I’m not one to follow news about celebrities, but certain court cases, I think, capture social currents bubbling just under the surface that affect those of us outside of Hollywood-land.
Case in point is the Brinkley-Cook divorce. The forty-nine-year-old Peter Cook has admitted to being a porn “addict” and to having an affair with an eighteen-year-old girl. Christie Brinkley has rightfully been awarded custody in a case that has put Cook in the proverbial stocks of cable news. I was heartened to hear the court-appointed psychiatrist blame Cook, saying he “destroyed his family.”
This is a rare statement among our mental health professionals, who seem to adopt an oath of relativism. There is no pointing of fingers. Rather, the focus is directed to the problems in the relationship, to determine why he — or, but more rarely, she — strays.
Brinkley had to take things into her own hands — much easier when one holds a fortune — and use our courts and national media to humiliate the lying, cheating scoundrel. But once upon a time, the men in a woman’s life did it for her. A friend who grew up in rural Georgia comments that her father and the other men in their town would socially shun a man who was having an affair and stop doing business with him. At one time, male relatives served as screeners of potential mates for daughters and sisters who had their judgment clouded by the charms of a Lothario or a Ted Bundy.
The sexual revolution changed all that, with women presumably able to take care of themselves and enjoy the same sexual “freedoms” men did. This of course gave the Lotharios carte blanche to abuse and use women.
Brinkley has been roundly condemned for bringing her child custody case into the public spotlight. Such public exposure, whether through national media or talk among one’s social network, is considered a display of poor manners and weakness, an admission that she has been harmed by the man she let wheedle and lie his way into her heart. “Get on with your life!” is the message. “We don’t want to hear about what he did.” And on he goes to ask his next unsuspecting victim for a date.
In fact, friends and counselors are likely to ask such a woman to look at her role: What did she do to get into the situation? This is what Norman Sheresky, Cook’s attorney, implied when he told the court, “For goodness sake: She’s on her fourth husband.” Well, yes, fourth husband — it is a bit harder to find a good man these days.
The focus is often aimed at the woman for attracting such a man by presumably sending out signals about her vulnerability. This is the stuff of advice books, with titles that diagnose “codependence” and encourage toughness, like Think Like a Guy: How to Get a Guy by Thinking Like One, Date Like a Man, and Why Men Love Bitches. A shield of toughness will repel the next wolf and send him in search of easier prey, the advice goes. But this has a Wonder Woman quality about it; it’s a theory based on the assumption that the right attitude can act like a bracelet repelling bullets. Most harmful, though, is the message that remains out there hanging: it’s you, not him.
Thus is the wronged woman pressured to remain silent.