Women who turn a blind eye when their men stray ...
(and why it could never happen here)
Published 09/02/2010 | 05:00
Football manager Avram Grant has a particularly understanding wife.
The ex-Chelsea boss, now with Portsmouth, was pictured leaving a Thai massage parlour which is, allegedly, a brothel. The Israeli-born Grant denies paying for sex. But his wife told an Israeli newspaper that it didn't matter either way.
"The truth is that if Avram wanted to go to a brothel, it is his right. He can do whatever he wants with his body," she said.
Mrs Grant is no simpering little woman. Tzofit is an attractive 45-year-old TV presenter. The couple have two children, aged 12 and 15.
As sporting stars, from English footballer John Terry to golfing god Tiger Woods, are caught with increasing regularity straying from the marital bed, is Tzofit merely stating the reality of modern married life? Or is she the downtrodden product of a culture where married men can do as they wish?
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that, outside the English-speaking world, male adultery, if not actively encouraged, is certainly indulged, so long as affairs are discreet.
Italian women have shown a remarkable tolerance towards the antics of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who regularly promotes former models to positions of political power. At the polls, the 73-year-old's reputation as a playboy, lumbering from the charms of one nubile young woman to the next, have done him no harm. Although his wife, Veronica Lario, hasn't proved to be quite so forgiving. His latest escapade proved a step too far for the Italian actress, who is currently divorcing him.
In France, it appears to be de rigueur for married politicians to have lovers. Former President Giscard d'Estaing claimed he had as many mistresses as the salons of Paris. At the funeral of President Francois Mitterand in 1996, his wife and long-term mistress stood side-by-side at his grave. The French press were suitably discreet. It was left to a tabloid to explain the situation to the international public. In Ireland, Britain and America, we are either more emancipated or more hypocritical when it comes to infidelity.
In the free-love era of the 1960s, the American public swallowed the fairytale of President John F Kennedy's marriage to Jackie Bouvier. His numerous dalliances were kept firmly under wraps.
We probably have too much information about former President Bill Clinton's extra-marital sexual activities. He was pilloried for his brief fling with Monica Lewinsky and regarded as an embarrassment thereafter, much to the bemusement of his French counterparts.
According to psychotherapist Valery Lanigan, the difference in attitudes to adultery stems, in part, from the prevailing cultural view of marriage.
"If you take Italy, family is everything. Marriages are as much between families as between a couple. So if a husband betrays his wife, she has the family to fall back on, that's often where she derives her sense of security. In our culture, we don't have that. All the focus is on the partner, so when our partner betrays us, we have nothing to fall back on."
Lanigan's theory holds good for Britain and America, both strongly industrialised countries with little emphasis on the extended family and where women are well-established as wage earners.
The Irish abhorrence of infidelity may stem from an historical repression of all things sexual, supplanted more recently by British and US mores.
While we might take a dim view of adultery, it's hardly true that Irish, British or US men are less likely to stray than French or Italian men. Former Taoiseach Charles Haughey had a long- running affair with Terry Keane. British politician Cecil Parkinson had a baby with his lover Sarah Keays. The difference is that rather than greet these revelations with a Gallic shrug of indifference, we are outraged.
Some would argue that such righteousness is counterproductive. US attorney Gregory Forman links rising divorce rates to an increasing lack of acceptance of adultery. "Our refusal to acknowledge that adultery sometimes happens merely because spouses have very mismatched interests in sex. Our culture subtly encourages divorces in cases in which a marriage could be salvaged," he says.
Forman has a point. If we are outraged by male infidelity, we appear to be equally outraged by women who stand by their man.
There was very little sympathy for Hillary Clinton when she forgave her erring husband. She was branded a hard-headed political fiend, solely interested in furthering her own career ambitions.
Jokes flew when Elin Nordegren, wife of serial philanderer Tiger Woods, suggested that the couple might continue to live together as friends.
The impact of an affair can be devastating on a marriage, says Ms Lanigan. "Trust is the big issue. The more lies, the more deceit, the more hurt is caused. Women need intimacy, not just physically but emotionally.
"Women go into marriage wanting to be special to one person and we expect our partners to feel the same. Maybe monogamy is not realistic but for most of us it's a goal we aim for."
According to Ms Lanigan, marriages can survive affairs but it requires a great deal of honesty by both parties.
"I think the big issue is that to forgive someone a wrong, we need to be quite secure in ourselves. Egos can sometimes get in the way. When a wife decides to stick with a marriage after infidelity and she ends up being criticised, that criticism is often coming from a sense of insecurity on the part of the critic. The unspoken problem is that if a woman feels inferior and a man goes with someone else, then the woman sees it somehow as her fault."
Public outrage about adultery often goes hand in hand with a strict moral code that ignores the many foibles of human nature. Bill Clinton was impeached for telling a lie about his relationship with Lewinsky. In other cultures, his dishonesty would be viewed as entirely understandable -- a small fib told to spare his wife's feelings.
Tzofit Grant was telling an uncomfortable truth. If her husband wanted to go to a brothel, there is probably very little she could do to stop him. Her remark could also be borne out of irritation that in the English-speaking world, we believe we have the right, not just to stick our noses into the private sexual lives of others, but to sit in judgment on their peccadilloes.
Our cultural attitude towards infidelity is unlikely to change.
Whether monogamy is the norm or the ideal, most of us believe that partners in a marriage should be sexually faithful to each other. But the feigned outrage and puerile leering when a public figure gets caught straying from home suggests we are less enlightened than we like to believe.