Skip to content

SEXIST BEATDOWN: The Mistress And The Tiger Edition

First of all: That headline, right? OUCH.

Second of all: Are you aware that sometimes when relationships go South, or when one of the parties involved is a bit of a jerk, there can be CHEATING? This is an astonishing new fact of which I have recently become aware due to (a) watching a John-Edwards-centric episode of Oprah, SHUT UP, (b) hearing about nine million things about the John Edwards cheating, and (c) also, I think Tiger Woods might have cheated on somebody, but I am not sure, this story is really kind of obscure and difficult to find much information about.

ANYWAY, ladies, if you happen to be the lady what gets into a Bad Decision Making Space with the married dude, you will have a new name. And it is “Mistress!” Which is very old-fashioned and fancy. And if you are a dude what gets into a Bad Decision Making Space with a married lady and/or with a lady other than the one you are currently married to, your name will be “Don Draper,” possibly. And we will not care so much about you, except maybe to talk about how awesome you are. But, Mistress? You need to be aware of how people are going to react to you. Because it is going to get PRETTY WEIRD.

Here, Amanda Hess of Washington City Paper’s The Sexist and I prepare you for what is in store!

infidelity1ILLUSTRATION: Hah, adorable! Except for twenty-five years later, when this happens again and we are talking about how that one girl baby didn’t understand her man or His Needs and the other one was a heartless money-grubbing scag.

SADY: Mistresses!

AMANDA: Indeed. I have heard many sordid tales of their existence as of late.

SADY: sometimes, mistresses talk about being mistresses. At other times, they do not talk. In either case, it is fine to talk about them! For they are MISTRESSES, scourge of the “I am married to a cheater” world.

AMANDA: Can we talk for a second about this “mistress” business? Is there a word for the “mister” of a married woman? like a “Mrster”? Or something?

SADY: I prefer the term “Mister Mistress.” Which is also the name of my new glam-metal band, in case you were looking for an update on that.

AMANDA: I think that was also a Hulk Hogan movie

SADY: But really, we know that the appropriate word for “man mistress” is “totally rocking dude.”

AMANDA: The only other term I can think of that is dismissive (dismistress!) in the same way is “pool boy.”

SADY: Yeah. Basically, the only words we have for dudes who are being cruelly exploited for sex on the side by lady types are class (and often race) based.

AMANDA: Yeah. “Mistresses” (ugh) on the other hand, have to be cornered into this odd cultural Other Wife space, even though they are not married to this guy, and they actually have plenty of their own shit going on as well. They are still defined solely by this relationship.

SADY: Yeah. I mean, we have this strangely romantic Victorian version of the mistress, STILL. It is not just “I hooked up with a dude, he is married, sometimes I make bad decisions in my personal life,” it is this strange thing where we still think of them as dissolute Women of Leisure who are sexfully attending to their patron’s sexful needs while draped in diamonds which of course are the whole point. And I think, weirdly, though I definitely GET that intimacy and all of that are scary, and the fact that you could love someone and they could love hooking up with other people is really unsettling for just about anyone, our need to drag mistresses into the light and be like, “mistress! Behold ye alle this Creature, captured in thee most Wanton Abandon!” Well, it’s people working out personal anxieties, sure. We WANT to hate them because then the people who are cheating on us are clearly choosing people lesser than ourselves. But also: it’s a way of deciding which women are all right. A way of deciding what makes a good woman (being cheated on!) and a bad one (being cheated with!) if that makes sense.

AMANDA: Yeah, and I have found that to be a really weird part of the Sanford / Edwards ladies’ narratives, where there is an attempt to make some sort of Character Coup out of being cheated on.

SADY: Well, but also, that excerpt from “Game Change,” about the affair, went to great lengths to portray Elizabeth Edwards as a screaming, controlling harpy who clearly deserved to be cheated on.

AMANDA: But the thing that really disturbs me when people get to talkin’ about cheating, is that we know that about 50 percent of married men and women (and men I think do it at higher rates than women, but not significantly higher) will cheat on their spouses at some point. And so all of this faux outrage tends to worry me, because either these people are just ignoring their own realities, or they are attempting to work out their personal issues by piling their hatred onto these women.

SADY: Right! And it is like: I would prefer people not to cheat on me. I am not a fan of cheating in general. I think it is a thing you should not do. And yet, affairs are such a commonplace part of human life that they form the basis of: much literature, much television, “Mad Men” specifically for like three seasons, many movies, music, and now apparently our salacious news headlines that are going on when also there is a huge recession which I find sort of important. So, when a marriage is found to contain cheating, and everyone panics gets all, “this is the worst thing! The worst thing that could happen! Ever! For marriage is a sacred covenant, united by God’s holy tears of joy over the entwined bodies of lovers!” Well: but you know it happens all over, right? People just want to be clear that they are in the OTHER FIFTY PERCENT, maybe. Even right now, I am worrying that people are going to think I am a cheater because I am inappropriately freaked out by mistresses, strangely.

AMANDA: Cheater! Cheater! I think it’s that people have always wanted to hold their public figures and role models to a higher standard than themselves, and that makes sense to me. But they also, now, want to bring them down to our level. Which is really easy! Because they have never been morally superior to us in the first place, and the news of their private lives has just been more strictly controlled. I think at some point we are going to have to just stop giving a shit, I guess? Because it is getting boring, to me. I don’t think our 24-hour news cycle can endure the weight of all the revelations of cheating that will occur among the huge number of suddenly newsworthy people we’re reporting on now. For example: I recently read a very large-fonted Huffington Post headling about Matthew Fox possibly cheating on his wife with a stripper (the most reviled form of Mistress!)  How long can people keep clicking on that? Tell me it’s not forever.

SADY: God. Okay, can we talk about this? Sex worker mistresses? One of Tiger Woods’ mistresses was apparently a porn performer, and there is a lawsuit threat of a potential lawsuit* going on which I don’t clearly understand, but which has to do with her quitting porn for Tiger, and thinking she was his only girlfriend, and etc.

AMANDA: (I also don’t understand the legal precedent here).

SADY: I think it is lost income? Because she stopped working due to their relationship? It does seem like a frivolous and fairly transparently mercenary deal, from all I can understand. And taking a dude to court over your failed relationship is a bit over-the-top. But also, people are just shocked, SHOCKED AND APPALLED, that a person who made PORNOGRAPHY could DARE to express hurt in public! Like: it is that, not the nature of the debate here, that is getting some I think unfair focus.

AMANDA: It … has feelings?

SADY: She made PORNOGRAPHY Amanda! I do not understand it! I thought the pornography cameras stole your soul!

AMANDA: That is the rumor.

SADY: Like: that’s the thing. Mistresses are always slutty, trashy, tacky, la la la. I think it is bad form to date a married dude, not least because what is the best-case scenario for YOU, Mistress, in this relationship? Dating a dude who hurts ladies’ feelings? No. But when they are also sex workers—and there is always, if not a specifically Matthew-Fox-centric version of this rumor, a version of this rumor floating around— then they are basically the devil. Women get to be like, “and also, my husband cheated on me, and it was with Satan.”

AMANDA: I think that the intensified shaming of the porn actress goes back to the idea of the Mistress as well being this woman who is committed to the married man, even though he is married. Tiger Woods has like a million “Mistresses” at this point, who are really just women he’s seen at some point or another, and who were obviously not under any obligation to only have sex with Tiger Woods. But we are somehow encouraged to see them that way, because if you have sex with a married man, the only way to come out looking a tiny bit better in the public eye is if you were just so totally and hopelessly in love with him that you were sexually committed only to him, and all 12 of you thought he was the real deal, or whatever. Which is gross. Tiger Woods himself actually did get a little sensitive about his “Mistresses” seeing other dudes, from the literature I’ve read on the topic. So even Tiger couldn’t find a reasonable perspective on cheating with someone he was cheating on his wife with.

SADY: Right. Some mistresses get to be like, “well, but my heart and feelings were involved.” And it helps if we can see them as not-at-all sexual outside of this relationship. But when a lady clearly engages in sexual activity elsewhere, people are like, “wait a minute! This is about FUCKING, isn’t it? Gross!”

AMANDA: Right. Because if you’re a porn star … well, then, many other dudes who are not Tiger Woods have seen you, like, naked and stuff! Bad mistress! We grade Mistresses now.

SADY: Heart and feelings involved: A+
He really was getting divorced though and now also you have his baby: B+
Clearly having had sex with people not your Mistressifier: F. For Failure.

AMANDA: Being married to a guy who cheats on you with a woman who does porn: Priceless, or something.

SADY: Yeah. I feel for that lady. TO THE MAX. In conclusion, can we all just agree that sometimes DUDES who cheat are really the ones who Destroyed This Marriage, though?

AMANDA: Sure, but can we also agree that unless the dude in question is like a noted marriage advocate or some shit, I don’t particularly want to see him stand on a podium and cry about it? Just go deal with your own business.

SADY: Yeah. Seriously. We are not Facebook friends, your Relationship Status Updates are not really my personal concern. TIGER WOODS IS IT’S COMPLICATED.

* This confused me! But mostly we are just some ladies chatting like it is The View, so I screwed this up. What is going on is: lady hired a fairly prominent attorney, and there are statements being made at least about needing an apology, and also about lost income, so it seems like a lawsuit is a realistic and impending Thing That Could Happen in this case. But actual action is not being taken, as far as I understand it. The whole deal is covered here.


  1. lilacsigil wrote:

    Is there a word for the “mister” of a married woman?

    We need to bring back “paramour”! Well, “need” in the sense of “as long as we have mistress”.

    Friday, February 26, 2010 at 7:13 pm | Permalink
  2. laura k wrote:

    I often suspect there would be less cheating if we could discuss it in a way less fraught and overwrought way. But that is just my speculation, buoyed by the whole theory that honest communication is good for relationships or something.

    Friday, February 26, 2010 at 7:49 pm | Permalink
  3. Eneya wrote:

    It’s hard to produce news 24/7.
    So when there is no war (and you can’t make up one or create any other disaster) you stick with celebrities and their boring family lives.
    Of course there wouldn’t be any adequate comments or analysis. No, just sticking to serious faces and giving more space and time to a person and his sorry excuses because he cheated. (And we are all so shocked… never, ever before we’ve heard about cheating except, like, 10 minutes ago, about Brangelina or Charlie Sheen… i do not know any other famous people, but you got my point).

    It’s bad for business to act intelligently and like a sane person.
    So Idiocacy, here we come, along with double-standards, women-shaming and violence.

    Friday, February 26, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Permalink
  4. Sady wrote:

    @Eneya: BUT THERE IS A WAR!!!!!!!

    Friday, February 26, 2010 at 11:02 pm | Permalink
  5. theKP wrote:

    Sady, you’re right about terms for men who have sex with married women being class and race based. I’m thinking of a particular ethnic slur for Italians that gets used in Agatha Christie novels to refer to professional dancers (not ballet dancers; think Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing).

    There’s this amazingly dramatic line in Mourning Becomes Electra, when Lavinia declares, “He had me! I was his fancy woman!” In addition to “paramour,” we could consider “fancy man.” Because then nobody could say it without giggling. My fear is that man-mistress will be shortened to manstress, and nobody wants that.

    Friday, February 26, 2010 at 11:12 pm | Permalink
  6. Eneya wrote:

    Is there? But do you want to hear about it? And you and how many other people?
    And which is quicker and more inexpensive? War or working with ready PR sheets?
    Journalism is part of my degree and part of mu education included info about news values. Such as: famous people, famous countries, human element, inexpensive information.
    In short, you will find more information about Britney fucking Spears than publications about Iraq or the people in Haiti or people in Japan or in China or anything that needs time, work and money in order something real to be produced.

    P.P. I recommend you Flat Earth News by Nick Davies. A very, very good book for anyone who has any connection to journalism. He writes about news values and how news are produced and why they look the way we see today.

    Friday, February 26, 2010 at 11:19 pm | Permalink
  7. kristyn wrote:

    Cheating really sucks when it is based on a power differential.

    POTENTIAL SPOILER — it almost always is, if not always is, based upon what you believe about/if you believe in the Patriarchy.

    Like, if you are John Edwards. Or Bill Clinton. Or Tiger Woods. Or a rock star, or a sports star, or a politics star. Or a made-up ad exec on a popular TV show. Then it is not very likely that your ”mistress” is going to be on the same playing field as you. Because guys really don’t like to have sex with their equals a whole lot.
    Which a few other commenters and I talked about recently over at IBTP!

    Then, some people’s objection to your ”affair” isn’t ”OMG SEXX! Sex OUTSIDE OF MARRIAGE OMG GOING TO HELL.” Some people’s is, of course, because some people like to believe it is the year 1800 and/or the 1960s/70s never happened.

    But the objection is more like, ”Gee, Mr Clinton/Edwards/Woods/who-the-eff-ever. You seem to enjoy using your position of power to take advantage of women. Especially if you are actually married to someone such as Hillary Rodham Clinton. Or a supermodel. Or January Jones. We really wonder why you bothered to get married at all.”

    The ”mistress” still does not deserve to get publicly shamed, though. Maybe the man does! And not because ”OMG SEXX.” But ”OMG, skeevy behavior and power differentials, making promises you intend to break, and acting like an entitled jerkwad.”

    Saturday, February 27, 2010 at 2:17 am | Permalink
  8. Gnatalby wrote:

    I have enough hate in my heart to revile both the cheating party and the other wo/man. I think it’s very basic treat others as you’d like to be treated. Don’t want your spouse to cheat on you? Don’t cheat or help someone else cheat.

    Unless the other wo/man would go up to the wronged spouse and punch him or her in the face, they shouldn’t sleep with their spouse, since that’s at least as hurtful.

    But mostly I’d like to not hear about it.

    Saturday, February 27, 2010 at 6:15 am | Permalink
  9. Jess wrote:

    I don’t believe I’ve ever commented before, but I’m long overdue to thank you for making me laugh. A lot, and often!

    Saturday, February 27, 2010 at 7:57 am | Permalink
  10. Maud wrote:

    And if you are a dude what gets into a Bad Decision Making Space with a married lady and/or with a lady other than the one you are currently married to . . . we will not care so much about you, except maybe to talk about how awesome you are.

    I think you are overlooking the character and conscience of the American librul, here. There has been a LOT of outrage and judgment directed at John Edwards over his affair. Because that rat didn’t even care how much he hurt the Democratic Party!!!! After all it had done for him, and all it was going through, and how much it believed in him (until it totally realized how much cooler Obama was)! How selfish can you get?

    Saturday, February 27, 2010 at 9:48 am | Permalink
  11. Eneya wrote:

    Gnatalby – you will be cheated on whatever you do, because it is not your choice actually. It’s the choice of the person who cheats on you.
    So all this “don’t cheat or help someone else cheat” sounds a lot like “oh, you’ve somehow made them cheat on you, it’s your fault actually”.

    Saturday, February 27, 2010 at 9:53 am | Permalink
  12. Gnatalby wrote:


    Actually, that’s not my point.

    My point is that if you think it would suck to be cheated on, don’t cheat. Because of empathy.

    Saturday, February 27, 2010 at 10:20 am | Permalink
  13. Samantha b. wrote:

    I don’t know, Maud. I actually feel like the way Edwards handled his affair *was* a progressive failure on his part, given that his response to Rielle Hunter’s evident pregnancy was to foist the consequences off on to his underling. To demand that Andrew Young announce publicly that he’d fathered a baby he hadn’t, cheated on his own wife, and have Hunter move in with his family? That’s a hell of an abuse of power that, to me, does call into question Edwards’ status as hero of the underdog.

    Saturday, February 27, 2010 at 10:48 am | Permalink
  14. Kathleen wrote:

    Samatha B — of course you are right! It was a huge progressive failure on his part!

    Sady and Amanda, you two are brilliant & hilarious. But I do wish you didn’t do the “war is more important” or “just go and deal privately, the public shouldn’t care” thing — I mean, I think there are really good reasons why we care & the “but it’s not as important as war!” argument can be used against *anything* feminists want to talk about *ever*.

    It seems to me that one of the really good reasons these (extremely commonplace in life as we all know it, as you all point out) “scandals” get so much attention is that they create a public occasion for everyone to sort of process how they feel about gender relations, inequality, fairness, etc. — and actually the reason they get thrashed out at such passionate and confused length is because people are really perplexed and miserable vis a vis this stuff, and rightly so! The sort of anxious excoriation of wiley mistresses (who had the nerve! to want to improve their lives! via hooking up with powerful men!!!!! — as if that were not a totally reasonable response to life as we know it) and judging of wives (did they deserve the kick in the face, or not? discuss) — it dances around and around the central issue (privilege, men haz it), which people feel is there at some level, but aren’t quite ready or able to engage; so that the end of the discussion always feels inconclusive, unhappy, and In Need of More Review and Rehashing.

    Like, *of course* feminists should be interested and engage this discussion — it’s a clear sign of how much the feminist perspective is needed! And yeah, of course, we should be talking about war, too — most of us *are*, like, I don’t know any feminists who aren’t also passionate anti-imperialists. We don’t have to apologize for being interested in both things at once (they are related, after all!).

    Saturday, February 27, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Permalink
  15. Maura wrote:

    Sady and Amanda, I’ve been saying much the same thing for years, although it comes out “Mistress? WTF? Only rich men have mistresses, and even then, only sometimes”.

    Kathleen, maybe you’re right about why these “scandals” get so much attention, because as the discussion moves along, gender relations, inequality, fairness, etc. will come into play. But there’s also a whole lot of “H00R” and “scumbag” that gets thrown around. I always get a little queasy when yet another cheating story breaks, because I feel like I’m poking my nose into someone else’s personal family matter. I mean, it is relevant to how they do their jobs? I used to think no, not ever, and I still believe it doesn’t have to be, but Samantha B. brings up a good point re: how Edwards handled things when the news about his assignations (ooh, that’s a word that goes well with “mistress”) first broke. That, to me, is a clear indication of lack of character; one could even say it’s narcissism.

    And, of course, consider Mark Sanford. He didn’t just cheat on his wife. He walked away from his official duties, he fracking disappeared for days, putting his staff in an untenable position and publicly humiliating his family. And then he wouldn’t shut up about it. That’s a man who shouldn’t be in public office. I’m sure the only reason he’s still in office is that the alternative is worse. A cheater who will tell you everything if you put a nickel in him, even one who is guilty of dereliction of duty, is more desirable than someone who equates poor people with animals.

    What bothers me most about a politician’s infidelity is that it indicates stupidity and arrogance, a very bad combination. Do they really think they won’t get caught? This isn’t 1961 and they’re not Kennedy. No one is going to protect them.

    For a lot of people, it’s the things surrounding the infidelity that are the problem, so in that regard, I think Kathleen is right. It creates discussion, and that’s a good thing. But there are always going to be people who suck this stuff up because it makes them feel morally superior.

    Saturday, February 27, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Permalink
  16. Erin wrote:

    Eneya – I think what Gnatalby meant by “help someone cheat” is by being the mistress/manstress that sleeps w/ the married party. Because by sleeping w/ the married party, the person is “helping them cheat.”

    Saturday, February 27, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Permalink
  17. Maud wrote:

    Oh, I very much agree, Samantha B, that they way Edwards handled his affair was appalling in every respect. My sarcasm was in response to the theme of the post, that women are so demonized about affairs, even if they’re the not the ones having them and people look for a reason to blame them for their husbands’ affairs, while men are viewed much more indulgently, and even admired. So Edwards cheating on his (terminally ill) wife has to be turned into a scenario where she drove the poor dear to it by her wicked bitchiness. I was mocking the fact that people will somehow come up with a thousand excuses for why it’s not a man’s fault if he acts badly toward his wife or girlfriend, but if he doesn’t show his political party undying loyalty he is scorned.

    I do also think that how a politician behaves politically is more my business than his private life is, but this particular political theme – that supporting the party (and not the party’s stated ideals, but the party itself) is more important than how you actually treat people – is fundamental to how we end up with such crappy political leaders.

    Sunday, February 28, 2010 at 5:42 am | Permalink
  18. al_zorra wrote:

    I like ‘lover,’ for either gender, as in, “My lover brought me champagne and chocolate too.”

    Love, c.

    Sunday, February 28, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Permalink
  19. al_zorra wrote:

    But then there are the dorkdong jerks like Edwards or, o, about a gazillion others of any gender, who wouldn’t know what being a lover is about. They’re just selfish dorkdongs who are as willing to screw over the whole country as they are their families, and maybe even the partner with whom they’ve chosen to screw over us all.

    Love, C.

    Sunday, February 28, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Permalink
  20. Samantha b. wrote:

    Oh, Maud, we are in a 100% agreement, which is so damn boring.

    Monday, March 1, 2010 at 11:41 am | Permalink
  21. Siobhan wrote:

    The reason the porn star is such the threat is because all women are scored on the ability of their beauty and their cooch on how to attract and keep a man… and men are only swayed by beauty, cooch and skill in bed. OBVIOUSLY a man is going to cheat with a porn star if he has half a shot, because he is only a poor man! How can he resist beauty, cooch and skill in bed, all 3 of which are synonomous with porn? How can an ordinary woman compete? We can’t, that’s how! The man has no control over being attracted to the most beautiful cooch, and we “normal” women are lower on cooch-beauty and ability to create orgasm than porn actresses, ergo, it is teh evil porners who have ALL THE POWER AND CONTROL.

    Ummm, please let me know if I overdid the sarcasm here.

    Monday, March 1, 2010 at 11:44 am | Permalink
  22. Lily wrote:

    I plump in favor of “Lover” a la SNL Rachel Dratch genius. Also isn’t mistress the feminine of Master, giving the lady a sort of dominance in the illicit relationship ?

    Monday, March 1, 2010 at 5:46 pm | Permalink
  23. fafnir wrote:

    I would totally download the new album from Mister Mistress

    Tuesday, March 2, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. uberVU - social comments on Saturday, February 27, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by cleolinda: The social construct of the “mistress”: