A penguin recently lost his partner to another penguin and there is speculation about why this happened. Was the other penguin richer in fish? Was she lonely in that sea of black and white? Was the other penguin better with his flippers? We shall never know the truth but what we do know is that a penguin caught his wife cheating and then caught a beating from the penguin she was cheating with.
And the internet treated it like the next Brangelina breakup.
The comments on social media were, as usual, hilarious but what came out amid the commentary was that women could not be trusted. One penguin has tainted all women across all species. Suddenly women were scum and could not be trusted again. Someone even went as far as starting a @WifePenguin twitter account. Mrs Penguin, as she’s called, has been called a ho more times than one cares to count.
Although some may say it’s nothing more than a little harmless fun (unless you are any of the penguins involved in the showdown) the visceral reaction to the cheating female penguin reflected wider thinking about women and cheating.
When women think about women’s role in extra-marital activities they are often portrayed as villains: whether they help with the cheating or are the ones who cheat.
A woman is seemingly cheated on the entire world and the world reacts accordingly. We women, with our presumed manic want for monogamy coupled with our supposedly lower sex drive, continue to be the custodians for society’s moral values. If no one is guarding the gates then what is to stop the world rushing to the streets and ending up in a massive orgy?
When men cheat it is not ideal but “boys will be boys” and the need to procreate is a real thing.
But that is a misconception of how women view sex, monogamy and relationships.
Studies show that women cheat at the same rate as men, despite popular belief to the contrary. One study, conducted by researchers at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, Bloomington in the United States and involving 918 participants, found that sexual incompatibility with their partner was one of the primary reasons women cheated. The study “aimed to assess the relative importance of demographic, interpersonal, and personality factors in predicting sexual infidelity in heterosexual couples”.
The results showed that 23.2% of men and 19.2% of women participants indicated they had “cheated” during their current relationship. These numbers are too close to be making it a “man thing”.
This is not to excuse Mrs Penguin’s frosty actions towards her husband or those of her human counterparts but the notion that a woman is unable to step outside of a relationship is linked to ideas that women:
1) Have little agency outside of who “owns” us, and;
2) Crave monogamy and security over all things — including sex and pleasure.
To think that a woman is unable to cheat (and one who does must be brewed in the very bowels of hell) is based in the Madonna/Whore complex. We are either beautiful, chaste beings who deserve all the love and respect or reckless sexual fiends with loose morals and even looser lips. It is the notion that a woman must either be fully good or fully evil. A woman who cheats experiences more backlash than a man — and that is based on the idea that she has had further to fall and that her sin is greater, which it is not.
There is a need to reconceptualise women’s role within sex and relationships: as sexually subservient to their male partners and their love of monogamy. We are all out here being thirsty, that’s just the God given truth. There is none among us who can cast the first stone because, to make it religious, we all have our own sins and vices.
Women are not, somehow, more magical and more capable of controlling their sexual urges than men. This means if we are able to remain faithful then we all are able to remain faithful. If women are able to not rape others in staggering numbers, then we all are. There is no magic monogamy hormone, no extra spiritual gift. It is about being a decent human being, or not. About making the sort of decisions that supposedly separate us from the beasts of the wild or giving in to the same urges. It is not a male or female thing but a human thing.
We all have a little Mrs Penguin in us; it’s all about if you are willing to get caught with your feathers ruffled.
Kagure Mugo is the cofounder and curator of the HOLAAfrica! blog