Next to the orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally, the next most quoted section has to be from Harry’s argument that women and men can never really be friends.
This morning when I awoke, I was chagrined to see, on the Facebook page of a high school friend turned Westpointer and now Army JAG, a comment that the Petraeus affair was an outcome of women having more access to places in the military. The poster seemed to be arguing that far from home, service men were more tempted to cheat and women’s presence made that easier.* I’m not one to go after people I don’t know on Facebook, which is hardly the forum for a lengthy debate, but I longed to note that service men had sex while deployed long before American women accompanied the overseas. What has changed is in addition to having sex with women in the country to which they are deployed, men now also have the option of cheating with their fellow countrywomen (or raping them, which is a whole other story that should be getting as much ink as the Petreaus c-f).
My fear is that the situation, which is one of a man cheating on his wife, will be framed as a debate over women’s roles in the military when really what we have is a pretty typical situation, two people who met at work and had an affair.
There are some extremely dodgy sites out there about infidelity in the workplace, but common sense tells you that the place most people spend their hours outside of home is going to be a prime site for meeting someone else, and guess what? As more women work outside the home, the stats on female infidelity seem to be rising.
Among the most reliable studies on thisissue is the General Social Survey, sponsored by the National ScienceFoundation, which has been asking Americans the same questions since 1972. Inthe 2010 survey, 19 percent of men said that they had been unfaithful at somepoint during their marriages, down from 21 percent in 1991. Women who reportedhaving an affair increased from 11 percent in 1991 to 14 percent in 2010.
An unsourced article in CNN argued that
with so many women in the workplace, it’s no surprise that among the spouses who cheated, 46 percent of women and 62 percent of men did so with someone they met through work.
Guess what? Paula Broadwell is also married (Broadwell, 40, … is an Army reserve officer and doctoral student who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and two young children.) She met Petreaus while a graduate student at Harvard, but the affair may have began when she was embedded with his unit in Afghanistan while she worked on his biography (although it may not have started until he returned stateside). However, it seems clear that they initially forged a close relationship while she was at work on her book. Although a reserve officer, she was not in the military at the time.
So what does this all mean about women going where they shouldn’t? I find the whole argument fairly absurd and reminiscent of nineteenth-century moral reform efforts to control the women with whom men have affairs rather than focusing on the issue, men who cheat.
* for a very reasonable argument about the particular stresses and culture of military life fostering adultery see Slate