Adultery and women: Adultery is often portrayed in a very black and white manner in pop-culture. The one who cheats is wrong, the one who is cheated on is victimised. But are extramarital affairs as one-dimensional as films and television would want us to believe? Can the entire issue be dealt with by simply taking a moral high ground? Also, is our society kinder to men than women when it comes to dealing with infidelity?
First, we need to address the fact that not all extramarital affairs can be labelled as cheating. Sometimes people stray from their marriages being fully transparent with their partners. In other scenarios, the couple goes on to lead lives so separate that one or the other, or both do not feel the need to justify their sex-life outside of their marital bed to another. Even in marriages where couples do share a bed but are locked in a dysfunctional relationship, can you call it cheating, if a person strays away from a marriage when they know, and even their partner knows that it is not working out? I guess everyone will have a different take on that.
However, we are here to put under the microscope a very basic interpretation of extra-marital affairs that society loves to refer to as cheating- when a person goes behind their partner’s back and has sex with another person. They could come clean later, or never come clean at all. This could be a one-time incident or a could become a routine. What’s consistent is the way society often deals with cheating based on gender.
Infidelity could break a marriage. But why do women and men get judged differently for being unfaithful?
Like they do for many of their actions, men often get away lightly with infidelity. Instead of holding them accountable for their actions, or at least asking them for answers, society has gifted men with a free pass that is applied in such cases by default. Men will be men. Men are like that only. He is a man ya, kamzor pad gaya. He couldn’t control himself. Ladki ne phasa lia use. Not justifying the act but have you ever heard of a man being paraded naked through the town for adultery?
But that’s exactly what a mob has done to a 23-year-old woman in Tripura in May this year. A video of the woman’s alleged extra-marital affair was also played on a big screen at the local market. After watching it the locals trimmed the woman’s hair, garlanded with shoes, stripped her, tied her to a rope and paraded her through the town. She allegedly consumed poison and died by suicide later. Then in June, a rural woman from West Bengal was beaten and paraded naked by villagers for allegedly having an extramarital affair with a man from a neighboring village.
We seldom see scrutiny of a man’s character when he commits adultery. They are seen as a bad influence for other woman, a threat to the moral fabric of the society. They are punished so that other women learn to value their marital vows and dare not break them. A man is honest, if he comes clean about his affair, but a woman is seen as tainted or characterless.
Let me clarify that this is not about defending adultery, or asking that men should be given harsher punishment when caught cheating. It is about the discrepancy in society’s approach to adultery on the basis of gender, and how it puts women in harm’s way. If it is not a crime, then it needs to be so for both the genders. If it is an unforgivable civil offence, then both genders should bear the consequences.
What we need to have, instead of defending or oppressing people for adultery, are more open conversations around marriage, sex, sexuality and infidelity. We need to have similar standards set for infidelity, so that men and women know they are equally committed to a marriage, and straying from it would have consequences based on anything but gender.
Views expressed are the author’s own.