Recently, as a litany of high-profile men have made headlines for cheating on their wives, I have been reflecting on the need for another Lightner-style, mother-led campaign.
Anthony Weiner is just the latest in a long line of famous men who have strayed: Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Edwards, Tiger Woods and Eliot Spitzer also have been publicly excoriated for their disgraceful behavior.
But the women with whom they cheated, who all knew they were getting involved with married men (all but one of whom were fathers), have not drawn similar criticism. In fact, the opposite is true: They have been celebrated.
Rielle Hunter, with whom John Edwards had an affair, helped create a wreckage of grand proportions for Elizabeth Edwards and her children. But Hunter was given star treatment by “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” In that interview, she said that she “didn’t regret the affair” and that she had simply “followed her heart.”
What was call girl Ashley Dupre’s penance for helping Spitzer devastate his wife and daughters? She is now a New York Post “advice” columnist and has been a featured panelist on “The View,” where she tried to portray herself as a victim. In late 2009, “Extra!” even sought her marital advice for Tiger Woods and his wife.
Woods was reported to have cheated with multiple women. But take the treatment of just one, Jaimee Grubbs. She landed a photo shoot with Maxim, graced the cover of another men’s magazine and conducted several media interviews.
The circumstances of these affairs vary, but there are troubling common threads. Yes, many people feel sympathy for the wives. But consider how high-profile adulterous affairs play out in the media: The shamed husband and father is dragged into the public square, generally now before cameras, for a well-deserved “stoning.” And the “other woman” is escorted on stage by a team of publicists, lawyers and other handlers who turn her into a celebrity.
There is a danger in fame and infamy being synonymous.
We are, as a society, a long way from making such women wear a scarlet “A.” But it was not so long ago that the community of mothers was organized and vocal and got fighting mad at women who were a danger to their families.
Our society needs similar values today.
Back then, women who preyed on other women’s husbands were shunned, shamed and excluded, not made into media darlings. They were publicly pointed out as “those kinds of women” to young girls as examples of what not to become, and to young boys as the type of women not worthy of their attention.
Mothers knew that these women were as much predator as they were prey. That’s why they were called ‘‘home wreckers” in polite company and worse when the kids were not in earshot. These angry mothers, while rightly holding their husbands and the fathers of their children to the pledge of fidelity, realized what would happen not just to their families but also to society if this type of behavior were celebrated rather than confronted.
Where are today’s Candy Lightners? Isn’t there something to be mad about?
Roland C. Warren is president of the National Fatherhood Initiative (www.fatherhood.org). His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.