Glass Ceilings & Glass Floors

Commentary and analysis talk shows shouldn’t necessarily be held to the standards of hard news where facts are supposed to be confirmed by two or more independent sources, but during a panel discussion of Weiner’s juvenile behavior, in the course of which similarly bad behavior by Elliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods and others was brought into play, the host (a woman I respect) signed off by noting that the philanderers and adulterers named were all men. 

By no means is bad behavior be excused, but the obvious inference to be drawn from the host’s statement – that women are faithful and men aren’t – was at best a value judgment wholly  unsupported by facts and as such of no value in advancing progress toward gender equality.  Indeed, unsupported statements easily become cannon fodder for conservative reactionaries.

There have been numerous reputable studies on the subject of infidelity beginning with the Kinsey Reports of 1948 (men) and 1953 (women).  Though primitive and highly flawed by modern research standards, the Kinsey Reports basic findings remain intact: men and women both wander from the nuptial bed in statistically significant numbers.  The reasons vary and men do indeed stray more often than women,  but the percentages are similar and women are catching up fast.

There are also wide discrepancies in how many individuals stray, but according to serious researchers it is in no case is it more than 25% and some studies maintain that a truer figure is around 6%.  Part of the difficulty faced by researchers is that by the very nature of the questions being asked it must be assumed that some of the subjects are lying.  There is no professional agreement on how much lying is involved or how to factor lying into statistical results.  (Psychology Today has an interesting article on the subject posted here and some relevant statistics from the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy can be found here.)

The US has a very long way to go before women achieve true equality.  That women represent only 14% of corporate CEOs, 20% of the US Senate, and 18.9% of the House is only one verifiable measure. Since so few women have broken through the glass ceiling, there are substantially fewer in high profile positions and therefore a much smaller number of women whose private lives might be liable to media scrutiny.  (At least to a degree, in a holdover from the standards of an earlier time in journalism, the male-dominated news business is probably reluctant to investigate high profile women as a somewhat lascivious practice, and therefore off-limits.)

Additionally, and not to discount or dispute cases of criminal coercion and harassment in any way, these men didn’t act alone.  They had partners, almost invariably women.  Excluding  women making valid accusations of coercion or harassment, the law of averages indicates that at least some of these liaisons began as consensual. 

That the women who have come to public notice may have an axe to grind after the fact, sometimes not a very well-honed axe at that, strongly suggests that this one topic is either [A] the only area of the human psyche with only one possible interpretation, which is impossible, or [B] what is far more likely, that there are an awful lot of couples out there voluntarily living in the shadows who have found a tolerable and perhaps even happy way to adapt to their circumstances.

So be it. The faithfulness and moral integrity of individuals is, or at least should be, a private matter except where the public trust is legitimately concerned and the men and women who elect to risk discovery in a ratings-driven media society known, a priori, to be highly intrusive should be prepared to lie in the beds they have made.  

Parenthetically, and slightly off-topic, another pernicious question of gender bias regarding the media itself is never asked or answered despite the widespread and undeniable discrimination involved:

Across the spectrum of television news, both the men and the women who have risen to positions of prominence were almost always highly accomplished scholars, lawyers, economists, military, or political experts, etc., before becoming public personalities.  The men who go before the camera may or may not be in the image of Grecian gods but though it is a value judgment, how is it that the women we see on TV are, almost without exception, unusually attractive if not downright beautiful?  We won’t anytime soon see news stations picketed by feminists with signs demanding “Hire the Ugly and Plain”.


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