Is Sleeping With a Married Man Sexist?
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You write that infidelity is a topic that tends to be cast aside or ignored by the feminist academy. Why is it necessary to have an explicitly feminist critique of infidelity?
The 'personal is political' catch cry of feminism reminds us that the goings on in each of our bedrooms makes for important, and ongoing, political discussion. We need a feminist critique of infidelity, but of all sexual practices more broadly. I wrote about infidelity because it was something I was experiencing and was something that hadn't previously been examined from a feminist perspective.
What are some of the most important feminist issues involved in the examination of infidelity?
I think the most important issues a feminist examination of infidelity raises are the inherent power disparities evident in heterosexual unions and which ones are exploited in affairs; that the competition between women -- notably for the affections of men -- undermines gender equality; and that feminism adds an additional layer of complication to affairs, which are by their very nature complicated, often painful, and confusing.
Can you talk about how feminism is used to justify infidelity?
A third wave feminist take on infidelity focuses on the individual woman and her rights to sexual pleasure. For this woman, prioritizing her individual pleasure provides an ability to rationalize her participation in infidelity as being about the supreme importance of her own sexual pleasure and her shaking off the shackles of feeling a need to protect the marriage. I am sure there are cases where feminism has been used to shirk personal responsibility. Personally, I've used feminism as a way to analyze my behavior, and also as a way to rationalize it.
Despite the title of your book, you talk about there not being a true sisterhood to betray and that, as a result, feminist consciousness will not prevent single women from engaging in sexual relationships with partnered men or cause them to feel guilty about it. Can you explain why this is the case?
If no macro sisterhood exists, individual women are not going to feel loyalties to women who they have no other connection to other than that they both possess vaginas. When I discussed my own guilt in the book, that guilt stemmed from knowing that infidelity wasn't a good thing for feminism. As things progressed I would later feel guilt towards a woman who I was getting to know (albeit not personally) through being surrounded by her possessions. In that case, she had an identity, and it's harder to betray someone when you begin to know them. I don't think a concept of 'sisterhood' is going to prevent women from acting in their own best interest when everything else in society works to remind us that there actually isn't a sisterhood.
You write that feminists should condemn infidelity, yet you remain convinced that you made the right decision to be involved with a married man. How do you reconcile that?
Ideally, of course, it is in the best interest of feminism for single women not to get involved with married men -- but idealism is a very different thing from reality. While we can, of course, choose whether we act on our emotions, individuals make decisions for a suite of reasons, not just politics. In my case, I made a selfish decision that exploited my own priorities at that time in my life. Evidently my feminism proved lower down on that list than some other priorities, like being in an intimate relationship.
Mandy Van Deven is a freelance writer and founder of the Feminist Review blog. Focusing on gender, sexuality, popular culture, and
religion, her work has appeared in various publications, including Marie Claire, Bitch, Make/Shift, and The Women's International
Perspective. Mandy worked for over ten years as a grassroots organizer in New York and Atlanta. She currently lives in Calcutta, India.