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Three goddesses stood before a young man, naked. They wore nothing but promised him everything. Well, actually, they each promised him one thing: a potent bribe. The stakes had never been higher. If he crowned her most beautiful, she would give him control of Europe and Asia. Goddess two offered unlimited knowledge. If the young man chose her, he would become the wisest mortal in the world.
The third goddess possessed neither the power of the first nor the intelligence of the second. But she had something her peers lacked: a preternatural understanding of the male libido.
As she leaned over the young man, he inhaled the sweet aroma of her heavily perfumed flesh. His prize was Helen. On their first night together, her mind raced. She had just been abducted and raped, againthis time with the aid of a goddess. Were trauma and despair all a woman could expect in this world? What would happen to her children, now motherless in the sole custody of a callous father?
Across the Aegean Sea, Menelaus, the king of Sparta, erupted. His wife had just been stolen by the pretty-boy prince of Troy.
He was now a cuckold, husband to an unfaithful wife, the lowest position a man could occupy in this world. To retrieve his property and reclaim his dignity, Menelaus called on all the kings of Greece to him in battle. Bound by sworn oaths, they obliged.
The Trojan War, the most famous in all of literature, started because a vengeful husband was willing to burn the world to repair the damage to his fragile ego. Will Smith, her husband of 23 years, ed her. This private disclosure triggered a vociferous public reaction. Gossip rags obsessed over whether the couple has an open marriage, and keyboard misogynists railed against Pinkett Smith.
Tweets that addressed Will Smith ranged from mocking schadenfreude to vitriol. In late August, a story broke about another extramarital affairthis time involving Jerry Falwell Jr. Falwell, the controversial Evangelical leader, allegedly enjoyed watching his wife have sex with Giancarlo. According to a researcher at The Kinsey Institute, cuckolding is a fantasy that appeals disproportionately to conservative men. In the wake of this scandal, Falwell, like Smith, has been roasted on social media. There are substantial differences between these men and the circumstances of their summer headlines.
Smith is widely revered, Falwell is generally reviled.
Smith is being called a cuckold due to perceived infidelity, Falwell for pursuing an erotic fetish. Yet there are also similarities. But the public response to each is what strikes me as the most concerning aspect of these stories. Concerning but not surprising. Within Western culture there is a long tradition of lampooning cuckolds. It is an example of a fabliauxa type of story characterized by sexual and scatalogical humor. With several fart jokes and what might be the first canonical ass-to-mouth scene, it lives up to the genre. It also offers a satirical yet realistic take on the fear that consumed many medieval husbands.
Early in the story, we meet a curmudgeonly carpenter named John and his new wife Alison. Translated from the Middle English courtesy of Harvard:. She was eighteen years of age. Jealous [John] was, and held her narrowly in confinement, For she was wild and young, and he was old And believed himself likely to be a cuckold. He treats Alison like a prisoner in her own home. Meanwhile, under the same roof, John rents a room to a slick Oxford scholar named Nicholas. He persuades John to build wooden tubs that they can hang from the rafters to avoid getting washed away at night.
When John starts snoring, Alison and Nicholas sneak out of their tubs and fornicate. One night, John awakes suddenly. Believing the flood has arrived, he frantically cuts his tub loose and crashes to the ground. The commotion attracts witnesses:. The neighbors, both low-ranking and high, Run in to gawk at this manWho yet lay in a swoon, both pale and wan, For with the fall he had broken his arm. As John writhes and sputters gibberish about a flood, Nicholas and Alison arrive and tell everyone he is crazy.
An important point here is that all of the neighbors, regardless of caste, are united in mocking the cuckold. In his book Manhood in the Makinganthropologist David Gilmore argues that medieval masculinity centered around three defining traits: the ability to offer physical protection, the ability to provide for a family and the ability to impregnate women which also implied sexual prowess, since medieval doctors believed that women, like men, needed an orgasm in order to conceive.
The cuckold was treated as a failure of evolution. It would be centuries before writers started exploring the darker implications of this attitude. Just before he achieves this goal, more rational minds emerge to foil his plot and point out the folly of his thinking. The wife is absolved and the husband is humiliated. This view is misguided. The only person to blame is her husband. But Iago is a terribly effective gaslighter. From Act Three:. Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock The meat it feeds on. The cuckold lives in bliss Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger. By warning Othello against jealousy, Iago unleashes the monster. Iago is guilty of inception, but Othello is the murderer. His fear of becoming a cuckold, which Iago implies here, is deeply entwined with societal views on masculinity.
In literature, there are many references to cuckolds having horns. This stems from another animal comparison: stags forfeit their mates when they lose a duel against another male. In many cultures todaymaking a horn gesture at a man is akin to calling him a cuckold.
Remember the harmless bunny ears you used to make behind your buddy on picture day? That is also rooted in cuckold-shaming. The most tragic moment in the play occurs after Othello strangles Desdemona. She is clinging to life when her maid, Emilia, finds her. One of the reasons Othello is such a powerful text is because it illuminates troubling truths about domestic violence for both victims and abusers. It is not uncommon for victims and survivors to blame themselvesjust like Desdemona does with her dying breath. It becomes a tool of control where they may abuse someone over and over again.
She has a simple message for the young men who casually throw these words around: think about them critically. Comedic representations of the cuckold archetype are problematic for a of reasons. When the character is self-deprecating, like Andy Bernardhe endorses this worldview by acknowledging his inferiority as a man.
These particular plots are resolved without violence — narrowlyin The Office — but they perpetuate the stigmas that are associated with the archetype. When a reader or viewer encounters horrific violence that occurs in response to infidelity real or imaginedit becomes much easier to rationalize or even condone the act. Punch and Judy shows are still performed today.
The plotlines have evolved over the years, but the premise is the same: the main character, Mr. Punch, is a buffoon who beats other puppets that mock him. His wife, Judy, is a frequent victim. Many iterations of the show imply that Judy is unfaithful. In this performanceyou can hear an audience of children giggle as Punch chokes and thrashes Judy.
This is not the kind of reaction our culture is comfortable accepting. Even Pinkett Smith had doubts. For loving his wife unconditionally, the internet mocked Will Smith and questioned his manhood. The reality is that he showed us what a real man looks like. This article was featured in the InsideHook newsletter. up now. And awesome. Popular at InsideHook. These Were the Best. Chicago Los Angeles New York. Washington DC.Need a cuckoldress
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