In Ireland last week, in front of hundreds of students at University College Dublin, I participated in a debate on whether pornography is destructive or harmless. Numerous speakers on the pro-pornography side argued that pornography was a central part of women's liberation, a point which met with thunderous cheers from the women in the audience. When it was my turn to speak, I asked the young women present to raise their hands if they needed a man. Not one hand went up. I then told them that commensurate with the degree to which men are becoming immature, porn-obsessed schoolboys, women are giving up on the hope of ever finding a noble, well-mannered gentleman. As women confront the vulgar reality of how men treat them, they discover that becoming masturbatory material to men is not particularly liberating.
The despair of Dublin's women was mirrored the next evening in a conversation with a twenty-nine year old woman who told me that she had given up on finding a good man because the men in Dublin were conditioned 'to treat women as orifices.' She said, 'A huge number of women play along by coming out on Friday and Saturday nights in their skimpy mini-skirts in the freezing cold, getting completely drunk and doing anything the guys want in the mistaken belief that somehow this will bring them love. After a few years they give up on men and become like me.'
Nowhere in the Western world are we raising a generation of men who pride themselves on their restraint and respect toward women. We are likewise failing to cultivate women who refuse to be complicit in their own degradation and who insist that their sexuality be shared with a man only in the context of a serious and tangible romantic commitment. It's a man's world. Women just live in it.
This is even true in marriage as more and more relationship experts blame a cheating husband on his wife. If a man is unfaithful, they argue, it is often due to the fact that he feels lonely and unappreciated by his wife. By recognizing that their husbands have emotional and sexual needs which wives may be ignoring, a wife can win her husband back and ensure that he does not stray.
A few months ago I mentioned that this was the position taken by Dr. Laura Schlesinger after the Eliot Spitzer affair and it has since been echoed by other relationship writers.
But this attempt to blame the victim ignores the fact that the principle reason men womanize is to shore up their broken egos. There are so many damaged husbands who think that a nurturing stranger who both desires him and wishes to be an ear to his pain will be a salve to his painfully low self-esteem. In many cases, these are husbands who have wives who could not be more devoted, who give them sex whenever they want, who pine for them to come home at night, all to no avail. No matter how much she huffs and puffs, she cannot inflate his perforated ego.
Would we really suggest that, as Elizabeth Edwards ran around the country with incurable cancer catering to her husband's yearning to be president, he cheated on her because she wasn't caring enough? After Silla Ward Spitzer garnered national ridicule by quite literally standing by her husband in his greatest moment of shame, would we inflict the final insult on her by telling her that her husband hung out with hookers because of her neglect?
In this age of husbands who are sports and TV addicts, I dare say that there are probably more wives who are ignored by their husbands than the reverse. But women seem much more capable of controlling themselves and deciding that a husband's neglect is no excuse to corrupt one's character and become immoral. Indeed, the only way to truly affair-proof one's marriage is to decide that the pleasure of righteous action and moral heroism by far outstrips anything that can be experienced in illicit sex. This is something magical in a man's ability to turn down an opportunity to stray and walk away from the encounter a devoted husband and moral giant. One of the prime reasons we all suffer from low self-esteem these days is that we are not the people we want to be. Becoming a liar and a cheat is probably not, in the long run, going to make us feel a whole lot better about ourselves. But deciding to behave righteously even when we are in pain will.
To be sure, wives should of course work to reach their husband's buried emotions. Contrary to what many women believe, men are intimacy seekers. In these challenging financial times, wives should ask their husbands not, 'How did your day go?,' but, 'How do you feel about all the convulsions in your company?' They should nurture their men's hearts and do their best to address their pain. But in the final analysis, if a husband cheats, it's his fault. Period. He has his own selfishness and ingratitude to blame.
As I survey the current cultural landscape I often wonder, where have all the gentlemen gone? Our movies are filled with male bathroom humor. Our sporting heroes like Alex Rodriquez can't seem to respect their commitments. Our college campuses are filled with frat boy party animals for whom womanizing is an integral part of 'higher' education. Do men today only aspire to an internet startup but not to refined character? Do they yearn for the Forbes Four Hundred list but not to set an example for their own sons of how a great man honors his wife and prioritizes his family?
There was a likable young man I met in Dublin who was very smart but also very cynical. As I spoke with him he shared with me his desire to be recognized as a great director. He also said, matter-of-factly, that when he meets a woman he is unapologetic about trying to have sex with her. When I asked him if he wanted children, he said, "I love my future children enough not to have them. I would inevitably mess them up." Of course, by the same logic he might as well never try and make a movie. But then, great directors get Academy Awards while gentleman receive no public accolades other than the knowledge that they alone among men tamed and harnessed the beast within.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach hosts a daily national radio show on "Oprah and Friends." His most recent book is the 'The Broken American Male.' (St. Martin's Press) www.shmuley.com