Much of the coverage of the Robinson Affair has been focussed on the financial aspects of the story and naturally enough the potentially devastating political implicatons for Northern Ireland.
I’ve been trying to watch the story from a different persective, with most of my interest on the infidelity angle. I haven’t been able to get my head around Peter Robinson’s valiant coping mechanisms to the revelations of the affair, mainly because my personal and professional experiences tend toward the usage of hysterical weeping and gnashing of teeth in the face of such heartbreak. The end of a relationship is very much like a death and while we all grieve in very different ways, such stoicism is relatively unusual. That is not a criticism, merely an observation. Perhaps the fact the he was the cuckolded spouse is what is causing the difficulty coping with the idea, as we seem to have become more accustomed to the idea of male politicians having affairs. However, the idea of the adultering female is much less common. In general, we have largely come to accept male politicians who have extra marital relationships, and often find forgiveness for them if the apology is properly done. It seems that it’s OK to accept that men are lustful creatures with desires that they cannot always reign in. Recent history is littered with such men from Berlusconi, Clinton, Majors… the list goes on and on. However, as long as certain rules are followed, it seems that middle aged male politicians who have sexual relations with younger women are marked as being vital and daring, with a whiff of Trojan derring do.
Female adulterers in public life are not completely unheard of, of course. We can look for those Biblical examples who escaped the stoning mobs, or more recent characters such as Kitty O’Shea. Edwina Curry would be among the few who are publicly acknowledged for their deeds.
So Iris becomes, not of her own desire I would warrant, an fairly unusual example of a woman who risked it all for the sake of an affair. Michelle Langley makes some very interesting points in general about female infidelity and identifies 4 stages that she thinks women go through. This is from Stage 3: ‘Women at Stage 3 may also be experiencing the ending of an extramarital affair, and the ending may not have been their decision. They may have been involved with single men who either lost interest because the relationship could not progress or who became attracted to another women who was single. Women whose affairs are ending often experience extreme grief. They may become deeply depressed and express tremendous anger toward their husbands. They are typically unaware that they are experiencing chemical withdrawal due to sudden changes in their brain chemistry. As a result, many will feel that they have missed their chance at happiness due to their indecisiveness
It may seem a little clinical to examine the actions of female adulterers, but it is estimated that the percentage of women who cheat on their husbands is a rapidly rising number. Those who have chosen to do so while still actively engaged in Public Life are a small number, so Iris has identified herself as a rare entity and I have no doubt she will be long remembered for this.
However, for the female, there is little adulation and less sympathy. In this particular case, as the support she was offering to Mr McCambley turned to physicality it underscores the sense that the nurturer is not ‘supposed’ to be sexual. There is much less understanding of the sexual drive of women, a subject that is too easily confused with our notions of the nature of woman, mother and grand mother.
And finally, the impact of it all on the individual. For the men we have seen braving the world following adultery, it is a case of apologising and getting on with it. Clinton said ‘Now, this matter is between me, the two people I love most — my wife and our daughter — and our God. I must put it right, and I am prepared to do whatever it takes to do so. Nothing is more important to me personally. But it is private, and I intend to reclaim my family life for my family. It’s nobody’s business but ours. Even presidents have private lives. It is time to stop the pursuit of personal destruction and the prying into private lives and get on with our national life
On the other hand, Iris seems to be paying a much heavier emotional price for her actions, and one has to wonder if this is related to her gender and her own ideas of what she represents and what is expected of her. Everyone is paying a heavy price for my actions. Psychiatrists may suggest that my mental illness was a significant factor explaining my irrational behaviour – I do not, in any way, question or doubt their judgement – but in order to master my life I do not want to dilute the blame or resist taking full responsibility for my actions. I am completely ashamed and deeply embarrassed.
While I personally despise the sin of adultery, I must work on the premise that human nature is such that these things have always happened and will always continue to happen. Perhaps she will set a whole new trend of sexually active and pro-active female politicians. Nah, maybe not.