Tiger Woods: A Trophy of Radical Feminism?

January 25, 2010

For release noon Tuesday Jan. 26 and thereafter (665 words)

“Tyger, tiger, burning bright, In the forests of the night, What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry?” — William Blake

In anticipation of Mr. Woods’ expected return to public life for this year’s Masters, and with apologies to the poet Blake, it is important to know there is no symmetry in this story — not, at least, in regard to the gender issues intertwined in the golfer’s alleged indiscretions.

First, consider that the injuries suffered by Woods became an occasion for laughter. Anyone who has not seen the Saturday Night Live skit featuring a bandaged and trembling Woods at a press conference has missed the humor in the apparent beating he received at the hands of his wife. Jokes on the Internet regarding his injuries are funny, too: “Apparently, the only person who can beat Tiger Wood with a golf club is his wife.”

Were the roles reversed, however, and the victim of violence a woman, people would find little humor in the situation. But then, people do not appear to think that women are capable of domestic violence. If “domestic violence by women” is typed into the Google search engine, the first listing to appear is “Domestic violence against women.”

In fact, women are as likely to initiate violence in the domicile, both for major and minor assaults (see “Violence in American Families” or “Behind Closed Doors”). As well, 25 to 40 percent of spousal murders are committed by women. Renzetti’s “Violent Betrayal” reported that lesbians show the same rate of domestic violence as heterosexual couples.

But again, if a man is the victim, it’s an occasion of laughter.

Of course, some say that an unfaithful Tiger Woods had it coming, as though domestic violence can be justified. If that is so, then we will need more battered-women shelters for even though men are more capable of defending themselves against female aggression both men and women are adulterous.

In a normal year, about 10 percent of married people have sex outside of marriage — roughly 12 percent men and 7 percent women. In 1991, the lifetime infidelity rate for men over 60 years old was 20 percent compared to 2006’s 28 percent rate for the same group. For women of all ages, the percentage remains lower but the trend is more ominous: in 1991, the lifetime infidelity rate for women was 5 percent but in 2006 it was 15 percent, a 300 percent increase.

Nonetheless, the Dec. 4 USA Today, speaking for much of our society, said the “Tiger Woods Scandal Prompts Question: Why Do Men Cheat?” Perhaps the answer is that men behave like women. The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy estimates that 25 percent of husbands cheat on their wives and that 15 percent of wives cheat on their husbands. Neither sex is as pure as the driven snow.

My last claim, even if statistically grounded, flies in the face of some feminist thought. The narrative among more radical feminists is that men are oppressors and treat women as objects. Katie Roiphe observed in a recent New York Times Review of Books that “After the sweep of the last half-century, our bookshelves look different than they did to the young Kate Millett (a 1960s feminist activist) . . . shoring up her courage to take great writers to task in ‘Sexual Politics’ for the ways in which their sex scenes demeaned, insulted or oppressed women.” The young Kate Millet expected women to be free sexual beings, able to express and enjoy their sexuality. Finally, the early feminist reader, “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” was partly about that sexual freedom.

So in the context of the Woods scandal what hath feminism wrought?

If the news coverage is accurate, several women bedded the erstwhile Woods. Unless those women were from another planet they knew what they were getting into. They might have thought, “I am a free woman, able to express and enjoy my sexuality, and this is the most recognized athlete on this planet. What a score that would be.”

Women, then, can be predatory and are capable of treating men as sexual objects? Does the media treatment of the Woods scandal teach that marriage and fatherhood are trifles compared with a woman exercising her ability to express and enjoy her sexuality?

Richard McGowan, Ph.D., teaches philosophy and ethics at Butler University.


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