I’ve been following these stories about Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s rape charge and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s infidelity with quiet interest, not because I’m shocked at the revelations but more so because of the media frenzy around both incidents. Shocker. If you read my blog, you know that media coverage pushes my buttons.
The Strauss-Kahn rape allegations are ugly, and his recent resignation from the IMF illustrates the gravity of the situation. Based on his past reputation as a womanizer, this newest accusation does not sit well, but let’s be clear about something: womanizing and rape are two very different things. Womanizing is not admirable; rape is criminal. So when the media lumps Strauss-Kahn and the Terminator together and asks questions like, “Why do powerful men cheat?” (Anderson Cooper tweet on May 17), we need to take stock of how we’re thinking about these two very different incidents.
While Maria Shriver has every right to divorce Schwarzenegger over this new revelation involving his fathering a child with their housekeeper, we need to keep this in perspective. Nothing has been revealed to indicate that the relationship that produced this child was not consensual. Schwarzenegger did not rape the housekeeper. But yet this newest piece of information has been added on to the Strauss-Kahn story, and people are now asking questions about infidelity and male sexuality and so on.
The Schwarzenegger incident is not only about male sexuality; it’s about honesty. There are plenty of examples from throughout history of men having mistresses. We know this, and to a certain extent, we accept it. Far more easily in European countries. The puritanical Pilgrims that many of us descend from have left us with a strong moral system in the US. It’s not easy to get out from under notions of “right” and “wrong” when it comes to something like infidelity. People have trouble accepting the grey. But what about this? How would the situation have been different for Maria and Arnold if they had discussed it? Could an acknowledged mistress have been an option? Does the infidelity say that Arnold doesn’t love Maria?
People question Hillary Clinton’s choice to stay with Bill, but she seems to be perfectly fine. I would venture to say that Hillary and Bill have had some honest conversations with each other about what their relationship means and why they stay together. Cynics say that they stay together to be a powerful couple. I think that’s too easy. People will now ask how Anne Sinclair could ever stay with Dominique Strauss-Kahn. If he raped that woman in the hotel, I’d have to agree with them. But maybe Anne Sinclair can live with the womanizing. If it turns out that Strauss-Kahn is simply a womanizer, then maybe their relationship doesn’t change.
Love and relationships are complicated. Judging actions like Schwarzenegger’s makes me think about throwing stones and living in a glass house. Wondering about “male sexuality” raises flags for me. Schwarzenegger and Shriver seem to have had some communication issues. Strauss-Kahn may have some sex-power issues. But let’s not reduce these very complex situations to a sound byte. Our society needs to be smarter than that.