Why are women blamed if married men have affairs?
Serena Cowdy is now a poster girl for fear and loathing after criticism from another journalist
Published 22/05/2016 | 02:30
When is a married philanderer not a philanderer? When he's a victim. A victim of a deliberately attractive woman, deliberately flaunting herself, that's when.
Apparently, the two politicians who had affairs with the same woman and left their wives weren't actually to blame for their infidelity; they were honeytrapped, the poor things.
That's according to the extraordinary sexist backlash against journalist Serena Cowdy, who stands accused of sleeping her way to the very heart of the establishment - by bedding two Scottish MPs most of us have never heard of.
I can't say I was familiar with (steady on, not like that) Stewart Hosie, the 53-year-old deputy leader of the Scottish National Party or his 45-year-old colleague Angus MacNeil before it emerged they had been brought to their knees (and Lord knows what other positions) by winsome 36-year-old Cowdy.
But long after they are forgotten, her name will be seared on to the collective retina. Why? Because she has become a poster girl for fear and loathing thanks to a piece of astonishing invective.
The lurid, weirdly titillating picture that journalist Sarah Vine - who is married to British Justice Secretary Michael Gove - painted in a recent article is of predatory females prowling menacingly through the corridors of political power in search of other women's husbands.
It's easy to see where Vine positions herself on the medieval Madonna-or-whore divide.
Glamorous, child-free women like Cowdy, she maintains, are a political wife's nightmare.
Yet these lipsticked marauders have not broken any vows. They have not been unfaithful to a spouse and placed their family life in jeopardy. So how, exactly, can the blame lie so unequivocally with them?
I'm not sure if Cowdy's main crime is being pretty or slim or single. I can't quite figure out if she used witchcraft or sorcery to ensnare them.
I struggle with the idea that she is a real and present danger to public morality, given her niche political preferences.
But what is blindingly obvious, to me at any rate, is that the shocking, reactionary invective poured on her represents a dark day for women who dare to meddle in the men's world of politics.
And this in 2016, when as a gender we are crying out for greater representation, both politically and every other way, across the world.
To be honest, when I first read the story of how a pair of randy politicians shared more than just party allegiances, I found it only mildly diverting in a gossipy sort of way.
How did she schedule the saucy liaisons? Were people's taxes used to bankroll the bonking? Beyond that it wasn't exactly big news, as Cowdy is, apparently, now in an ongoing relationship with one of them.
See, I'm so over it I can't be bothered to remember which one.
Is it a revelation to anyone in 2016 that married people have affairs? Often with people they meet through work?
There are myriad reasons why a spouse might stray. The choice belongs to them alone, as do the consequences.
So-called "slut-shaming" (a demeaning term I hate but which is grubbily appropriate here) of the woman and the woman alone is not just irrational but also deeply disquieting.
Did I say disquieting? I actually meant utterly nefarious. It's a sinister milestone on a stony road that leads in the very opposite direction of equality.
When the wife of a politician denigrates a woman because "judging by the look of her, there's not much that would be off limits", she demonises women's sexuality while exonerating male behaviour.
And that, I am afraid, is on the self-same continuum that sees women being encouraged, then urged, then ordered, to cover up their bodies.
Militants and religious conservatives wield power by oppressing women in just such a way; placing the onus on wives and daughters to preserve their virtue because men cannot reasonably be expected to contain their urges.
Would Vine ban all women from political life? Or just the single, pretty ones? How about a frumpy dress code to keep a lid on simmering tensions?
It takes two willing participants to have an affair. To suggest otherwise is dangerous, demeaning nonsense.