The Sexist

Sexist Beatdown: Mistresses, And the Cheaters Who Hate Them Edition

In ye olden times, the kept woman enjoyed a high social status, so long as she did not endeavor unto the dark arts of pornographie and erotic dancing.

Mistresses! Whenever a public figure takes one as a secret lover, Society at Large is obligated to publicly shame this woman for her untoward behavior. But just how much shame shall we pile on a woman accused of having sex with a man who has pledged to only have sex with one other lady? Use this handy guide to determine how much irrational hatred she deserves:

a) if she is a mysterious and beautiful Argentinian mother of two, leak romantic e-mails.

b) if she is a fertile campaign videographer, proceed with light mockery over musical tastes.

c) if she is a cocktail waitress, insinuate that she is actually a sex worker.

d) if she works in a strip club, lose all ability to refer to her as anything other than "stripper."

e) if she is a porn performer, release grainy video stills of her shaking her boobs in front of a fire truck.

f) if she is literally the Devil, insinuate that she is actually a sex worker.

In this week's edition of Sexist Beatdown, Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown and I discuss why mistresses receive the brunt of all our projected self-hatred, wonder why the term "Mistress" has no male counterpart (I nominate "Mrstress"), and respectfully request that Tiger Woods set his Facebook statuses to private.

SADY: Mistresses!

AMANDA: Indeed. I have heard many sordid tales of their existence as of late.

SADY: sometimes, mistresses talk about being mistresses. At other times, they do not talk. In either case, it is fine to talk about them! For they are MISTRESSES, scourge of the "I am married to a cheater" world.

AMANDA: Can we talk for a second about this "mistress" business? Is there a word for the "mister" of a married woman? like a "Mrster"? Or something?

SADY: I prefer the term "Mister Mistress." Which is also the name of my new glam-metal band, in case you were looking for an update on that.

AMANDA: I think that was also a Hulk Hogan movie.

SADY: But really, we know that the appropriate word for "man mistress" is "totally rocking dude."

AMANDA: The only other term I can think of that is dismissive (dismistress!) in the same way is "pool boy."

SADY: Yeah. Basically, the only words we have for dudes who are being cruelly exploited for sex on the side by lady types are class (and often race) based.

AMANDA: Yeah. "Mistresses" (ugh) on the other hand, have to be cornered into this odd cultural Other Wife space, even though they are not married to this guy, and they actually have plenty of their own shit going on as well. They are still defined solely by this relationship.

SADY: Yeah. I mean, we have this strangely romantic Victorian version of the mistress, STILL. It is not just "I hooked up with a dude, he is married, sometimes I make bad decisions in my personal life," it is this strange thing where we still think of them as dissolute Women of Leisure who are sexfully attending to their patron's sexful needs while draped in diamonds which of course are the whole point. And I think, weirdly, though I definitely GET that intimacy and all of that are scary, and the fact that you could love someone and they could love hooking up with other people is really unsettling for just about anyone, our need to drag mistresses into the light and be like, "mistress! Behold ye alle this Creature, captured in thee most Wanton Abandon!" Well, it's people working out personal anxieties, sure. We WANT to hate them because then the people who are cheating on us are clearly choosing people lesser than ourselves. But also: it's a way of deciding which women are all right. A way of deciding what makes a good woman (being cheated on!) and a bad one (being cheated with!) if that makes sense.

AMANDA: Yeah, and I have found that to be a really weird part of the Sanford / Edwards ladies' narratives, where there is an attempt to make some sort of Character Coup out of being cheated on.

SADY: Well, but also, that excerpt from "Game Change," about the affair, went to great lengths to portray Elizabeth Edwards as a screaming, controlling harpy who clearly deserved to be cheated on.

AMANDA: But the thing that really disturbs me when people get to talkin' about cheating, is that we know that about 50 percent of married men and women (and men I think do it at higher rates than women, but not significantly higher) will cheat on their spouses at some point. And so all of this faux outrage tends to worry me, because either these people are just ignoring their own realities, or they are attempting to work out their personal issues by piling their hatred onto these women.

SADY: Right! And it is like: I would prefer people not to cheat on me. I am not a fan of cheating in general. I think it is a thing you should not do. And yet, affairs are such a commonplace part of human life that they form the basis of: much literature, much television, "Mad Men" specifically for like three seasons, many movies, music, and now apparently our salacious news headlines that are going on when also there is a huge recession which I find sort of important. So, when a marriage is found to contain cheating, and everyone panics gets all, "this is the worst thing! The worst thing that could happen! Ever! For marriage is a sacred covenant, united by God's holy tears of joy over the entwined bodies of lovers!" Well: but you know it happens all over, right? People just want to be clear that they are in the OTHER FIFTY PERCENT, maybe. Even right now, I am worrying that people are going to think I am a cheater because I am inappropriately freaked out by mistresses, strangely.

AMANDA: Cheater! Cheater! I think it's that people have always wanted to hold their public figures and role models to a higher standard than themselves, and that makes sense to me. But they also, now, want to bring them down to our level. Which is really easy! Because they have never been morally superior to us in the first place, and the news of their private lives has just been more strictly controlled. I think at some point we are going to have to just stop giving a shit, I guess? Because it is getting boring, to me. I don't think our 24-hour news cycle can endure the weight of all the revelations of cheating that will occur among the huge number of suddenly newsworthy people we're reporting on now. For example: I recently read a very large-fonted Huffington Post headling about Matthew Fox possibly cheating on his wife with a "stripper" (the most reviled form of Mistress!) How long can people keep clicking on that? Tell me it's not forever.


SADY: God. Okay, can we talk about this? Sex worker mistresses? One of Tiger Woods' mistresses was apparently a porn performer, and there is a lawsuit going on have been vague threats of a lawsuit which I don't clearly understand, but which has to do with her quitting porn for Tiger, and thinking she was his only girlfriend, and etc.

AMANDA: (I also don't understand the legal precedent here).

SADY: I think it is lost income? Because she stopped working due to their relationship? It does seem like a frivolous and fairly transparently mercenary deal, from all I can understand. And taking a dude to court over your failed relationship is a bit over-the-top. But also, people are just shocked, SHOCKED AND APPALLED, that a person who made PORNOGRAPHY could DARE to express hurt in public! Like: it is that, not the nature of the debate here, that is getting some I think unfair focus.

AMANDA: It ... has feelings?

SADY: She made PORNOGRAPHY Amanda! I do not understand it! I thought the pornography cameras stole your soul!

AMANDA: That is the rumor.

SADY: Like: that's the thing. Mistresses are always slutty, trashy, tacky, la la la. I think it is bad form to date a married dude, not least because what is the best-case scenario for YOU, Mistress, in this relationship? Dating a dude who hurts ladies' feelings? No. But when they are also sex workers—and there is always, if not a specifically Matthew-Fox-centric version of this rumor, a version of this rumor floating around— then they are basically the devil. Women get to be like, "and also, my husband cheated on me, and it was with Satan."

AMANDA: I think that the intensified shaming of the porn actress goes back to the idea of the Mistress as well being this woman who is committed to the married man, even though he is married. Tiger Woods has like a million "Mistresses" at this point, who are really just women he's seen at some point or another, and who were obviously not under any obligation to only have sex with Tiger Woods. But we are somehow encouraged to see them that way, because if you have sex with a married man, the only way to come out looking a tiny bit better in the public eye is if you were just so totally and hopelessly in love with him that you were sexually committed only to him, and all 12 of you thought he was the real deal, or whatever. Which is gross. Tiger Woods himself actually did get a little sensitive about his "Mistresses" seeing other dudes, from the literature I've read on the topic. So even Tiger couldn’t find a reasonable perspective on cheating with someone he was cheating on his wife with.

SADY: Right. Some mistresses get to be like, "well, but my heart and feelings were involved." And it helps if we can see them as not-at-all sexual outside of this relationship. But when a lady clearly engages in sexual activity elsewhere, people are like, "wait a minute! This is about FUCKING, isn't it? Gross!"

AMANDA: Right. Because if you're a porn star ... well, then, many other dudes who are not Tiger Woods have seen you, like, naked and stuff! Bad mistress! We grade Mistresses now.

SADY: Heart and feelings involved: A+

He really was getting divorced though and now also you have his baby: B+

Clearly having had sex with people not your Mistressifier: F. For Failure.

AMANDA: Being married to a guy who cheats on you with a woman who does porn: Priceless, or something.

SADY: Yeah. I feel for that lady. TO THE MAX. In conclusion, can we all just agree that sometimes DUDES who cheat are really the ones who Destroyed This Marriage, though?

AMANDA: Sure, but can we also agree that unless the dude in question is like a noted marriage advocate or some shit, I don't particularly want to see him stand on a podium and cry about it? Just go deal with your own business.

SADY: Yeah. Seriously. We are not Facebook friends, your Relationship Status Updates are not really my personal concern. TIGER WOODS IS IT'S COMPLICATED.

Image via Wikipedia Commons

  • Em

    This is a very American freakout. Sarkozy cheated on his wife, divorced his wife, married his mistress, and not only did the French people not try to impeach him, they're considered this adorable couple--a Brangelina of sorts.

    (note: my timeline may be off, and I think they may have elected him AFTER all of this, but still)

    I don't know. It's kind of messed up, but at least no one cries on a podium on national television?

  • Amy

    Interesting that we don't have a name for a man who dates a married woman. Of course, there's a derisive name for the husband in this arrangement. We'd never think to call Elizabeth or Elin a cuckold.

  • cminus

    Is there a word for the “mister” of a married woman? like a “Mrster”? Or something?

    It has a somewhat old-fashioned tone, but when people I know need a word for such an individual, they go with "kept man". Wikipedia agrees.

  • bea

    Carla Bruni was not Sarkozy's mistress. They met after he got divorced. And they are not considered an adorable couple. Most people hate Sarkozy.

  • Martin Quinones

    Point of order: How come there's nobody talking about responsible non-monogamy up in this piece?

    Setting aside the obvious sexism in the way mistresses are covered, it is a really handy way to reinforce that if you are not monogamous, you are evil. We are presented with two roles a person can play in a relationship (devoted spouse who has no desire to fuck anyone else ever, and disgusting cheater), and stories that deviate from that don't get covered. I don't think any of the above celebrities are secretly poly or anything ("maybe Bill and Hillary had an arrangement lulz"). But let's at least acknowledge that part of the reason mistress coverage is annoying is that it's not just gender policing, but relationship style policing.