It’s your fault he cheated

// 13 June 2012

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This is a guest post by Elin Weiss and Hennie Weiss. Elin has a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies. Hennie has recently earned her Master’s degree in Sociology. Their interests include feminism, gender, the sexualisation of women and the portrayal of women in media.

 Self-proclaimed bad boy Steve Santagati appeared on Dr. Drew’s show, Lifechangers (which aims to help ordinary people who experience some sort of conflict in their lives) in order to “help” a woman wanting to know why all of her ex-boyfriends had cheated on her. Rather than focusing on the behaviours of the ex-boyfriends, the conversation focused on what the woman should do to prevent future boyfriends from cheating. A US friend of ours recorded the show and suggested we watch it, due to its sexist and disablist content.

During the show, Santagati wasted no time badgering the woman about her lifestyle, appearance and personality as he took a tour around her apartment. Santagati noted plenty of “red flags” that according to him were severe turn-offs. First, the woman had a cat, which Santagati claimed was a turn-off because “cat lady” = “lonely lady”. Santagati also stated that men are attracted to women who are dangerous, fun and “crazy”, but not “weird crazy”. “Weird crazy” apparently includes those women who post pictures of their cats on Facebook. The woman’s apartment was also less than exciting as Santagati proclaimed that a “boring house” = a “boring girl”. The woman’s empty fridge indicated that she would not be able to provide for a guy, while her dirty drain indicated that she was in fact a “dirty girl”.

After criticising every aspect of this woman’s life, Santagati stated that she needed more confidence. And what is the best way to gain that confidence back? Santagati has the answer: “Confidence starts with the lingerie you have on”. Santagati also offered all the women in the audience plenty of advice on how to keep men interested (thereby keeping them from cheating, since Santagati believes that all men are innate cheaters). Some of his advice included: “change your hair, change the way you dress, change everything about yourself. Make dating provocative, because then guys will want to date you”. Santagati also stated that a woman should be unpredictable and never let the guy know what she is really thinking. Santagati was also very adamant about the fact that if a man can have a woman that is hotter than his current girlfriend, he will decide to cheat. Therefore, stay hot, attractive and unpredictable.

The overall lesson ended with three important characteristics or personality traits that are (according to Santagati) essential to heterosexual relationships and pursuing a partner. First, “women want an alpha male”. Secondly, “take care of your body”, and lastly, “be great in bed”.

This episode was a complete put-down-party on women and the focus on heterosexual couples only, together with an adamant belief in extremely superficial and stereotypical behaviour, was completely overwhelming. The episode reinforced the traditional notion that women are a certain way, while men are the complete opposite. Not only is it tiring that the main argument includes ways in which women need to change in order to satisfy and keep a partner, but the notion that women are only valued through their looks is equally frustrating. The disablist language used by Santagati is upsetting as it assumes an “us against them” view in which “crazy” women are not deserving of loving and faithful partners, and that “weird crazy” drives people away. At the same time, male infidelity becomes the woman’s fault.

Women are often bombarded with the message that they are not “good enough” if they are not in a relationship, and even when they are, the overall message is that women need to maintain a certain level of attractiveness to be good partners. Santagati states that women, not men, are at fault for male infidelity and that any characteristic other than female attractiveness is not important. Women are assumed to be so desperate for long-term relationships that they should be willing to change all aspects of their lives in order to find a partner. If a woman stays single, however, there is something inherently wrong with her. At the same time there is the notion that women in long-term relationships have given up on their looks, have become boring, comfortable and sexually unavailable to their partner.

Whether single or in a relationship, the idea is that women should always adapt to the needs and wants of the men around them. If they do not, they will either remain single for all eternity or their partner will cheat on them.

Photo of angry black cat giving Steve Santagati a death stare by *MarS, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Comments From You

Anna // Posted 13 June 2012 at 4:32 pm

The show as you describe it was clearly horribly demeaning, however…

“in order to “help” a woman wanting to know why all of her ex-boyfriends had cheated on her. Rather than focusing on the behaviours of the ex-boyfriends, the conversation focused on what the woman should do to prevent future boyfriends from cheating.”

I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. If the aim here is to identify guilt, then ok, the boyfriends are the only guilty parties, clearly. But if the aim is to understand how she can avoid this situation in the future, then it would indeed be fruitful to make her look at her own behaviour. Not in order to “improve” herself in the male eye of course, but in order to make her understand why she’d been picking fuckwits for boyfriends all along, and what her past choices say about her own self-image and women’s place in society. Now THAT’s a programme I’d watch.

Louise McCudden // Posted 13 June 2012 at 4:38 pm

Oh God, thanks for this. It sounds utterly ghastly. So much bull like this gets talked, I’m always hearing and it does my head in! But “he cheated because you have a cat” is the best I’ve come across.

JLO@WVoN // Posted 13 June 2012 at 4:41 pm

In other words she should turn herself into a porn doll so men know what they are getting. God forbid that a man gets presented with a real woman – that would never do.

Amanda McIndoe // Posted 13 June 2012 at 9:15 pm

Well… I have three pet rats and a pet python. I’m well into Tolkien and know a smattering of elvish and my living room is done up like a Halloween party all year round. So I’m super “crazy-weird”, so by this logic my boyfriend has every right to cheat on me,in fact he should run for the bloody hills.

Never mind it’s my quirks and interests that attracted him to me in the first place. A man who judges a woman on having a cat and her choice of lingerie is one shallow bastard whom she is better off without anyway. This article also raises the question, why is it so important for a woman to be in a relationship anyway? Being alone is far surperior to being in a shitty relationship. Woman are NOT failures if they are single and remain so. It really pisses me off that a woman’s value is seen in how well she can hold onto her man. Stick with the cat love.

Clare // Posted 13 June 2012 at 9:55 pm

Because I want to share my life with someone who is love with this projected image of “the ideal woman” as opposed to someone who is love with me.

I always think these kind of things are weird. Like the woman’s magazine article regular “How to tell what your man is really thinking” where they spend several pages telling you how to obsess over tiny inflections in your partners voice as opposed to the very simple answer to the question “How do you know what your partner is thinking?” “Talk to each other and listen to each other.”

Poor woman in programme. Not only has she had relationships with undeserving men, she then has her confidence knocked on television by a man who sounds like my worst nightmare idea of a partner.

Achille // Posted 13 June 2012 at 11:17 pm

Things like this are sad and insulting on every level and to everyone.

I hate that the automatic assumption from views such as this that I, as a male, am also so shallow that this is what I would “demand” from a partner. Gender stereotypes serve to downgrade us all to some 2 dimensional idiotic caricature.

What’s top of my list in “requirements” for a partner? Someone who I share a sense of humour with. Views as expressed by Santagati are not only crass but also deny what I feel pretty confident is the underlying thing that most people are looking for: someone you feel you share your world with and generally make things seem a little bit better.

LauraB // Posted 14 June 2012 at 8:20 am

Urgh. Too many shows follow this format – Laddette to Lady, Trinny and Susannah, Snog Marry Avoid – basically, take a woman, tell her she’s doing something wrong, then try to squeeze her into some socially mandated perfect-woman mould. Because personality and self-determination are so unbecoming in a lady!

The real tragedy in this instance is that the woman subjected to Santagati’s casual misogyny could have done with some real advice, like not all men are shallow, they don’t all cheat, it’s fine if you’ve got more interesting things to do than keep your drain spotless, if you want then you deserve a nice relationship with someone who loves you Just As You Are.

(When I got kittens it was my boyfriend documenting their every move online! I never realised it made him ‘crazy weird’ – I’d better rethink my whole outlook and go find me an alphamale.)

Jennifer // Posted 14 June 2012 at 9:57 am

I wonder if he’s worked out that if ALL women took his advice and ALL upped our game in the lingerie, danger and unpredictability departments (and all got rid of cats and cleaned drains more often). The general standard (of things he considers to be sexy) would ‘improve’ and men would still have the excuse to cheat as all women would be equally dangerous and cat-free?

Bet he clapped himself on the back for improving conditions for the male population when he thought of that one…Machiavellian mofo!

SexierThanThou // Posted 14 June 2012 at 12:49 pm

I’m not gonna lie, this statement brought forth a paroxysm of laughter:

“Change your hair, change the way you dress, change everything about yourself.

Not that self-improvement is a bad thing, of course.

Also would very much like to cosign Anna’s distinction between ’cause’ and ‘guilt’. We know nothing about this woman, and we know nothing about the men she’s dated. Whether she’s been sabotaging her own relationships or she’s been picking “fuckwits” is all a matter of speculation I guess (or possibly a matter of fantasy as there’s a good chance much of this show is scripted).

@JLO So what is this “real woman” you speak of?

Rose // Posted 14 June 2012 at 1:38 pm

What a utter load of bull, on so many levels.

The focus on the idea that you wont get cheated on if your attractive reminded me of something from my college days.

Me and my friends realised that the more conventionally attractive/sexy one of us was the more likely she was to get cheated on! There seemed to be two main reasons for this. Firstly, if a guy gets into a relationship with someone just because they are ‘sexy’, as opposed to because of their personality, they are less likely to care about their feelings. The cheating can be just one of many expressions of callousness towards the ‘pair of tits’.

Secondly, when guys got into relationships with girls they had considered ‘out of their league’ – their egos went into overdrive, and they’d see who else they could ‘get’ with their new found attractiveness. Off course, this generally lead to the draw of their ‘good personality’ drying up.

Generally, when a woman is being valued for being ‘pretty’, she’s not being valued as being a ‘woman’. (In my experience with other women, as the relationships are less conventional, it is easier to talk about intended relationship structure, and there tends to be more compassion in body image related issues).

If all of the people that cheated on her were ex’s, I’m not conviced she was doing anything wrong!*

*She wasn’t ‘bring it on herself’, she was kicking the *&^%* out the door.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 16 June 2012 at 3:44 am

Whilst I know nothing about the woman on this show, so can’t comment on her, I do think there can be a place to analyse your relationship choices if you find you keep picking the same types of men and so end up with the same outcomes in a relationship. We know, for example, that women who had violent fathers are more likely than other women to pick violent men as partners. The reasons for this are complex, including: they don’t notice the ‘warning signs’ that other women would avoid, they accept a certain level of control (or even violence) over their lives, they are attracted to certain personality traits or behaviours that are found in violent men, or they are part of communities where domestic abuse is less unnacceptable and pick partners from those communities and assume some violence is ‘normal’. And, there are psychologists who work with women to teach them to identify the ‘red flags’ that they should avoid when looking for a partner.

On a less extreme level, a friend of mine – who is very ambitious, career-orientated and also successful – kept picking men who after the relationship got serious expected her to give up/ put on the back burner her career to follow them, which led to them breaking up and her confused as to why they failed to recognise that this was an important part of who she was (especially as one suspects this is what made her attractive to them). And, then deciding she wanted to stop making the same mistakes, (without professional help) she sat down and wrote down things that attracted her to such men and thought about what were retrospectively ‘red flags’ for this sort of behaviour, and actively avoided men who behaved like that when she started dating again. She now has a very supportive, and equally successful, partner, who she says that she would not have considered dating until she challenged herself to do it differently.

Or, you might have some trait yourself that sabotages your relationships, such as being very jealous or insecure, violent, or controlling, that you may want to think about and address. However, this should not be about drastically changing who you are, but thinking about whether your behaviours are reasonable and acceptable in a healthy relationship. So, if you’re jealous because you’ve been cheated on in the past, you need to not bring that with you to future relationships. At the same time, you should try and pick a partner who will understand why you behave like that and work with you to make you feel secure and less jealous. But, part of creating a supporting relationship like this, might need to be about recognising that you are jealous (or whatever), so you can help your partner understand your behaviour and so you can stop yourself when you start to behave in unreasonable ways. (I should note here that if you’re violent, then get help and stop; you should not expect a partner to help you get over that!)

It’s a good thing to be reflective about what you want in a relationship and what went wrong in past relationships (including your role in that), but this should usually be about finding somebody who will accept you for who you are, not drastically changing your personality or looks.

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