Shakira, Miley Cyrus And The Double Standards Of Infidelity
Society judges men and women very differently in situations of adultery and cheating, and in divorce settlements. It just takes some high-profile cases to make that clear.
BUENOS AIRES — When Shakira, the Colombian pop diva, divorced her soccer star husband Gerard Piqué in 2022, she wrote a song to overcome the hurt and humiliation of the separation from Piqué, who had been cheating on her.
The song, which was made in collaboration with Argentine DJ Bizarrap and broke streaming records, was a "healthy way of channeling my emotions," Shakira said. She has described it as a "hymn for many women."
A day after its launch, Miley Cyrus followed suit with her own song on her husband's suspected affairs. Celebrities and influencers must have taken note here in Argentina: Sofía Aldrey, a makeup artist, posted screenshots of messages her former boyfriend had sent other women while they were a couple.
For some women, breakups coincide with other, big problems. Miley Cyrus needed surgery during her separation, while Shakira's father fell ill. In Argentina, Aldrey realized that her ex-partner, a television actor, had cheated on her over a two-year period in which she had given him care while he had cancer.
Yet women cannot expect an even slate of sympathy when their private lives are publicized. Shakira was jeered online as an "angry woman" and "bad mother" who needed therapy.
So, are these angry women who shouldn't have aired their dirty laundry in public, or is cheating another form of gender violence?
Physician Fernanda Tarica, who founded a Buenos Aires NGO that aids victims of domestic violence, says "cheating and lies cause harm to the other person, so it's unthinkable (they) should not be a kind of violence."
There is firstly "emotional violence when the monogamy pact is broken," she says, and then "in many cases, for different reasons, these women are unable to end the relationship, which creates emotional dependency that in turn becomes power and other forms of violence."
Is the discretion out of shame?
Tarica was surprised by the differing reactions to these three women, but said it's easier to accuse women of making a fuss. This, she said, "is a functional thing in patriarchy. The problem is infidelity, and if someone publicizes it from a position of pain, society's response is to reject it."
There seems to be a prevailing opinion that intramarital abuse should be kept at home. Still, it raises the question: should one protect the abuser over their target? Is the discretion out of shame?
Cognitive psychologist Delfina de Achával says breach of trust in couples provokes "very difficult to process emotions relating to power, possession ... treason and abandonment. de Achával describes the violence of marital infidelity as "symbolic."
"Women don't cry, they cash in," Shakira sings. Well, she certainly did: her song earned a pretty sum (over $2.5 million). But not all divorcees are, or feel, compensated.
In the case of Ana (not her real name), a 42-year-old taxi driver with three children, she threw her husband out of the house after a 20-year marriage. While pregnant with her second child, she began to notice signs of infidelity, until she saw a conversation on Facebook that made her so sick she ended up in hospital. During the pandemic, she realized that she could never divorce her husband, as being a housewife and mother meant she could not work or earn money. She began to take classes to become a professional driver.
This is where Fernanda Tarica sees infidelity as inflicting "important economic violence." She says "there are women who cannot separate because they cannot afford to. They have nothing to live on with their children, so the man does as he pleases. I'll cheat and lie to you, because there is little you can do about it."
This, essentially, is pervasive sexism quietly infringing a (female) citizen's economic rights, says Cintia González Oviedo, head of Bridge the Gap, a gender affairs and diversity consultancy. Even when women can end a marriage and get a job, she says, they often face another problem: fathers who disappear and fail to make child support payments.
González says over 66% of divorced men in the Buenos Aires province do not regularly pay for their children's food, while the province's Women and Gender ministry says barely 10% of divorced males provide "real and effective" economic support.
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Psychiatrist Enrique Stola says that while economic violence in the context of marital abuse should be clearly defined, broadly it is "another expression of the structural violence on women," who are left to care for the children without adequate support from ex-partners. "This happens in all countries, and this violence is chronic and structural, because judges, both male and female, do not take swift measures to help these women in a critical situation," he says.
Men are unable to give their wives or even children a second chance.
Stola, who specializes in gender violence, says economic violence emerges "in all its glory in the course of a separation, though undoubtedly there would have been signs of it (before), beside other types of psychological and symbolic violence." And it can be worse among the wealthy, he says, despite the use of lawyers who often fail to get the woman her fair share of divorce money.
When a well-to-do woman turns to the judiciary, he adds, she "starts to feel what many other women feel, even those from lower economic levels: she is accused of being greedy, wanting to grab all the money and leave none for the man."
Men as victims of infidelity
Fernanda Tarica insists that "very often," when married women have affairs, this is in response to the man's initial deception. Stola sees the state of infidelity as unequal, and suggests many believe women should "always give the man another chance, because that's just the way men are." Yet the same society is hesitant to give women a second chance, he says.
He says men are unable to give their wives or even children a second chance, as power is at stake. They see infidelity as "a blow to their amour propre" that weakens them socially as a cuckold.
"Not that anyone is going to tell them this, but they feel they have lost symbolic power in society," he says. "There is a stark difference in the ways society expects men and women to live through infidelity."