Why Do We Blame The Other Woman?
Sometimes it’s one small indiscretion. Sometimes it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. Sometimes it’s the one promise that you never thought would get broken. Sometimes it’s the beginning of the end.
I think most of us can agree that cheating is not an easy challenge to overcome. Whether you’re one of those people who chooses to forgive a cheating partner and continue seeing them, or whether you’re someone who breaks it off immediately and is left feeling heartbroken, it’s still an emotional rollercoaster. It’s a series of questions like, Did it mean anything? and Well, is it just a one-time thing? and pleas like, I was drunk and it sorta just happened, and, I promise you, I love you and I’ll never do this to you ever again.
But cheating is about more than just a person and their unfaithful significant other. That’s exactly the problem. There’s a third person in the equation — the one they cheated with — and that complicates things.
Specifically, I’m speaking about those situations when a man and a woman are in a relationship and the man goes off and cheats with another woman. We’ll call her The Other Woman, as she’s often aptly named by society.
Now, most of the time in the media — like in the movies or TV or music — and even real life, The Other Woman takes all the blame. She becomes the villain. She becomes the one with no self-control. She is the selfish one, the home-wrecker, the true monster. Somehow, the man is left out of every discussion and absolved of the blame. She came onto him. She seduced him. He couldn’t stay away from her because she made it too difficult.
I’m not going to lie: there are people like that in the world (although they can be of any gender).
But I want to challenge the narrative that The Other Woman is at fault.
Sure, she shouldn’t have seduced him. Sure, she shouldn’t have flirted with him at work. Sure, she shouldn’t have suggested that they go upstairs to fool around. She definitely made a few missteps. (Unless, of course, she innocently interacted with this man without any idea that he was in a relationship, which has happened before — and at that point she becomes a victim too.)
But why do we always blame The Other Woman?
Answer: well, there’s a few. Slut-shaming. The idea that our significant other is superior in our eyes and that the person they cheated with is just trash who will do anything for attention. Denial.
And there might be a few explanations, but there’s no excuse.
If a man cheats on a woman, he’s wrong — period. He needs to take responsibility. It’s not the woman’s fault for not treating him well enough or for not giving him what he wants. It’s not The Other Woman’s fault for the way she dresses or the way she behaves around him in public or the amount of drinks she ordered him at the bar. It’s his fault. It’s his responsibility.
As a society, we’re used to slut-shaming. It’s pretty common: a sexually active woman is seen as a slut or a whore when a sexually active man is usually seen as just a person — if not congratulated for his lifestyle. So it’s not surprising that when a man cheats on his partner with another woman, she’s the one to be blamed. She’s the one who’s seen as disgusting and sickening and unbelievable. It’s because we’re not used to seeing women as healthy, sexually liberated beings. We’re used to seeing men that way, but when a woman acts similarly, she’s demonized. We excuse his behaviors and never hers. “Oh, he just couldn’t resist,” or, “She just made it so difficult for him,” or, “You know him — he just wanted to have sex.” We never say, “He could’ve resisted, and he didn’t,” or, “She was flirting, but he could’ve said no,” or, “You know him — he just wanted to have sex, and it’s not OK to hurt someone else because of that.”
Sometimes, our slut-shaming becomes invisible. It’s an easy trap to fall in. If we see our (male) significant other as someone who we can ordinarily trust or someone who we love dearly, we fall into denial. We don’t want to admit that he’s at fault because he’s been good most of the time, and it’ll be difficult to talk this out or make him leave. So instead, we believe the next thing that conveniently crosses our minds —that she’s the one who came onto him, that it wasn’t his deal, that she’s the one who ruined everything. It’s pretty easy to believe that given the narrative that society has shaped for us.
But again — it’s denial. It’s slut-shaming, even if subtle. It’s not OK.
Now, I’m not advocating that it’s OK to cheat. I’m not advocating that The Other Woman is always some kind of gracious, clueless angel who can do no wrong. Maybe The Other Woman is his best friend. Maybe she’s a coworker who’s known he was married for years. Maybe she truly did come onto him with the full knowledge of his committed relationship, aware that she was about to engage in cheating. Maybe.
Even so, though, the point isn’t what she did wrong. We know cheating is wrong. We know it’s hurtful. The point of this is that instead of blaming him — or, if they are both responsible, blaming both of them — we blame her. Our mind resorts to her. We gossip about her. We forgive him and despise her.
The point is that The Other Woman is faulted first (and most) and the man is willingly absolved of blame.
It’s just another subtle tactic that we use as a society to pit women against one another and perpetuate the toxic masculinity and patriarchy that we all hate so fiercely.
Now, I can’t say that I’ve ever had a guy cheat on me. I’ve had guys come close. I’ve had guys treat me like dirt and flirt with other girls and make me feel small and insignificant. And when I was younger, I was the first to blame them. I hated them. I resented their long, beautiful hair and their thick eyelashes and their soft voice. I would ignore them in the hallways and talk shit about them to my friends. But when a guy would come to me, asking for forgiveness, asking for a second chance, I always gave him one. We’d go on to talk for a few more months and casually date until he found someone else who he liked better and then my heart would get broken. But even when I forgave him and moved on again, I’d always hold a grudge for the other girls. The ones who I was so quick to demonize over something that I should have realized was my own partner’s fault.
I’m not doing that anymore.
I’ve thought back to all of the girls who I once resented. They are beautiful. They are intelligent. They are successful. They stand up for justice and preach the same feminism that I do. They are kind to each other and to me. They are wonderful human beings. They didn’t know at the time that the guy they were flirting with in class was already talking to someone else. They didn’t know that they were hurting someone. They had good intentions and he didn’t.
And the guys — well, some of them are fine. Some of them have grown up to have good careers and be responsible citizens and have strong friendships. Some of them, though, are gross and rude and mean. Some of them have gone on to hurt hundreds of other girls in the way they once hurt me. It’s unclear — and also frightening — when they will ever break their vicious cycle. And no matter who they were then or who they are now, even if they turned out to be the best guy out there and even if I did forgive them in the end, I should have held them responsible at the time. I shouldn’t have let my bias and denial get in the way of processing the situation fairly.
So upon further examination, maybe The Other Woman isn’t just a home-wrecker or an evil secretary or a catty friend or a slut with a bad dating profile. Maybe she’s just like me and you. Maybe she did something wrong and she’s being doubly blamed for a mistake that someone else made, too. Maybe we’re just villainizing her because that’s what we’ve been conditioned to do.
And maybe she is evil or catty or promiscuous. Who knows? And really, who cares? What matters is whether we are also choosing to hold men accountable for their actions. There would be no Other Woman if no one had sought her. He made a choice, too. He made a mistake, too. He’s responsible, too.
Maybe the mistake is forgivable. Maybe it was a one-time thing. Maybe it was just one small indiscretion.
But we should be careful not to place blame on someone at another person’s expense. Especially when those two people are our significant other and The Other Woman.
Because really, it’s not getting us anywhere. It’s a two-way street, isn’t it?