On the Ashley Madison hack: Cheating isn’t a gender-neutral issue

ashley madison

The news of the Ashley Madison data breach and subsequent release of users’ confidential details last week has been met with varied responses, some natural (good lord, a lot of our information is on the web — perhaps we shouldn’t take online privacy for granted?), some understandable (Karma! Serves these cheaters right!), and some desperately stupid (yer all a bunch of puritanical moralists!).

I’ve struggled to figure out where I stand on all of this. Certainly I didn’t feel an immediate sense of joy knowing that cheaters (or hopeful cheaters) everywhere would be outed. I did feel an immediate sense of discomfort, knowing that so much of our personal information is out there online, whether it’s credit card info or personal conversations we’ve had over text or email. I also don’t feel entirely comfortable with the trend of shaming by social media that’s become so popular of late, even when it’s shaming people who are maybe sleezebags. And finally, I was forced to think a little more thoroughly about my opinion of people who cheat on their partners.

Regardless, this kind of data breach is not “good,” even if it happens to cheaters. I mean, do we really trust the moral compasses of hackers that much? You’ll notice that, more often than not, these skills are used to leak celebrity nudes, to shut down sites like Mumsnet, or to hack into Anita Sarkeesian’s Wikipedia page, inserting pornographic images and links to porn sites. This kind of thing could happen to anyone — cheater or not — and it seems as though women are targeted in particularly vicious, misogynist ways.

All that said, it’s hard for me to muster up sympathy for cheaters… Particularly the kinds of cheaters who are so committed to cheating that they will go so far as to sign up for a service that will facilitate their affair(s). I mean, come on… This is not something that can be chalked up to a momentary lapse of judgement, passion, or an accident. As questionable as those excuses are (of course I believe humans are in control of their bodies and can choose not to jump into bed with someone who isn’t the person they are in a monogamous relationship with), I am fully aware that these things do sometimes happen and that it doesn’t always mean a person is “bad” or amoral.

But before we move any further into this discussion, we need to acknowledge that this conversation is a gendered one. Reports say that 70 per cent of Ashley Madison’s users were male, but it looks like many of those who made up the remaining 30 per cent of female users were actually fake, meaning the percentage of male users was as high as 90-95 per cent. Is this mere coincidence? I think not. Male entitlement is an issue, here.

Ashley MadisonBeyond that, I’m going to straight up tell you that I judge male cheaters differently than I do female cheaters. This is partly because I have, over the years, seen or heard about far more men cheating on their girlfriends than I have the reverse. The bro code is strong and it remains acceptable for men to dick around behind their girlfriends’ or wives’ backs, all the while supported by their buds. Simply, I do not have much sympathy for men who make a habit of cheating because it feeds their ego. There is a difference between a mistake and a way of life. And our culture tells men that, for example, it’s perfectly fine to see prostitutes behind their partners’ backs if they aren’t “getting what they need” at home or to pick up women at the club so long as your girlfriend or wife doesn’t find out. Ashley Madison endorses all these ideas, implicitly and explicitly. One ad suggested that cheating was acceptable if your wife put on weight. The narrative endorsed by Ashley Madison is not an ethically neutral one, but rather a misogynist one that conveys a sense of entitlement to sex and women’s bodies we know full-well is attached to masculinity.

Ashley MadisonYou can give me statistics out the wazoo about women cheating just as much as men do but, even if that were the case, the truth is that I don’t care. Here why:

There is no larger societal context that tells us it’s “natural” for women to pursue sex outside their monogamous partnerships. There is no common defense of this kind of behaviour in women that says, “Girls will be girls, you know women think with their vaginas.” Women do not, in large part, have porn addictions that are defended by society at large because they can only be satisfied in life so long as they have access to an endless stream of male bodies to serve as masturbatory aids. There is not an entire multi-billion dollar industry that sees thousands upon thousands of male adults and children abused and murdered because we believe women will go around raping other men if they aren’t permitted to act out every fantasy they’ve ever had on something or somebody. Men are not told, en masse, that “maintenance sex” is their duty and that if they don’t service their wives on demand, they’ll “lose interest.” Likewise husbands aren’t told to stay thin, get cosmetic surgery, wear sexy underwear, perform porny fantasies involving schoolgirl uniforms and BDSM, lest their wives stray.

Men are socialized to care about themselves more than anyone else. Women are socialized in the opposite way — to put their needs and desires last. Women are also made to put up with various forms of abuse — sexual, physical, emotional, and verbal — in heterosexual relationships in a way that men are not. (Cheating, to be clear, can be a form of emotional abuse. It is a mindfuck and any woman who has been in a relationship with a serial liar/cheater knows that.) We are also expected to put an enormous amount of emotional labour into our relationships that means we work around men’s “problems,” trying to support them into treating us well and “teaching” them how to be emotionally intelligent adults. Women often believe that if they just love their abusers enough, the abuse will stop. We end up excusing behaviour we should not because we are fed a bunch of Men Are From Mars bullshit and convince ourselves that sexist stereotypes are innate and unchangeable.

Considering all of this and the fact that the vast majority of users on Ashley Madison were men, I think it is ridiculous to talk about this whole incident outside a gendered context. Which is, interestingly, exactly how many people have been discussing this.

Dan Savage wrote:

“… Whether someone was on Ashley Madison because she actually wanted to cheat or someone else was on the site because he merely got off on thinking about cheating, outing private people for their sexual conduct — even their ‘wrong’ sexual conduct — can’t be justified.”

Who, one might ask, are all these “shes” he’s thinking of? That ten percent of female users isn’t worth alternating “shes” and “hes” in Savage’s commentary in a “this could happen to anyone!” kind of way…

Glenn Greenwald wrote:

“Busybodies sitting in judgment of and righteously condemning the private, sexual acts of other adults remains one of the most self-satisfying and entertaining — and thus most popular — public spectacles…”

He goes on to criticize the “puritanical glee” of judgers, which he sees as hypocritical considering “how common both infidelity and online pornography are,” which is, in many ways, fair. But not unless you start using male pronouns somewhere in there… Greenwald doesn’t feel there is anything morally wrong with cheating and uses the following example to make his point:

“Say you’re a gay man or lesbian forced through societal or religious pressure into a heterosexual marriage, and ‘cheating’ is your only form of sexual fulfillment: Is that clearly morally wrong?”

Easy answer: No. No I don’t think that it is “clearly morally wrong.” I don’t think cheating is clearly always anything. Life is complicated and so are relationships. Monogamy and marriage is not necessarily a great arrangement for all people. I could care less about “marital vows,” as marriage is not a value that matters to me (I have long voiced my opposition to marriage, as an institution). But respect and compassion is important to me and I don’t think it is respectful or compassionate to allow your partner to think you are in a monogamous relationship with them when, in fact, you are going out of your way not to be. Being cheated on feels embarrassing, disempowering, disrespectful, cruel, and, of course, constitutes a breach of trust that can be difficult, if not impossible, to overcome.

Certainly I agree that no one’s life and/or career should be destroyed because they cheated or tried to cheat. As such, I am not “gleeful” about this data breach at all. But to treat this as though this is simply a human phenomenon that might be helping marginalized people to find happiness and fulfillment in their lives is kind of ridiculous. Were there a whole bunch of lesbians on Ashley Madison? (Spoiler: NOPE.)

We are not perfect beings. We make mistakes. But trying to have an affair on Ashley Madison is not a mistake. This isn’t like an, oh I was at a party and we drank too much wine and made out, oops scenario.

Greenwald argues that “adultery is a private matter between the adulterer and his or her spouse.”

But is the larger pattern of male entitlement, selfishness, objectification, and emotional abuse truly “just a private matter” that no one should talk about or “judge” ever, lest they be labelled “moralistic puritans?”

This was not at all the right way to go about holding men accountable (and I don’t really believe that was the point of the hack anyway). But, at the same time, it’s worth acknowledging that men, throughout history, have rarely been held to account, as a group or as individuals, for their inconsiderate, selfish, hurtful, and abusive behaviour. It has been far more common that they’ve been excused and protected and that those who say, “Hey maybe you don’t need to go to a strip club or hire a prostitute for your buddy’s bachelor party or leave your wife for your nanny or watch porn on the sly,” are labelled as “moralistic prudes” who simply don’t understand men’s “natural” urges and physical “needs.”

There are lots of reasons people cheat and sometimes the reasons are good or fair. Even if the reasons aren’t good, I am not a fan of public shaming or of life-ruining as a solution. But fucked if I’m going to pretend that most men cheat for “good” reasons when surely we all know that most of them cheat because they are selfish, egotistical, man-children who think the world owes them gratification at any cost.

The fact that anyone would discuss cheating, within the context of Ashley Madison or otherwise, outside a gendered context and without factoring in male entitlement, objectification, and the dynamic that exists in heterosexual relationships, fueled by patriarchy, is ludicrous.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • That woman you link to didn’t actually have a good reason to cheat. Her husband is seriously sick right now and they both have emotional issues and they need to be in therapy. If she’s really really determined that he’ll never again meet her emotional needs, she needs to go one step farther, make arrangements for his care and then file for divorce. She’s not trapped. She’s all grown up and she has an out.

    I say this as someone who cheated, not only in my marriage but in previous relationships that never got as far as marriage (gee, no wonder, right?). I did it because I was spineless and didn’t know what I wanted and I wound up hurting people. Wasband didn’t know about my infidelity and there were only two incidents with the same guy anyway and I ditched him immediately after the second one, gave up all my local friends and kept to myself until wasband and I moved out of state. It was a mistake like you talk about here, but it wasn’t RIGHT because of that. If you make promises, keep them. If you can’t keep promises, then end the situation that’s contingent on those promises because you’re just screwing people over otherwise. And wasband and I did end, though not for the cheating reason, and I fessed up about it later.

    It’s just not worth it. Don’t get married if you don’t think you can handle it, by all means. I don’t think I would have a problem with cheating at this point, but I can’t see myself getting married again because with my luck I’d wind up with a guy who would want to cheat on me or leave me if *I* got sick. I knew a guy like that whose girlfriend got thyroid cancer and he was ANGRY that she wouldn’t put out for him. She left him, and he deserved it. What’s the difference between him and this idiot? She uses nicer words. That’s it though, and nicer words are scant consolation.

    • mimi

      As somebody replied you already in the fb comments: Do you really think that a woman with three kids, one of them “special needs”a job and a husband needing care while dying of cancer, has time to spend on the internet looking for someone to cheat with, and then time to carry out meet-ups? If you do, you’ve never been a woman in such circumstances. There just really is no time unless she has an army of servants. The existence of the woman and the story smells. I have seen many many doubt in this story, even the hardcore misogynists which is really rare. I think someone from site made up that letter, and put out women name to distract that 95 percent are men looking to cheat and to distract from terrible woman hating pictures they put on site( see examples in this article). Yeah right suddenly we have a woman coming out with her sob story to show the public Yes women cheat too, and they are awful too, when 95 percent of cheaters on that site were men and when people in charged of site obviously knew that and they put awful commercials for site like Is your wife fat , come to us, Is your wife frigid bitch come to us. There wasn’t single ad towards women, I wonder why.

      • Mici Stone

        That is an excellent point. No ads directed towards the women, kind of proves who their demographic is, doesn’t it?

      • pinky

        Not only that but unless AM has changed its pricing structure in the last few years, women aren’t charged for using their site. Men have to pay to both send and receive messages. That’s how few women are interested.

    • Kesh Meshi

      Something that kind of grosses me out about Savage defending cheaters when using the sick spouse excuse is that, if anything, is what women with ill spouses do. Statistically, it’s not what men with ill spouses do. Men with ill spouses file for divorce.

      • Meghan Murphy

        You’re right! Men abandon their wives when they don’t serve them anymore (or can’t). Women stay.

  • rips into labels

    The outrage expressed by men on the news tonight was pretty amazing. One man was particularly outraged because of all the pain inflicted on the families (ie wives and children) of the cheaters. Like, outing the male cheaters was yet another way of hurting women, Yup. Mm hmmm. Nothing about the truth will set you free. Male secrecy is one of the many ways that men protect women I guess they would have us believe.

    • Derrington

      I would say id rather know my partner was having an affair so i know what is really going on. Its the cheater that is decimating his family and is cheating on his kids too.

    • Afrobelle

      The spectacular male outrage all came from the fact that it was men being sexually humiliated, rather than women, which is what they’re far more used to, and facilitate and encourage. When all those celeb nudes were released you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting some man pontificating about ‘nothing is private’, ‘moralising about nudity, nothing wrong with nudity!’ etc. Men distribute and create revenge porn for the shame and embarrassment of women and I see no hand-wringing on their part over this.

      That being said when I saw lists of AM users being posted everywhere I did feel for the wives/partners, having your heartache made public like that.

  • Derrington

    My father cheated and lied and ruined our childhoods with the spectre of his impending desertion. My mother drank to steady her nerves and worked a full time job with three kids, whilst the kids went through mental breakdowns, anorexia and alcoholism in later life.my mother died 20 years before her time. My father decimated all our lives with his selfishness and complete non concern with how his actions and lies destroyed our lives. He took away our childhood and left a festering scar in its place.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Cheating is selfish and cruel, for the most part. Certainly I know and agree that it is often devastating and traumatic. Men do this shit with little or no concern for how much it impacts those around them and it is gross. I was quite surprised to see Greenwald defending it so much! (Not so much Dan Savage, who has always felt cheating was fine and who is, by all accounts, kind of a misogynist.)

      • Derrington

        I got the feeling that our father didnt see women and children as human and therefore despised us as a drain on his finances and time. He had no care for us as human beings with feelings, just a kind of underlying dismissal. He never showed any concern towards me, not even a hug, as a female child and therefore even less human than a boy child. He taught me feminism by showing me what biological contempt for females and children looked like up close and very personal. It took years in therapy to rebuild my psyche and sense of worth.

      • “Kind of”? You’re being far too kind.

      • Nom Nom

        He is not kind of misogynist he is awful misogynist, I though that everybody, especially radical feminist knew that. I mean in reddit, which is full of women haters everybody knows who he is and calls him a misogynist, I don’t know why you even give him a spotlight. You act much much more harshly towards women who didn’t say nearly wrong stuff like he did. I will never forget when he compared childfree women with dogs, and said that they are worthless pieces of shit.

  • Cass

    Used to be domestic violence was considered a ‘private’ matter. Now it’s men’s sexual behavior. Just another way to silence women on the subject of male terrorism.

    I was 15 when my mother re-married. When her new husband’s parents came to visit, I learned that his father’s infidelity was a source of humor to the family. Even his mother commented on her husband’s many ‘girlfriends’ back home. Oh well, none of my business, I thought. The first night as they were readying themselves for bed in the upstairs bathroom, I retreated downstairs to the bathroom on the far side of the house. I’d only been in there about 30 seconds when I heard the door knob rattle, and I called out that I’d be done in a minute. The door knob rattled again, harder this time. I did the only thing I could think of and threw all of my weight against the door. After about a minute, the door stopped rattling, and I heard the heavy footsteps of my mother’s husband’s father retreating. I spent the rest of their visit away from the house as much as possible or locked up in my room with a heavy bureau pushed up against the door. I knew I couldn’t say anything because I realized that the point of the conversation that evening had been to inform me that his behavior would be framed as a ‘joke’. It was ‘funny’. Ha ha.

  • Daughter of Achelous

    Everyone who opposes male violence against women is a prude. Gay men that pretend to be straight and get married/partnered with women and cheat behind their back are scum. The woman is more likely to get HIV.

  • Sylvia Black

    I find it very telling that worries about our own personal cyber vulnerability are springing up now that men’s personal failings (sorry/not sorry) are at the center of a “data breach” (that is a very techno-centric phrase, disconnected from all the ways this is nested in a social and gendered structure). What about when Anon goes after people’s emails accounts? Or the recent hack on the US Federal government that affected *every person who ever worked for the federal government ever*? Or all the phone apps that ask for complete access to all data stored on our phones that we all click “I accept” to? This refocus on anyone having any “glee” (a term I find targeted at women’s response) is a redirect meant to shift discussions of accountability from men’s behavior. Why is finding some sense of satisfaction in other men spilling each other’s shitty beans a full stop validation of all leaked “private” content? That’s a manipulative spin.

    I’m glad women have a source for knowing some truth–knowing why their husband isn’t home when he says he’ll be, why that last gynecological visit revealed an odd STI, why their daughter seems changed after that weekend she was left alone with dad and now cuts herself in secrecy. I wonder about Anna Duggar sitting at the computer one day, googling this story, finding article after article navel-gazing about “privacy.” Men’s impunity around cheating is part of the privatization of domestic violence. Where is the feminism?

    The story here for men is about a data breach (at the rate they download pictures of naked women’s bodies they neither know nor care about, I’m in no way convinced they suddenly care about all humans beings’ privacy). The story here for women is about a trust breach, a violation that happened as soon
    as the account was created, to the tune of millions and millions of WOMEN.

    Concern about our online privacy now is a little late to the game. Big Data was here yesterday, our information has been repackaged and sold a times by now. I’m not happy about that, but I can’t strategize about an opportunity to change something that will now require long and arduous legal battles. The bubble of safety and privacy around internet behavior has left the building. And as that wall comes crashing down, we need feminism to be there to call it what it is (thank you Meghan). We need websites or blog series to let women come forward about their cheating husbands (if they want) to tell other women that their pain is legitimate, justified. That refusing sex for your porn-addicted husband is not a fucking reason to have him cheat on you. We need Kickstarter campaigns for AshleyMadison .com wives to leave. And when women’s nude photos get leaked we start online petitions to have them removed, we call it misogyny (the same misogyny that makes men think that betraying their significant other is okay). This whole *you can’t have your cake and eat it too* mentality around hacking is ignoring a much bigger reality about the inevitability of more hacking, as well as the number of social institutions that *depend on* men’s “privacy.” Not wanting women’s nude photos leaked, and celebrating the hacking of men’s harmful, dishonest behavior towards women is philosophically consistent.

    Not all hacked content is created equal and our response to it is what calls out social structures.
    We can use any of these opportunities to show what misogynists society has created, to break down the illusion of all those good men out there, because we know what men do in private is far more disgusting and terrible than what women do in private. Many women come to feminism after losing faith in men’s ability to be decent human beings. I say we bolster our numbers any way we can, and get our asses offline to make on-the-ground change (and heal this planet’s ecological crisis) as soon as possible.

  • mimi

    I think you missed couple of things and you were way mild towards males in this story. First of all when celebrity nudes were hacked and when various online attacks towards women( Anita, Brianna Wu and many many more) were in full force suddenly the privacy doesn’t matter, and suddenly we hear from bunch of men that nothing is private and that women brought everything on themselves because they were to slutty or in case of Anita they gasp have an opinion. We even had fappening, where is the fappening for this story, where are million subreddits on reddit with the names of this scum? Where are people calling this men sluts, whores, I haven’t seen none of that, and if there was a woman cheating every other word would be that. And it is false false equivalence to say that it is the same. In first case we have a women only existing and having opinion who didn’t do anything criminal and didn’t cheat and they were attacked 10000000 times worse then men who did something wrong and who cheated. When you are woman privacy doesn’t matter even if you are saint, and when you are man you have right to privacy even if you are serial rapist. Look at the reaction at Mums net terrorist attack, suddenly they are bunch of whinny women so they deserve for some scum to call SWAT team to their house(yes people actually wrote this in comments). So women only existing and having opinion are enough for terrorist attack, suddenly free speech is not mentioned here. And when those boys who screamed Lets rape some bitches and sluts in University and when one of them actually turned out to be potential rapist, everybody cheered when the University declared that that is not a hate speech. Suddenly we have a comments that they have a right to free speech no matter how despicable is, even if they shout Rape a bitch, with an intention to really rape some girls. Free speech is used only and just only to defend men most awful acts, women just having opinion that isn’t hate speech and nobody will cry Free speech. Just imagine if users of Ashley Madison were all women, who would cry about privacy and who would write apologies for them. NOBODY! Stories and comments would be full of Why are women such whores, These sluts had it coming and nobody would defend them saying that they maybe have a reason to cheat or that they have right to privacy. There would be people looking for that women in person and beating them and harassing them while the public cheers, I can bet on it.

    • Meghan Murphy

      All good points. I totally agree.

  • calabasa

    I live in Mexico, and I’m a bit bothered, in Mexican culture, by men’s openness about their cheating (and I am not the only one to note this; several prominent Mexican writers have as well, calling it the “hypocrisy of Mexican ‘family values’,” in which the husband cheats on and/or abuses his wife, not to mention rampant rates of child abuse here with the extended family living in one home, perpetrated by male family members, of course). Although the rates of cheating are likely similar across the world, nevertheless a society in which it’s expected that a man cheats (nudge nudge, wink wink) kind of bothers me. And the reverse doesn’t hold true for women; in macho cultures men exhibit incredible jealousy (and again, not trying to be racist; many believe that Spanish “machismo” actually comes from the Moors, who invaded Spain and ruled for hundreds of years; but again, that could be termed racist–how can I put this–there is sexism all over the world, but both modern-day Middle Eastern and Spanish-language countries seem to feature it more prominently, or to hide it less behind evasive, obfuscating language, to ‘claim’ it more and deny it less? Central America certainly has the biggest femicide problem in the world, which few but Latin American feminists seem overly concerned with). I’ve noticed here that married men or men with girlfriends constantly proposition me; married men don’t bother to hide their rings first, or men I know have newborn babies try, and girlfriends, well, that doesn’t even COUNT, it seems. The double standard–that women who cheat are lying whores, and men who cheat are just normal–is staggering. Furthermore, I find it insulting. I am supposed to what, service this man (who thinks I’m easy because I’m American, or something?), and then be left alone while he goes home to his wife, who is taking care of the house and children? This is such a bad deal for both women, both of whom are being treated like things in this scenario. It’s disgusting.–And again, not trying to be racist. The “Western women are easy” stereotype exists all over the world, unfortunately (unfortunately because whether or not a woman likes to sleep around it’s never fun being propositioned and targeted by a bunch of sleazy guys when you’re traveling). P.s. I know that was a bit “methinks thou doth protest too much,” but I feel highly aware of being an outsider criticizing an aspect of Mexican culture, which, though I’ve lived here a while and grown up around it, I am still not entirely privy to (as an outsider). So these are just observations (made also by Mexican female friends) and not meant to be racially based so much as culture-based (“machismo” is well-documented in Mexican culture). That said, the only time I was ever the other woman was in the States, accidentally (the guy told me he was single, and when I found out he had a gf I ignored his texts and never spoke to him again; I hate that more than anything–being lied to about someone’s status!). So…YMMV, grain of salt, all that…just an observation. In a sense it’s only a more honest version of what you see in countries like the United States, where everybody lies about their flaming misogyny, and couches it in touchy-feely “individual choice” and “sexual rights=civil rights” type language. Here at least they are honest that it’s shitty (I mean, it IS frowned upon, blatant or not) and unfair; men are just more honest that they don’t care that it’s shitty and unfair when they hit on you still wearing their wedding ring.

  • calabasa

    I think I realized something posting that TL;DR. It’s not that Latin American (or Mediterranean, or fill-in-the-blanks) men are more sexist, it’s that North American men (Mexico not included) are hypocrites. Not all of them, obviously (“not all men;” some men don’t cheat on their wives, and other do but don’t pretend they don’t; neither are hypocrites). So, I guess the incidence of sexism is probably the same everywhere, but just more hidden in my home country (and therefore conveniently also much lower visibility and easier to deny or erase). Maybe it’s only in countries where it’s talked about, and acknowledged as a largely male (or male-privileging) problem, and worked on publicly with everyone together that sexism begins to diminish. I should just start learning Swedish I guess.

  • Astrid

    I don’t’ say anything either. Not because of bro code but because they always shoot the messenger.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Yeah…. I’ve had friends turn on me after I told them about their partners’ behaviour behind their backs… And sometimes they already know and just have chosen to turn a blind eye… It’s not an easy situation.

  • calabasa

    Let me rephrase once again: I experienced more violence in the US than in Mexico, so sexism isn’t THAT hidden there. It’s just that Latin America has the stereotype of the gallant “Don Juan” bedding lots of women being a kind of romantic figure, whereas the same figure might be looked down upon as a player in the US (at least publicly, if not by his buddies, who might approve); cheating specifically seems to be less hidden here (whereas perhaps violence is more hidden; less victim-blamey for that, but also less talked about). And that’s what makes this whole scandal so, well, scandalous. Because suddenly it’s not hidden anymore, is it? And then men’s real values come out of the closet (calling everyone else ‘violators of privacy’–what about the violation of your wife’s privacy, or her physical safety, when you sleep with other women?–and ‘moralists,’ which has bizarrely become a pejorative; since when was it bad to have some morals, to have a care for someone else other than yourself?). This is like the Edward Snowden leak but of sexual instead of government corruption; it’s questionable whether it was ethical, but was it for a good cause?

  • Tired feminist

    Years ago, I came across a piece written by a woman suggesting men not to tell their male friends that they are being cheated by their girlfriends (her argument is not so important here, but it was centered around the idea that this is your friend’s private issue and you have nothing to do with it if not asked). You can imagine the amount of backlash she received – oh but FRIENDSHIP! oh but brocode! oh but no dirty evil bitch will stay between me and my friend! etc.

    I posted a couple of comments inviting the guys to imagine following situations:

    – Would you tell a male friend’s girlfriend if you found out *he* was cheating?
    – Would you tell a female friend she was being cheated?

    Judging by most of the answers I got, brocode is above ethics.

    Justifications went mostly along the lines of the “natural superiority” of male-male friendships over female-female or male-female ones. Apparently they were completely blind to the absurd misogyny of denying women true friendships from BOTH women and men…

  • Cate

    I hate Ashley Madison. Always have.
    Thought that they had horrible commercials and the whole concept of
    their website I find gross.

    When I first heard about the hack I
    admit I scoffed, I laughed and the word Karma came to mind. Perhaps
    it was a ghost of the younger girl in me who can still very much
    remember the sickening stomach dropping feeling when you find out you
    were cheated on. Well she got her revenge and took pleasure in those
    wretched cheaters getting what they had coming.

    I also must note that it never really
    occurred to me that it was women that were getting outed as well, I
    get that it only makes sense that a website created to facilitate
    cheating would require men and women to be involved. I just always
    struck me as a creepy dark place where sleazy men lingered wasting
    time and money chasing after some porn star encounter that was not
    actually going to happen for them.

    So I found myself confused at my
    reaction to hearing about the married men in heterosexual
    relationships that were on the site seeking out other men. Well I am
    not sure why but outing them just feels really wrong to me. Sure they
    are cheaters just the same so I struggled to pinpoint why this would
    matter more to me. Something about publicly outing closeted or
    bisexual men just did not sit well for me, suddenly I felt my
    compassion kick in and watched it slowly trickle down to everyone on
    the site, I know that I would not be a fan of a situation where
    something that I thought I was doing in private being brought to

    So mixed in with a large helping of
    disdain and a side helping of eye rolling judgement I found my way to
    a place where I do now think it is a pretty rotten situation, I
    personally dislike what these people were doing but I think that they
    do deserve their privacy.

    Yet a part of me still would read the
    names of the people in my area or that I knew if I was able…….

    • mimi

      We women are biggest minority in the world and we are expected to shut up and to take it with smile when other minority shit on us and to wait our turn to get rights. I have zero sympathy for gay man who cheated wives with other men. Where are we going to have sympathy for all women who were cheated and tricked while their husbands were with other boys? Famous youtube blogger came out as a lesbian and the first thing everything did is to trash her because she was with men before that and how that was awful towards them and she should be ashamed, poor those men etc. When guy who dated and even was in marriage with women, nobody attack him in that same way, and nobody has sympathy for those poor wives, and everybody is expecting for those wives to understand and forgive. I am sick and tired of forgiving other minority shit on us. If you are gay don’t shit on other women lives just so you could make yours life better, don’t date them, don’t marry them, if you do that I really don’t care for your problems anymore, because you are in that case another women hater who threw women under the bus

      • calabasa

        We are actually a majority.

        • Hannah

          …Surely you know what she actually meant by that though?

        • mimi

          Yes me are majority of human race(51 percent), and we are treated like shit, so as I said that makes us the biggest minority in world.

    • Lulemore

      I thought like you in my 20s, but in my 40s I have to admit, women can be sleazy. Furthermore, did you ever see Angelica Houston’s character in Life Aquatic, where she is a wealthy middle-aged woman with a hot, much younger, long-haired, male, lover? Well, the older one gets, the sleazier, sometimes. LOL!!! Who, of any gender, wants someone with sagging body parts and peculiar socks? I mean this as person, not as a woman or a man. Just saying… Perhaps the world needs a site that appeals more to the middle-aged woman seeking hot, young men. Has anyone followed Madonna or Jennifer Lopez lately?

  • Cangle

    Ludicrous indeed!
    My father cheated and even a visit to the local diner was not free from winks and nods from the young waitress and it was entirely humiliating as a teen girl.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Ugh. That is awful and gross. I am pretty appalled that Greenwald is trying to spin this as a minority rights issue… https://twitter.com/ggreenwald/status/636216780214636545

      • Cangle

        I am not surprised that leftie males would protect their sources or access rights to females using any rationale. Uncritical on that issue, they are illogical dudes in that aspect sometimes. It’s frustrating. He’s so helpful in many progressive areas.

      • Tobysgirl

        Greenwald is very good when speaking to members of the mainstream media regarding surveillance, etc. But it’s important to remember that he is a wealthy, white gay male who clearly believes that men have a right to sexual fulfillment, the cost be damned. I do not believe he is a leftist, have never heard him critique capitalism, militarism, etc.

        • Kesh Meshi

          I think he’s actually very conservative, more libertarian than liberal.

  • Tobysgirl

    This is a thought-provoking essay. I must say that my reaction to the hack was, “Who cares?” I figured that there was so much stink about it because of the MALE public figures who would be exposed; if one listens to the mainstream media, it seems that celebrities and politicians are to be protected from all consequences all the time at all costs.

    As for Greenwald’s remark: “Say you’re a gay man or lesbian forced through societal or religious pressure into a heterosexual marriage, and ‘cheating’ is your only form of sexual fulfillment: Is that clearly morally wrong?” I would say yes, it is clearly morally wrong. Some of those men “forced” into heterosexual marriage through “religious pressure” are the same men who want to control women’s bodies and deny gay men and lesbians equal rights. Some of those men forced into heterosexual marriage blame and shame their wives for their own disinterest in sex. Some of those men have given their wives terrible diseases (yes, plenty of straight men do as well).

  • Xodima

    While obviously the intended actions of the userbase is deplorable, I couldn’t separate myself from the self-righteous sentiments expressed by the hacking group in their response to all of this when they should be charged with reckless manslaughter or worse.

    By now, we all know that when you disrupt the lives of 33 million people, some of them will die. Indeed http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/24/toronto-suicides-ashley-madison-hack is already the case. Seeing as the hackers knew this would happen, how are they not murderers? We discuss this obviously as something that happened to dirty rotten cheaters, and for the most part it is. However, is internet vigilantism needs to be seen as it is: Legalized and socially acceptable murder.

    On another note:

    Dan Savage wrote:

    “… Whether someone was on Ashley Madison because she actually wanted to cheat or someone else was on the site because he merely got off on thinking about cheating, outing private people for their sexual conduct — even their ‘wrong’ sexual conduct — can’t be justified.”

    I find it interesting that in his alternation of the sexes, he turn the woman into the dirty cheater and the man into a helpless fetishist who didn’t mean no harm! Is this alternation random? Probably not. Our society loves to hate women for infidelity while excusing men’s.

    • Meghan Murphy

      “I find it interesting that in his alternation of the sexes, he turn the woman into the dirty cheater and the man into a helpless fetishist who didn’t mean no harm! Is this alternation random? Probably not. Our society loves to hate women for infidelity while excusing men’s.”

      Interesting indeed! Seems to go along with his usual analysis, though, eh?

      • corvid

        I stopped reading Savage’s column in (sadly ineffectual) protest long ago, after he advised a young woman to have some sympathy for her creepy father’s father-daughter incest porn habit. (It’s just fantasy until he does something other than simply creep you out!) Yeah fucking right, Dan. I can only imagine what he’s been writing since, and how far gone all his readers (i.e. the entirety of liberal culture) are on the porn-apologist Kool-aid he peddles. I grew up reading his column and it really was my introduction to the world of patriarchal “sex”, he wields a stupid amount of influence and it comes with a subtle threat that disagreeing with him makes you 1) homophobic and 2) an “abusive” “prude.”

        • Meghan Murphy

          noooooooooo. no. nonononono.

      • corvid

        (I should clarify that the father-daughter incest porn in question was purportedly the “simulated” kind, hence on this technicality Savage felt compelled to support this man’s behaviour. Just gross.)

  • Lucia Lolita

    So many people were upset about one news site releasing information about an extramarital affair (homosexual), and how deplorable it was since it “outed” the person, but these same people cheered the actions of these hackers who released millions of people’s information. I’m not saying I feel sympathy for anyone, but the hypocrisy is a little tiring.

    • Anna Crawford

      That’s the liberal media for you. They gloss over so many facts. For instance they reported on Emma Sulcowitz as being raped but when the facts came to light they were completely mum. Now I am a gay black woman and I am an advocate for rape survivors but it seems like the media wants so badly to bring up homosexuality, racism, and rape whether the facts are there or not.

      • Lulemore

        First, I think the hacker situation is a dilemma in that they were helpful in striking fear (I mean as in the rear of being revealed for intentionally transgressing on another’s right to knowing whether their contract is being upheld by the other party with whom they have entered the contract of marriage). The dilemma involves the trade-off that by rectifying one wrong, the hackers have, themselves, unleashed personal information that was not their right to release. They have rectified one wrong with what amounts to a greater crime under United States law. At least, this is my understanding. Regarding what Anna Crawford has said, well, I heard a great deal of talk about the alleged rape not being substantiated, whether it occurred or not. I disagree that the end of that series of events was not covered as well. On the contrary, I noted a great deal of mockery aimed at the notion that rape is statistically greater in some social spheres and that it is a crime that warrants serious research and improved legal and sociological understanding. Lots of types of crimes are under continual study. For example, how fire moves through a structure has older, less academically rigorous schools of thought and newer, understood by fewer people, and more academically rigorous schools of thought. Being accused of arson when one is innocent is horrific unless those judging you take the stakes associated with a guilty judgement seriously. As far as I’m concerned, a true measure of ethics is willingness to suspend judgment, avoid mockery, and actually survey available relevant knowledge from reputable (peer reviewed, at least) sources. I also think improved understanding of math, particularly statistics, helps inform law and sociology for all stakeholders. All media sources, judges, law enforcement personnel, lots of people, might want to consider improving understanding of statistics as well as abstract logic. Rushing to gleefully mock people is just unproductive to improving human understanding of anything. It’s ok for comedians, but that’s not what most of us are by trade. What is interesting is that people do not see that ‘violent aggression’ sensationalist and ‘vulnerability exaggerating’ sensationalist news stories are both equally nonsensical and irrational sources of glee that lead to reveling in thoughtless emotion. Fine arts are a nice way to do justice to emotion, not biased hype. Crime should be discussed with a transparently earnest and measured choice of phrasing. What irks some people is that one may use crime accusation as a form of indirect aggression. This should be considered a valid concern without diminishing the right of actual crime victims to seek actual justice. If we look at the history of British and North American rape law, it becomes easy to see that the reason the media hypes up crime against homosexuals, minorities and females has everything to do with the actual power that white men had over these other categories of human beings. Fast forward to today, and I think we can benefit by taking a close look at the timeline going back further than the 1920s, but into the 1700s. By ‘reason’ I mean to understand as in cause and effect, not excuse, which has more to do with steadfast mental discipline in the face of a history of frustrated efforts of seeking justice via modifying common rape law to reflect actual female experience. Actual, not fake and used as a weapon for personal reasons. This is why I compared the study of rape to the study of arson and fire movement. Both have patterns that may not be intuitively obvious.

  • SisterJ

    The claim that “adultery is a private matter between the adulterer and his spouse” is absurd on its face. The nature of adultery is that the spouse is removed from decisions regarding her marriage and bodily integrity. The very nature of cheating is a violating one, and one in which a private matter (marriage) is made distinctly UNprivate.

  • Anna Crawford

    I don’t understand the point of this article. Is the author unaware that data collected constantly shows a near 50/50 ratio of men and women who cheat? I’ve been a therapist and family/marriage counselor for a very long time and it seems that infidelity is gender neutral. I think men might be more braggy to their friends about it which leads them to being caught but that doesn’t mean women don’t as well. I’ve noticed that women are more likely to have affairs with the same gender and also to have unattached feelings towards the ones they cheat with. Men seem to be looking more for companionship then just sex. Men are more afraid of the consequence of divorce (alimony, less custody of children, etc) then women. I believe there are certain types of people who have a very hard time being faithful. Men are more likely to have narcissistic personality disorders but women are more likely to have bipolar disorders. Both disorders greatly increase the chance for infidelity.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I think that there is a different social context for men cheating than for women, as I discussed. Also, Ashley Madison was a service used overwhelmingly by heterosexual men. Studies show that men cheat because of “impulse” which tells me that the idea that men “think with their dicks” and “can’t control themselves” (which is connected to rape culture) is at play here. Men buy the hype and take full advantage. Yes women cheat too and my aim is not to say that it is not necessarily selfish or hurtful when a woman does it but to say there is a different context and narrative surrounding male cheaters. Also, in my own personal experience, I have NEVER, ever seen women in relationships act as sleezy as bars and parties as I see men acting. When I was younger I got hit on by men in relationships constantly, often by men who were in relationships with my friends. I simply didn’t see my friends doing the same. There is a bro culture that sees this behaviour as perfectly normal and acceptable and that often encourages this behaviour that we don’t see for women.

      • Tobysgirl

        How about all the women that get hit on by their fathers-in-law (my sister), their brothers-in-law (my sister-in-law), etc?
        I’m pretty suspicious of marriage counselors as they are the very ones telling women married to autogynephiliac men that they need to accept their husbands as “women” (your abusing your husband if you refer to him as he) and to engage in torture porn if their husbands request it. Most people in the therapy industry are there to reinforce gender stereotypes, not challenge them, and that includes suggesting that infidelity is gender-neutral. I don’t think so.

        • Anna Crawford

          Tobysgirl I think that was a really weird, untrue, and trans phobic statement. I don’t know a single counselor or therapist of the hundreds I’ve known over the years that would say something like that. Infidelity doesn’t always have to be sexual, it can be emotional.

          • Tobysgirl

            It was made clear above that you are a troll.
            Once again, definition of MRA: man who cannot stay off feminist websites.

      • krp

        Megan just to warn you, this is some MRA shithead, just look at another comments crying about false rape and alimony and all those thing. We don’t need these kind of hate group members here. And every word he/she said is absolutely untrue. I can bet you that men are cheating in much much bigger numbers, most women just don’t have a time to cheat, and that is reality. Only women I saw cheating were the ones who had abusive husband who beat them. And men are selfish creatures, alimony is the best deal anybody could ask, the most difficult situation is for the mother who has a child in custody, she will have to give 90 percent of her salary for her child, and 1000000 times more time than men, and men still cry for that little money women get from them. If they ever get, in my country men found the legal way to don’t pay alimony and if pay it is some small sum like 10 dollars a month. Yes 10 lousy dollars a month, while the woman has to earn somehow 300 dollars just to survive in a country where salary is 200 dollars top. Just looking how all those women live in poverty while their ex husbands are care free with their lovers made me see how much men hate women.

        • Meghan Murphy

          Just realizing that, thanks….

      • Anna Crawford

        Meghan Murphy you forget that women can be less subtle and get better results from men because the ball is in our court. All a beautiful woman has to do is flirt a little bit with a single guy and I’m sure she could do whatever she wants. The same is not always true for handsome men. That’s why they have sites like that. Also don’t forget that stuff isn’t cheap and men tend to earn more money. You might have never seen women act sleazy but trust me they do. You should have seen me in college. One of the most common issues I’ve dealt with is women who only want to be with married men.

  • Tobysgirl

    From the article linked below:

    “As of this morning, we have two unconfirmed reports of suicides that are associated because of the leak of Ashley Madison customers’ profiles,” Toronto police service staff superintendent Bryce Evans said at a press conference on Monday.

    I do not find this to be specific, credible information. Canadian police are of the same caliber as American police, they will say and do anything, in particular what they are commanded to do and say by their masters (aka politicians).

  • Sabine

    “There is no larger societal context that tells us it’s “natural” for women to pursue sex outside their monogamous partnerships. There is no common defense of this kind of behaviour in women that says, “Girls will be girls, you know women think with their vaginas.” Women do not, in large part, have porn addictions that are defended by society at large because they can only be satisfied in life so long as they have access to an endless stream of male bodies to serve as masturbatory aids. There is not an entire multi-billion dollar industry that sees thousands upon thousands of male adults and children abused and murdered because we believe women will go around raping other men if they aren’t permitted to act out every fantasy they’ve ever had on something or somebody. Men are not told, en masse, that “maintenance sex” is their duty and that if they don’t service their wives on demand, they’ll “lose interest.” Likewise husbands aren’t told to stay thin, get cosmetic surgery, wear sexy underwear, perform porny fantasies involving schoolgirl uniforms and BDSM, lest their wives stray.”

    • skilletblonde


  • Juliette D Faraone

    I don’t mind the public shaming. If this is the new kind of hacking, bring it on. Men need to be held accountable.

    • Anna Crawford

      What about all people? Meghan Murphy sited her facts from this Bloomberg article but may have not seen this: The accusations don’t pass the smell test. Men might be slightly more inclined to be unfaithful than women, but not by nine to one. Men who tried the site reported connecting with real women. The site wouldn’t have grown so popular if it had been a swindle.

  • Sarah Slamen

    Meghan, you’ve been further vindicated in data analysis, see also the part about the Canadian AM worker settlement wrt female profiles! http://gizmodo.com/almost-none-of-the-women-in-the-ashley-madison-database-1725558944

  • S.K.Law

    Re: identities of the female users of Ashley Madison

    Aren’t men always pretending to be women on the Internet (everything from profile names, to profile pics, to their tendency to comment on any story about women (could be maternal health in Africa and government funding, could be anything) with absolute authority. Doesn’t surprise me that a high proportion of the ‘women’ on the AM site are fictitious. Men talking to themselves … exclusively.

    Re: Dan Savage’s claims (on q on CBC) that AM is some kind of public service (for spouses caring for chronically ill partners) that saves marriages … my brother cheated on his wife (without benefit of AM) and though they stayed together for a while eventually they divorced. I don’t think AM or ‘strategic cheating’ will save all or even most relationships. And who still gets the blame … the spouse of the cheater. My mother claimed that my brother’s wife’s nagging ’caused’ him to cheat. I don’t really see how that is possible but once again everyone is covering for men … no matter what they do.

    I don’t particularly care about AM, as I am not particularly sexual person (thanks but no thanks to drug companies for creating a pill for women to increase libido). As an asexual person, for me, it is not about the sex but the focused sexual interest in one person (just not interested, I get enthusiastic about people but I don’t want to ‘jump’ them). I don’t have a desire to see people outed but my brother’s hypocrisy and his willingness to let my mother blame his wife (I am not particularly friendly with my brother so didn’t hear his explanations or rationalizations during this period of his life) still sort of ticks me off. He does tend to blame others, rather than take personal responsibility for the bad in his life.

    Why do people think everyone is interested in their sex lives? Problem is, I think some people would be mad at you for expressing no interest in their sex lives or relationships. I have lived in a constant state of false consciousness (given my lack of understanding of where I fit on the spectrum, not a lot info until recently about asexuality). Heterosexuality is the norm, they rule, if you don’t fit in that spectrum (or LGBT, they don’t want an A to be added), you are still expected to pretend you fit and that you understand and sympathize. I can sympathize with a sense of betrayal, sadness, anger because those are emotions we all have (except psychopaths) but sexual desire, no.

    Breaches of data are serious. I mean there is credit card data on the site, possibly data on one’s home address. Identity theft is a serious problem.

    Still find Dan Savage’s speculations a bit much. Given that he doesn’t know the actual demographics of most AM users. Or acknowledge that there are many men pretending to be women, or bots (the site owners might create female profiles to attract men) pretending to be, or … god knows.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I listened to that interview on q too. So frustrating! I mean, the scenarios he brings up are clearly not applicable w/r/t to AM. The exception is not the rule, but Savage insists on making it so. I wish the host would have challenged him on this.

  • ” I also don’t feel entirely comfortable with the trend of shaming by
    social media that’s become so popular of late, even when it’s shaming
    people who are maybe sleezebags.”

    I feel entirely comfortable with shaming sleazebags.