The Incredible Helplessness of Men: Lust Edition

by Sierra

(Editorial note: I went into Sierra’s blog to get a few of her The Sexuality Project posts to reblog here at NLQ and ran across this. While the Edwards-Hunter scandal is now old news the lie accepted by the world and patriarchy that men cannot control their sexual selves needs to be exposed. The deeper truth is that this is another one of those lies patriarchy uses to control women.)

I just accidentally ran across this piece of weird voyeurism on the internet. (How I got there? I can’t even remember.)

The body that drove John Edwards mad: Rielle Hunter struts in her swimsuit

Now, before you tell me that the Daily Mail is a piece of trash: The Daily Mail is a piece of trash. Still. They reproduce the assumptions of the modesty doctrine, demonstrating its currency outside the Christian patriarchy movement. I’ve compiled several excerpts below to discuss the problem with the way John Edwards’ affair is being framed here. I’ve clustered them by issue.

The helpless, hopeless, overwhelming lust defense

This is the body that sank John Edwards’ political career.

Edwards claimed Hunter had a physical and sexual confidence that made her irresistible.

Paid the price: Edwards lost his political career, and his shot at national office, because he could not resist Hunter, a leggy blonde who has stayed svelte even six years after her relationship with the two-time presidential candidate began.

Hunter claims she wrote the book, ‘What Really Happened: John Edwards, Our Daughter and Me,’ to publicly explanation the six-year romance to the couple’s love child, Frances Quinn Hunter.

The first sentence here (and the title of the “article”) reproduces the myth that men can’t help themselves. If a sexually alluring woman makes herself available to a man, he will inevitably have an affair with her. The magazine, trash as it is, can freely say what respectable people demurely imply: that Hunter’s body alone had the power to topple Edwards. Indeed, the statement that her body alone could do this totally undermines any part of her personality that could have attracted him, or any particular decision on her part to seduce him. Which is ridiculous, because the Daily Mail points out not only that their relationship lasted six years (whereas infatuation tends to die after two), but Hunter was pretty obviously intent on involving herself with him:

Hunter says she caught Edwards’ eye at the hotel when she followed him out of a reception and said, ‘You are so hot.’

But clearly he just succumbed to her impossibly good looks because he’s a hormone-driven male.

The lies and motivations

Now, lest Edwards himself start looking like a victim of her intentions as well as her looks:

But Hunter says she didn’t give in easily to sleeping with a married man — it took Edwards telling her a story about having three other mistresses to get her into bed that first night they met. ‘Clearly, this behavior of his was not going to change overnight… I also told him that if I was going to help him, he couldn’t lie to me. He needed to have one person in his life that was safe for him.’

But Edwards did lie to Hunter. He lied that night about the three other mistresses — and used the lie to manipulate her for five years. He didn’t come clean about his love life until 2011, she says.

Hunter attacks Edwards’ wife Elizabeth, who died in December 2010 of breast cancer, calling her ‘crazy,’ ‘venomous’ and a ‘witch on wheels.’ She says her abusive behavior toward John Edwards drove him into the arms of other women.

Leaving aside the incomprehensible logic of sleeping with a man who sleeps with lots of women to “help” him stop sleeping with lots of women, there’s a classic sexist scenario playing out here. In order to defend her lover (and probably justify her own actions), Hunter blames his wife for his infidelity. This happens all the time: women are told that they need to stay slim and sexy to keep men interested in them, and that if they neglect this “duty” their husbands are justified (or at least understood) for cheating. Hunter also uses stereotypical attacks on women as “crazy” and sharp-tongued to malign the woman whose place she usurped.

This shows an obvious lack of perspective (“I’m special, so he won’t do the same to me”) and self-sabotaging lack of respect (feeling superior to Elizabeth because she better satisfied John). But the egregiousness of the context – the fact that all of this took place while Elizabeth Edwards was actually dying – lays bare a bigger truth about patriarchy: that male sexual satisfaction trumps loyalty and that women are disposable. The same narcissism motivated Tess’s husband in her story on NLQ. The same narcissism told my father that he deserved a woman who would put his needs above her own commitments (in this case, my mom’s commitment to her faith) and dress skimpily for his pleasure, so he was justified to have an affair. The same narcissism led John McCain to divorce his disabled wife, who had remained faithful to him while he was a POW, and marry a young, svelte heiress as soon as he was back in his stride. This is hardly an isolated phenomenon.

Are men just like that?  No.

That’s what narcissistic men would like you to believe: they’re the normal ones, it’s unnatural to expect them to behave better. Probably all of the above men have personality disorders. The problem is that by reproducing these ideas (that a woman keeps a man with her sexuality, that a woman who fails to do so deserves to be cast aside and/or cheated on), we contribute to a culture that understands, if not legitimizes, such behavior.

She describes waiting for hours at hotel bars for her lover to swoop in off the campaign trail. They often shared hurried dinners over take-out before short, passionate romps. Then, Edwards had to leave and return to his cancer-stricken wife and his life in the public eye. 

These are calculated behaviors. John Edwards wasn’t “driven mad” by Rielle Hunter’s body. He intentionally sought out sex with her, or at the very least failed to resist for six straight years. That doesn’t sound like a man infatuated with a sexy image. That sound like a man in control of his own actions, who does not care that his actions are emotionally abusive to his wife. Hunter’s body only had power over him because he allowed it to. He chose to abandon his wife emotionally and sexually, and humiliate her in her last days. He chose to discard his commitment, to lie to his wife, to present a false public face as a good Christian man. He wasn’t driven anywhere; his hands were on the wheel.

My point? Female bodies don’t “drive men” to do anything (other than possibly get aroused, which actually does not require female assistance to dispell). Men drive themselves over their own cliffs with their eyes wide open. Patriarchy claims their brake lines were cut, when the truth is, they never even tried to press the pedal.

Comments open below

Read everything by Sierra!

Sierra is a PhD student living in the Midwest. She was raised in a “Message of the Hour” congregation that followed the ministry of William Branham. She left the Message in 2006 and is the author of the blog  the phoenix and the olive branch

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NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce


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  • texcee

    Let me state up front that I am not a lesbian, nor have I ever had any sexual feelings for another woman. Which is not saying that I’m anti-gay, because I have family members who are gay and a large number of gay friends whom I love unabashedly and celebrate in their diversity. I’m just establishing that I’m a raging heretosexual. Now, having said that, I will state unequivocably that I come extremely close to HATING men! Particularly men who can’t keep their pants zipped and who blame women for “driving them wild”. I hate the patriarchy movement for its determination to crush women (back) into submission and into being nothing more than sex objects and housekeepers. I hate men in other countries who force their women to wear burqas and cover every inch of their bodies, lest the men go beserk and rape them for their “lack of modesty”. MEN — if you have so little self-control and respect for the females around you, then do us all a favor and amputate the part of your anatomy that seems to rule your existence! We would all be better off for it!

  • Uh, being a lesbian doesn’t mean that you hate men. It means that you love women.
    Back to Sierra’s article: it’s awesome. Yes, this is what patriarchs in some many different conservative religious communities want everyone to believe—that they just can’t help themselves. But somehow, their supposed inability to help themselves qualifies them for leadership. Talk about having their cake and eating it too.

  • It’s actually more common than you’d think for a man to leave his wife because she gets a chronic illness. They don’t all have personality disorders; I think happens is that while women are raised and socialized to have a self-sacrificial outlook when their partner is ill or otherwise suffering, men really are not. Instead, they are often raised to feel entitled to what their partners give them, and when the partner can’t do things for him anymore, but constantly needs things done for her instead– the man’s feelings of love die. They are not emotionally equipped, many times, to make it through the long haul.

  • jose

    Having lots of affairs is a success among men. He’s seen as a conqueror, something to brag about. The irresistible sexiness narrative is simply an excuse because the real motivation isn’t socially acceptable anymore. The feeling of power, the ego boost, is well worth the excuse. But if you associate the excuse with something bad, the feeling goes away and the truth comes up.

    Tell a man that this kind of behavior is a result of a weak character and a lack of discipline, that he’s reducing himself to being a lackey of women, and he will deny the whole narrative of the irresistible female sexiness. He’ll say he can dump them whenever he wants, because yes, he’s in control after all.

    This is a cultural tradition that goes back ten centuries to something called courtly love. Things were more egalitarian before that. Just look at the Bible for a nice story of mutual, equal desire and love: The Song of Songs. Looks nothing like Edward’s affairs, does it?

  • Helen

    Brilliant article.

  • Helen