.  His infidelities did not seem to interfere with his attention to her or to their two children.  He seemed just as attentive and loving as ever; but the fact that she knew of his ‘delinquencies’ – his straying from bed, contract, and commitment – was perplexing.  What was the problem, she thought, if he has affairs without consequence; affairs which, if the shoe were on the other foot, she could have? Was the issue sexual congress? Breach of contract? Or something more questionable?

Her husband had none of these qualms.  Like most men he was able to compartmentalize his sexual interests.  Diane, Lisa, Grace, and all the others meant little to him other than affirmations of maleness, sexual diversity, adventure, and pleasure.  His marriage was secure, permanent, and inviolable.  What was her problem?

Her problem, of course, was the problem.  Men and women simply do not look at sex and sexual intimacy in the same way. To her his adultery was sinful and dishonest.  To him it was natural, expected, and in no way unusual.  He ascribed to the French model; she to the American, Puritan one.  And never the twain shall meet.

Might there be a compromise? A leavening of the American sexual imperatives? A more realistic approach to male-female relationships, one derived from age-old, millennia-old, behavioral patterns, and immortalized in Hedda Gabler, The Father, Miss Julie, and Shakespeare’s Comedies? A less sanctimonious assumption that a sexual spectrum is absolute and not derivative?

Doubtful.  Sexual assumptions – cultural and social and therefore temporal, temporary, and insignificant – seem hard to refute or ignore in an age of ‘relevance’.  The social justice juggernaut pushes on with only light resistance; but this too, will meet an incoming tide.  Eventually we will return to fundamental, inescapable, and absolute bi-polar sexual dynamics.

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