Thursday, March 13, 2008

Dr. Laura's Remarks on Adultery

While appearing as part of a panel discussion on NBC's "The Today Show" on March 10, 2008, radio show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger made several remarks on why some husbands cheat on their wives. Her comments are below:
SCHLESSINGER: "Men do need validation. I mean, when they come into the world they are born of a woman and getting validation from mommy is the beginning of needing it from a woman. And when the wife does not focus in on the needs and the feelings, sexually, personally to make him feel like a man, to make him feel like a success, to make him feel like a hero, he’s very susceptible to the charm of some other woman making him feel what he needs. And these days women don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how they can give their men what they need."
TODAY CO-HOST MEREDITH VIEIRA: "But, you’re saying the women should feel guilty like they somehow drove the man to cheat?"
SCHLESSINGER: "You know what, the cheating was his decision to repair what's damaged and to feed himself where he’s starving. But, yes, I hold women responsible for tossing out perfectly good men by not treating them with the love and kindness and respect and attention they need."
And later on the show, she said:
SCHLESSINGER: "But in relationships, when people starve out the person they're supposed to feed, their soul, their psyche, you have to have some expectation of assuming some responsibility for how they're left feeling."
HELEN FISHER, ANTHROPOLOGIST: "I refuse to believe that this adultery is the wife's fault. I refuse. I can't believe that."
SCHLESSINGER: "We're not talking about fault."
Still later on the show:
SCHLESSINGER: "If he’s sociopathic or narcissistic, all bets are off ... The woman can be the best person in the world, and he’s going to be a jerk ... The average husband longs for one thing, and that’s to be special to his woman."
Schlessinger has tried to fend off accusations that she was blaming women for making their husbands cheat on them. Despite her attempts, I believe much of what she said was off the mark, and displayed a failure to understand the moral concept of defiance.

Schlessinger's argument essentially seems to be that, since some men are dissatisfied with their marriages, and since that dissatisfaction stems from the behavior of their wives, the wives are responsible when the husbands try to alleviate their dissatisfaction by committing adultery. I think this argument goes wrong on at least two points.

First, is adultery a LEGITIMATE response to being unsatisfied with your marriage? Just because it's a response that people choose doesn't mean it's a justified response. Some husbands who are dissatisfied with their marriages respond by abusing drugs or alcohol, or by hitting their wives or their children, or even by killing them. Are these responses justified? No, of course not. But, if they're not justified responses, then how can the wife be held responsible for them? Sometimes I'm dissatisfied with a purchase I make at the store. Does that make it OK for me to respond by killing the clerk who sold it to me? And then to say, "Hey, he sold me a piece of junk, it's his fault I killed him"?

No, even if the husband has a legitimate grievance - that is, a reasonable basis for being dissatisfied and believing that his wife is mistreating him - that doesn't mean any response whatsoever to this grievance is justified, let alone that the wife is somehow partly responsible for the husband's response. Murder or physical abuse aren't justified responses (unless she's chasing him with an ax), and I don't see how adultery is, either.

Second, Schlessinger doesn't give enough attention to whether the husband's feeling of dissatisfaction itself is legitimate. Sometimes people are dissatisfied in their marriages because they have unreasonable, illegitimate expectations about what their spouses should be doing for them. If a husband is dissatisfied with his marriage because his wife won't meet his unreasonable demands, then the grounds for blaming her for his adultery falls apart even further. Schlessinger briefly gives a nod to this consideration by pointing out that "sociopathic or narcissistic" will always be dissatisfied. But not ALL husbands with unreasonable demands are sociopaths or narcissists, are they? Some of them are just, well, unreasonable.

Schlessinger at one point seems to beg off from the idea of blaming wives for husbands' adultery by saying, "We're not talking about fault." Perhaps she means that she's offering an explanation, not a justification for the husbands' adultery. But she doesn't elaborate on the point, and it is hard to reconcile with her earlier claim to blame wives for "starving" husbands who merely try to "feed" themselves through adultery.

In summary, Schlessinger mishandles the concept of defiance in two different ways. Not surprisingly, defiance - the idea that we should protest injustice and mistreatment, and call for it to be stopped and reversed - is often mishandled in just these two ways. On the one hand, we often make the mistake of thinking we've suffered an injustice or been mistreated when we really haven't. We're instead just being selfish or unreasonable. On the other hand, even when we believe correctly that we've been mistreated, we often make the mistake of thinking that any response to that mistreatment - no matter how severe or unproductive - is justified.

(The above discussion focused on the infidelity of husbands, but, of course, the same points can be made about wives and couples in general, married or otherwise.)

1 comment:

Louisa said...

I heard a really terrible joke recently:

A woman confronts her husband, as she's caught him cheating with hookers repeatedly. When asked how he could derive satisfaction from sleeping with prostitutes, he answered: "If you starve your dog, it's going to eat garbage."

Funny...but not particularly morally justifiable.

I doubt Dr. Laura would have such a lax attitude on adultery if we were talking about a woman politician who's used her family for photo ops. Just sayin'.