Maria Shriver v. Mildred Baena: When cheating scandals become beauty contests

The side-by-side photo of wife and mistress become breeding ground for cruelty, criticism and misplaced blame. (Getty/Myspace)The side-by-side photo of wife and mistress become breeding ground for cruelty, criticism …
It didn't take long for Arnold Schwarzenneger's cheating scandal to go from "he did what?" to "why her?" Only days after Mildred Baena's identity was revealed, Arnold's wife and mistress are under more scrutiny than Arnold himself.

"At the risk of sounding superficial, I always find it fascinating when a rich, powerful or famous man takes as a mistress a woman who would never appear on the cover of Maxim magazine," writes Forbes' Kiri Blakeley in a post about Arnold's other woman. "Arnold's mistress is neither attractive nor stylish at all - no comparison to Maria [Shriver]," writes a commenter on Us Weekly's website. "He cheated on her?" reads the headline of a Daily News gallery of famously jilted wives, including Shriver.

Ever notice how long it takes for celebrity cheating scandals to turn into beauty pageants? About two to three days. First the facts are announced, then the mistress is revealed, then she's compared to the betrayed wife and conclusions are drawn up. He wanted someone younger. She was too powerful for him. She wasn't wild enough. Rest assured, Arnold's alleged cheating which dates back before 2001, will somehow be explained by comparing the physical features of the two women above. In the process, his moral indiscretions as husband, employer and politician will fade into the background.

Every time a celebrity sex scandal is unleashed, an inevitable side-by-side photo of the two women is produced. Sandra Bullock and Bombshell McGee. Silda Wall Spitzer and Ashlee Dupree. Elin Nordegren and too many women to rattle off. Then comes the larger explanation why a man could have cheated. Maybe Sandra Bullock didn't share as much in common with Jesse, like for instance, tattoos. Maybe Silda had stopped playing the role of seductress. Maybe Elin Nordegren was too beautiful. Really, that was a theory floating around as more and more women surfaced who bedded Tiger Woods. On the flip side, the mistresses are all stamped "grateful", and explained away as props for a man's much-needed ego-inflation. He couldn't have possibly been consciously attracted to her, goes the argument.

Somehow the same insecurities that might lead a man to cheat, lead women to blame themselves for being cheated on or being used for sex. In reality, most serial cheaters aren't making physical comparisons between the women in their lives. For sex addicts who cheat over and over, it's a navel-gazing compulsion, and according to some psychologists, a symptom of a personality disorder. In other words, it's not about the women, it's about the man.

We are all experts on this, thanks to the past five years of political cheating scandals. But, as a scandal ages by the day, we start projecting it onto ourselves. Cue beauty pageant music. While male-driven media outlets (go ahead, begin to ask "which woman would you sleep with?". Women-driven news outlets ask: "why do men choose to sleep with that woman and marry that other woman?" As Salon's Tracy Clark Flory points out, "you rarely see experts proffering tips for men to avoid straying." That's because Arnold et, al, aren't competing. They may be hanging their heads in shame, but they're not being questioned as romantically viable.

Not long after the Schwarzenneger scandal broke, Flory received a story pitch about 'how to learn from Maria Shriver's mistakes'. As if somehow, it was her fault. "It's a choice example of the absurdity and shamelessness of the market for advice on how to keep your man from cheating or catch him if he's already strayed," writes Flory.

Not all useless advice on cheaters comes in the how-to form. When Silda Wall Spitzer arrived solo in a red Carolina Herrera gown to an event only a month after standing by her husband's teary-eyed side, headlines everywhere read "looking good is the best revenge." Don't be surprised if Shriver's photo is embedded with the same lesson in a month's time. Is that really the lesson we're supposed to learn from all this? How about this one: don't marry Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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