Nice Guys Don’t Go Looking

September, 2015

0_0_350_0_70_campaign-asia_content_20130708104610_ashley_madisonBig news! The Ashley Madison website lied, and 35 million men  fell for it. Married men who told themselves they were willing to risk everything for a quick guilt-free fling, now find out just how much they’ve risked. Two suicides might be linked to the hack! That’s dramatic. That bleeds, so that story leads. But there’s another story here too.

Women avoided Ashley Madison like the plague. They not only spotted the duplicity, they rejected the premise.  And their refusal to be unfaithful undercuts generations of male excuses for violence against women.

Ashley Madison staff faked almost all of the 5.5 million women’s accounts. Only 12,000 women at most ever signed up for Ashley Madison, and most of them never activated their accounts, if indeed they were real.  The huge disparity is more than just proof of the obvious, that men’s hormones regularly lead them into trouble. Contrary to male claims, serial infidelity is rarely a two-way street. Centuries of men have justified bad behaviour by claiming,  “I know she’s been cheating, I just can’t prove it.” That’s the cry of every Western wife-beater, every stalker, every womanizer.

Now the proof is in. They’re wrong. With 35 million men for the choosing, men who said up front that they were willing to cheat and lie to their closest loved ones – a whole world of women yawned and stayed away.

Let’s leave aside for the moment, the various holy books cited as “proof” that women are licentious. Some men have an infallible method of detecting licentious women. They feel a stirring in their loins. (Of course, they may feel their loins stirring other times too, like first thing in the morning. That’s just guy stuff.)  Controlling women seems easier to them – and more necessary – than controlling their own semi-autonomous appendage.

In guy talk, women are so powerful, that even if the woman isn’t present, the affair is still her fault. I googled “cheating wife” and got 788 million hits, of which most of the first five pages linked to punitive sounding articles, such as Husband Gets Revenge On Cheating Wife By Inserting Hot Curling Iron In Her Vagina. Conversely, my search on the phrase “cheating husband” yielded only 780 million  hits, and most of the stories on the first five pages actually blamed the wife if a husband strays. Take reality TV star  Josh Duggar’s wife. The scandal-mongering UK Daily Mail’s take was “Anna Duggar ‘partially blames herself’ for husband Josh cheating and using porn – while her mother-in-law Michelle’s top marriage tip is to NOT deny your spouse sex.”

My own experience, FWIW, is while wives as well as husbands may have reason to feel neglected and taken for granted, wives tend to find other ways to get their strokes.  Frank Pittman’s classic 1993 Psychology Today article draws a useful distinction between “romantic affairs,” which happen to both sexes, and “philanderers.”

“Both genders seem equally capable of falling into the temporary insanity of romantic affairs,” wrote Pittman, “though women are more likely to reframe anything they do as having been done for love. Women in love are far more aware of what they are doing and what the dangers might be. Men in love can be extraordinarily incautious and willing to give up everything. Men in love lose their heads—at least for a while….”

Romantic affairs tend to take place between people who already know each other. Their eyes meet across a crowded boardroom, or house renovation site,  or a party, sparks fly, and before they know it, they’re renting a room. Rarely do people go looking for romantic affairs. The people who registered on Ashley Madison, though, are seeking a different kind of affair.

“…Philandering is a predominantly male activity,” wrote Frank Pittman. “Philanderers take up infidelity as a hobby. Philanderers are likely to have a rigid and concrete concept of gender; they worship masculinity, and while they may be greatly attracted to women, they are mostly interested in having the woman affirm their masculinity.

“They don’t really like women, and they certainly don’t want an equal, intimate relationship with a member of the gender they insist is inferior, but far too powerful. They see women as dangerous, since women have the ability to assess a man’s worth, to measure him and find him wanting, to determine whether he is man enough….”

As Margaret Atwood has written, “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid  that men will kill them.”  Behind Ashley Madison’s financial success lies a male urban myth that a great many women are philanderers too. Psychologists have long denied and refuted this myth. The Ashley Madison case should pretty well scorch it to the earth – but not if the focus remains on the men’s dilemma, rather than what they were trying to do.  Guys like the men on AM’s list get away with philandering because they are rich and powerful.

In another, more apologist study of male cheating, Live Science editor Jeanna Bryner reviewed the year 2009: “Like years past, this one has been a whopper for high-profile philanderers,” she wrote. “Psychologists aren’t surprised, as guys are wired to want sex, a lot, and are more likely than gals to cheat. The behavior may be particularly likely for men with power, researchers say, though they point out that despite the genetic propensity to sleep around, cheating remains a choice, not a DNA-bound destiny…. Even if their brains did register the infidelities, high-profile philanderers have so much power and control over their lives they likely couldn’t imagine getting caught, scientists say. And with past as their guide (wins on the links for Tiger Woods and the Hill for John Edwards), even if they did get caught, they could control the fallout and stay on top….”

If powerful men at the top of society behave this way, seems to me that the philanderer’s perception of women has a strong influence on our society’s prevailing view of women. And the Psychology Today article says that philandering is probably culturally, not genetically, transmitted.

“Philanderers may be the sons of philanderers, or they may have learned their ideas about marriage and gender from their ethnic group or inadvertently from their religion,” wrote Frank Pittman. “Somewhere they have gotten the idea that their masculinity is their most valuable attribute and it requires them to protect themselves from coming under female control. These guys may consider themselves quite principled and honorable, and they may follow the rules to the letter in their dealings with other men. But in their world women have no rights.  To men they may seem normal, but women experience them as narcissistic or even sociopathic. They think they are normal, that they are doing what every other real man would do if he weren’t such a wimp….”

Philanderers justify their actions by blaming women: they’re always complaining about their wives, girlfriends, or mothers, or that bitch in the office. Or they simply hire women that they can dispose of, one way or another. And their justifications are strong enough in male terms that other men often wink and look away, or even help them cover up. There’s a whole canon of hip-hop,  blues and Country & Western songs dedicated to spreading the philanderer’s doctrine that “She done me wrong.” This is a very common defence mechanism. “Men who are cheating will try anything to avoid taking responsibility for their wrong behavior,” explains the website, “and re-writing history and blaming others is one of the best ways to do that.”

Google delivered 788 million hits on “philanderer,” mostly warnings under the term, “womanizer.”  Women have been trying to warn other women for generations. We’re hearing similar warnings from men now that we’re in a social media age.  Here’s an interesting essay signed Angelo Gage, about how he became a pick-up artist in mid-life, and measured his worth by the notches on his bedpost. After losing a girlfriend of three years (“one of the few times I was actually a loyal partner”), he looked at himself in the mirror. .”.. I realized that I wasn’t a man; I was a small boy trying to prove how much of a man I was by acting on my animalistic urges to conquer women like I was a king expanding his empire across the globe. It was at this moment when my life once again changed for the better.

“Being a man isn’t about how many women you sleep with or how ‘cool’ you are when you sleep with a hot, unattainable girl in your social circle and then brag about the deed to your friends, nor is it about how much money you have, or any materialistic measure of success for that matter. It is about being a provider, protector, a leader of people.

“How was I providing, protecting, or leading any of these women other than to my bed room to have sex? How was I doing any good when most of these ‘conquests’ eventually became strangers or enemies and were no longer a part of my life;  always leaving one of us hurt in the process? Was I any different than a drug addict, being addicted to the conquest of women?…”

Consider CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi. Now awaiting trial on abuse charges, for years he was widely suspected of being at least a womanizer. Carl Wilson, Slate’s music critic, wrote an article in second-person (“you thought you were a nice guy”) about how he managed to ignore all the rumours while working in the same field and crossing paths regularly with Ghomeshi.

“Despite what you knew, when you were invited on Jian’s show, you went. And went again. Though you found his manner slick and off-putting, you were friendly with him. You played nice. You never saw each other socially, but you chatted. His interview style sometimes seemed patronizing, particularly with female guests; you were surprised so much of the audience found him charming, rather than smarmy. Then again, he was always well-prepared and well-scripted.

“The banter about Jian’s annoying pick-up-artist persona continued. One summer evening at a Toronto outdoor indie-rock festival, a friend was tipsy, talking about him a bit loudly, when you noticed Jian right behind you, holding a beer. You shushed her. You nodded hi and hoped he hadn’t heard, because you wanted to continue being invited on the show. Which you were….”

In retrospect, Wilson realizes, instead of despising Ghomeshi, he despised the victims:  “The worst thing, you realize, is that you tended to look down on Jian’s conquests. As if anyone who fell for his come-ons was a fool, instead of merely lacking the advantage of inside knowledge.

“No wonder the women didn’t hope to be taken seriously. No wonder most filed no grievances, and none of them laid charges, nor spoke out in public, until they learned they were not alone. They expected not to be believed, and worse, that they would be hounded and humiliated—and the way many Q fans have treated them on social media proves them right. Neither did they trust the legal system, for good reason.  A lot of your older male journalist friends don’t get that: ‘Why not go to court?’ they say on Twitter.”

Wilson uses a very pertinent word: complicity. He asks whether his silence made him complicit with Ghomeshi’s abuse, and it’s a fair question. Like the passive bystanders who give an abuser tacit consent, news media are also often complicit, out of carelessness. Sex sells, as they say, especially with a titillated news media already chained to celebrating any commercial success. Media tut-tutted over 50 Shades of Gray but they covered it massively.

But then we journalists like shiny new things. Give us a slick salesman with a provocative title like, “Cheaters Prosper,” the title of Ashley Madison owner Noel Biderman’s book, and the author is bound for months of invitations to talk shows and even newscasts. The book itself sank quickly, maybe because it was so poorly produced, as is apparent in the promotion material. “Cheaters Prosper is the first book of it s [sic] kind that has fearlessly and accurately explored the decent [sic] of the modern marriage to the point where we really have to question what the true foundations of a marriage are and how we can correct our current course. The reader will be transported to other cultures where infidelity is rampant and yet divorce is virtually non-existent. Unedited insight of the motivations behind infidelity is published for the first time, as is [sic] the true results of infidelity discovered.”

Presumably Biderman talks better than he writes, because for a while he was the media go-to expert on infidelity. (Think of it: had Canada left prostitution decriminalized, it would have been a day’s work to add a new section to AM for escort agencies. Biderman had the punters lined up already. He could have been the new paid-sex go-to person too.)  His real message, though, was trying to persuade women to sign on to AM.  But apparently, women of the world have heard his line before.

Noel Biderman’s case offers a view of the “descent” to which men will go, to justify atrocious behaviour towards women. Moreover, his clumsiness has revealed actual statistics. Some 35 million philanderers, mainly in the Americas and UK,  have inadvertently identified themselves to the public. That could be the punter’s client list of the century but for women it would be the “Bad Date” list of the Millennium. Although the number sounds daunting, remember that there are nearly a billion people in the Americas alone.  But the aggressive cad, er, lad often has more influence than the rest, by being more outspoken, decisive, and dismissive of any other point of view. So far, the majority of men have not stirred themselves to speak up when other men disparage the women in their lives.

Media seem fixated on the philanderer’s narrative, about unsatisfactory wives and innocent husbands just taking the first flyer of their lives. True, of course, millions of men rue the day they ever heard the name, “Ashley Madison,” or let themselves be sucked into paying money to join, let alone supplying their names and contact information. Who could have guessed that the nice man lied when he promised endless free sex? And now all these guys are caught with their information hanging out in public. Just like the imaginary women they hoped to meet, just like the media, they’ve been pimped.

Copyright Penney Kome 2015

Contact:  komeca AT


“Anna Duggar ‘partially blames herself’ for husband Josh cheating and using porn – while her mother-in-law Michelle’s top marriage tip is to NOT deny your spouse sex,” UK Daily Mail:

Husband Gets Revenge On Cheating Wife By Inserting Hot Curling Iron In Her Vagina, Crimefeed:

Beyond Betrayal, by Frank Pittman, Psychology Today:

Why Do Men Cheat and Blame Their Partner, Guy Stuff:

Confessions of a Womanizer, Elite Daily, by Angelo Gage:

“I knew about Jian Ghomeshi” by Carl Wilson, National Post:

Noel Biderman Resigns, Calgary Herald:

Penney KomePenney Kome is co-editor of Peace: A Dream Unfolding (Sierra Club Books 1986), with a foreward by the Nobel-winning presidents of International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War.

Read her bio on Facts and Opinions here.





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