“Keeping a mistress is just like playing golf. Both are expensive hobbies.”
This week’s cultural phenomenon: the Chinese mistress market. In the case of the 90% of Chinese officials who have mistresses, (and I’d be interested in some press coverage on the 10% who don’t) one mistress can become dozens. Dozens of mistresses mean a few things; personal debt, familial drama, and global judgement. These women want rights, sure. But on a philosophical level they also want stability. And the more global the Chinese economy, the more publicized these spotlighted scenarios become.
For the most part (though not always), Chinese women become mistresses for the financial benefits, that much is clear. Being a man’s mistress means that he will provide money, clothes, even an apartment to keep you. And there are, on occasion, those dewy romantic stories involving the man divorcing his wife to be with his mistress. But there are issues here that in no way pertain to the perceived “ballooning moral crisis.” This isn’t so much of a moral crisis as it is a structural one. Mistresses, polygamy and sexual or emotional infidelity in general have been around for centuries. Since the dawn of civilization, in fact. Sex isn’t the problem. It’s the political economy of the situation that raises my eyebrows. Maybe if women were guaranteed jobs with equal pay, or at the very least a quality education, they wouldn’t feel obligated to “rely on their carnal instincts to survive.”
And in what might be one of the most depressing quotes of my week, the story concludes with this message: “A woman should never trust a man, even if it’s her husband. A woman can only trust herself.” It would be wrong to ignore this as a reality for a lot of women. It would also be wrong to assume that it is, or should be, the reality for all women. It would be unfair to deem anyone untrustworthy solely because they have (or do not have) a penis. I’m lucky enough (as are many of the women I know personally) to be in a position that allows me to trust men. Not only as friends or lovers but as coworkers, peers and colleagues. But my own fortune does not (nor should it) negate the coldness of this reality for women all over the world, not just in China and other global communities but right here in the United States.
We live in a world in which hegemony rears its head in just about every situation. There is money to be made and more often than not it is made by exploiting human beings, real ones (not machines) who suffer from the process. These women become mistresses because there is something to be gained from it. When the alternative is poverty or even death, they really don’t have a choice. And that is the issue. We’d like to think that there is always a choice in matters of sex, money and power. But sometimes there isn’t. And that’s a reality we need to face.