If I listen closely, I can still hear my seventh grade teacher Sister Dorothy telling my class the story of how a group of men were about to punish a woman who committed adultery. Jesus intervened by saying, he who is without sin may cast the first stone.
Several hundred years later, it appears we haven’t come very far when it comes to our views of “sinful” women. When a woman commits an act of indiscretion, particularly adultery, she is treated as the devil herself, and it is the public’s duty to reprimand her so severely that her punishment serves as an example for other women who might be contemplating the same act.
Growing up with two older sisters in an Italian-American family, I saw firsthand how women were treated differently than men. When my older sister divorced her husband to be with another man, my grandfather refused to speak to her. That Christmas he presented her with a gift. Wrapped inside a box, was a red ceramic bull smashed into pieces – a dramatic gesture and fittingly Italian. I watched as her eyes welled up with tears because my grandfather’s gift served as a cruel reminder that adulterous women were not to be tolerated or forgiven.
But what is it about cheating women that propels the public to react so swiftly and harshly?
It’s called misogyny.
For centuries men have cheated on women. Most recently, former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger not only carried on an affair with a household staff member, he secretly fathered her son and only admitted to it after his wife Maria Shriver discovered the truth. Schwarzenegger didn’t make a tearful public apology, and he didn’t stop making movies. In 2005, heartthrob Jude Law made a public apology to his then fiancée, actress Sienna Miller once his infidelity with former nanny Daisy Wright was publicized in a tell-all interview she gave to Britian’s Sunday Mirror. In 2003, his former wife Sadie Frost split from Law due to reports of his infidelity. That didn’t stop him from having a successful career either. Why even former President Bill Clinton committed adultery with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. News broke in January 1998, but President Clinton publicly denied the affair while his wife Hilary Clinton stood by his side. It wasn’t until Lewinsky turned over DNA proof that the truth finally came out. Clinton was impeached but then later acquitted.
Unfortunately, the same is not true for women. Actress Kristen Stewart had an affair with director Rupert Sanders during the filming of Snow White and the Huntsmen. Stewart admitted to her “crime.” She even made a public apology (not that I think she needed to). Now I can’t go online or look at a magazine cover without seeing a picture of her appearing forlorn and depraved.
You are no man’s Hester Prynne, Kristen Stewart. You do not live in a 17th Century Puritanical world. Write your own ending to this story. Don’t drop out of film commitments or press junkets. Don’t let public scrutiny dictate how you feel about yourself. You did a bad thing. You apologized. Now move on.
The media is turning Kristen Stewart’s lapse of judgment into a cautionary tale for other little girls. Ms. Stewart is reportedly the highest paid female actress in Hollywood after playing Bella Swan, the title character from a very popular young adult book series, which were made into the highly successful Twilight Saga films. Demonizing her behavior only perpetuates the Scarlet Letter legacy. But Kristen Stewart is not Hester Prynne or Bella Swan. She is an actress and more importantly, a person. Whatever act of betrayal she committed is between her and Robert Pattison to resolve. It’s not for us to judge her, unless of course you are without sin.