The Incredible Helplessness of Men: Lust Edition

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.

  • http://thepreeminentlitteratuer.wordpress.com Caitlin

    The idea that men have no responsibility to women is my absolute least favorite thing about society, and I think it will be the hardest thing to overcome, because some women subscribe to it too. I got into a Facebook discussion about an article that ranked female Olympic athletes by their sexiness with a woman who believed that “Men who have never been taught to value women will always be there flaunting there ignorance for all to see.” When I said that THAT was the idea we ought to be challenging, she said “I just think trying to confront every pig out there and get them to change. Or, focusing on them slows down our own efforts. I don’t feel they deserve our thoughts or attention. …I’d rather put my attention on raising the confidence of the upcoming and present women.”

    Obviously I believe in empowering women, but unless men are taught that women deserve to be valued and respected in ways that make women feel good (not a false or manipulative kind of respect/value like what you’ve described in patriarchal traditions), feminism has reached a dead end. We can’t leave men out of the issue. Empowering women is only half the battle.

  • Pingback: The Incredible Helplessness of Men: Lust Edition, Epilogue « The Phoenix and Olive Branch


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