The Scarlet Letter in 2013

I was listening to ‘Easier to Lie’ by Cassadee Pope  (anyone else a huge The Voice fan?!) today and the song really resonated with me. In ‘Easier to Lie’, Cassadee sings about the guilt of cheating and being unable to tell her lover the truth. This song struck me hard because there are rarely any songs by women about cheating on their lovers. In fact, the only other song I can think of is ‘Unfaithful’ by Rihanna.

When I really started to think about it, I realized that there are many more songs about cheating sung by men. I wondered to myself, why is that? Both men and women cheat. It isn’t a gendered activity. Then, I thought, maybe it’s because women face the harsher punishment for participating in the act of cheating, whether as the cheater or the ‘other’. They are called sluts and home wreckers (if applicable), and they are ostracized because they should’ve known better. For example, in Easy A when Olive wrongly takes the blame as the other woman, Olive loses all of her friends and suffers constant harassment.

I’m not saying that men get off scot-free, but they definitely don’t face the same wrath for cheating that women face. Is it because women are judged more? Is it because men cheating has become normalized? Is it because women are supposed to be more empathetic and are therefore more immoral when they cheat?

Whatever the reason is, it’s no wonder that women are less inclined to sing about cheating.

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2 thoughts on “The Scarlet Letter in 2013

  1. Thanks for posting this. I was thinking about cheating men vs. cheating women the other day, because I came across an article on the subject in the context of a new television series on ABC called ‘Betrayal.’ The show’s protagonist Sarah, a mother and wife, cheats on her husband in the very first episode. In the article, the same double-standard is addressed. Can the audience forgive a female cheater in the same way they can forgive a male cheater? The show’s writers hope that the audience can keep an open mind as they watch the series unfold. I personally find Sarah and her spouse as equally sympathetic characters. ‘Betrayal’ doesn’t demonize Sarah’s husband in order to permit her affair, and at the same time, they make it difficult for me to condemn Sarah. Initially, I was shocked at the immediacy of the affair, as it happens in the first episode, before we really know Sarah. As I reacted, I wondered how the rest of America was responding…it certainly felt different watching a female protagonist cheat on her husband, without simultaneously being painted as a bad wife, a bad mother or as having a bad husband, etc. Men on television seem to get away more easily with infidelity, whether they have a relevant ‘reason’ made clear to audience or not. It is worth mentioning that the man Sarah is having an affair with, is also married with children, but that doesn’t come up as a potential problem for the audience.

    The article is here: http://www.thewrap.com/tv/article/tca-betrayal-are-viewers-ready-cheating-female-protagonist-108306

  2. First off, I love The Voice! And second, this is an interesting song and point that you raise.

    I think a problem here is that men – in the real world and in fiction – are depicted as complex characters who are multifaceted in their desires, concerns, actions, etc. Whereas women are judged by their bodies, sexuality, specifically in relation to men — in other words, the idea of a woman is two-dimensionalized in its existence. A woman who is a wife, say, is a wife and nothing more; so if she cheats on her husband, we find it unimaginable/unrepresentable — because we never saw or narrated her as a fully human being who has complex desires (and therefore, might want multiple partners/cheat) in the first place.

    The taboo against women cheating and/or having multiple partners also points to something in our cultural psychology that longs for closure when it comes to the imagined woman: she is an idea, a cardboard cut-out with no depth and no possibility of being complex/troubled – she either fits into an ideal category (virgin/mother/whore) or she is a complete unknown that our culture rejects.

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