WHAT do Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Ryan Giggs have in common? No prize for the right answer because all have been making the headlines for cheating on their spouse.
Strauss-Kahn, of course, belongs in a quite different category from the other two. If the allegations against him are true, he was not only cheating on his wife, he is also a menace to all women he can intimidate, bully or physically overpower.
Such was his reputation for sexually intimidating women not equal in power or social standing to himself that according to the 'Sunday Times', 'Liberation', a left-wing newspaper in France, had a rule that no female journalist could be allowed to interview him on their own.
So far, Strauss-Kahn's wife is standing by him despite the mounting evidence that he treats members of her own sex abominably, to put it as mildly as possible.
Schwarzenegger's wife has left him because he had a child with another woman. The French probably consider this an act of immaturity on her part. Didn't Francois Mitterand's wife stand by him despite the fact that he had a child with his long-term mistress?
Are ordinary French people as relaxed about infidelity as their ruling class? I haven't a clue but I remember a movie a few years back called 'Nathalie', starring Gerard Depardieu. Depardieu had been unfaithful to his wife. His wife, upon hearing the news, created a scene. He told her to calm down and to stop being so immature. She complied.
That about sums up the attitude of the French towards the American response to Strauss-Kahn. Why are they being so 'immature'?
Let's recall how the French tut-tutted at the Americans for being upset at Bill Clinton for having an affair with Monica Lewinski.
And more to the point, let's recall how France's elite (plus Hollywood) rallied to the defence of film director Roman Polanski when the Swiss detained him for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old in the US in 1977.
How, one wonders, is such an attitude 'mature'? Is it really mature to be laissez-faire about sexually assaulting a 13-year-old, or the alleged sexual assault of a chamber maid? Give us American 'prudery' any day.
IN fact, we developed rules around sexual behaviour precisely to protect women from people like Strauss-Kahn and Polanski. Such rules are a sign of civilisation rather than the reverse. To the extent that French society lacks these rules, it is the one that needs to be more mature.
Similarly, rules against infidelity itself are a sign of civilisation -- one of the very first signs because the taboo against sexual infidelity has been very strong in most societies for a very long time.
The reason it's so strong is because without it, it would be almost impossible -- short of compulsory DNA tests -- to know what children belong to what men.
But even if every man suspected of fathering a child was made to undergo a DNA test, without some kind of pressure to be faithful, it would be much harder to make him actually take responsibility for his child.
The taboo against infidelity is probably aimed more at men than at women because men seem more inclined to be unfaithful on their spouses. Even anecdotally, try to think up a few famous women who have been unfaithful on their husbands. It's hard. On the other side of the ledger you've got Giggs, Wayne Rooney, Tiger Woods, Bill Clinton, Schwarzenegger, Ashley Cole, John Terry, Strauss-Kahn, Jude Law, Mel Gibson.
But if the taboo against infidelity still exists, it is much weaker now than it was because the sex revolution promotes sexual freedom and the taboo against infidelity runs directly counter to that.
This is why it's easier for men like Giggs and company to get away with it.
In fact, the taboo against infidelity, weakened as it is, is one of the last vestiges left of traditional sexual morality.
That morality was always aimed first and foremost at getting men to commit to the mothers of their children, but also women to commit to the fathers of their children.
The trouble with that morality is that it was often very harshly enforced but at its heart is an impulse much more civilised than what we have now because the result of the new morality is huge numbers of children who don't even know the name of their father, let alone live in the same house as him.
SO the reality is that we are now in two minds about infidelity. We don't like it when we see it. That's why Ryan Giggs hoped that super-injunction would protect his identity.
On the other hand, because sexual freedom is the order of the day we've made it much easier to be unfaithful.
Therefore, we need to make up our minds; which do we value most, sexual freedom or fidelity?