Review by Tess Tabak
Wednesday Martin paints a grim picture in Untrue: Why Nearly Everything We Believe About Women, Lust, and Infidelity Is Wrong, and How the New Science Can Set Us Free. She posits that in much of the world, female sexuality has been hemmed in, due to a seemingly innocent cause: agriculture. As early hunter-gatherers, women roamed freely and the practice of multiple sex partners was common. But with the advent of the plough came the myths about female sexuality and gender roles we are taught today: that women are naturally domestic, frail, and monogamous.
The premise is one you might be familiar with – it’s been well-researched, as the NY Times noted. However, Martin infuses the subject with new energy, her own personal perspective, and a modern update, bringing recent developments like vaginal “rejuvenation” into the mix to show just how much gender roles have stayed the same. She discusses modern day adultery through the lens of two anonymous women she interviewed, Annika and Rebecca. One had an affair, and one didn’t, but both came to regret their choices for different reasons.
Martin points out that the biggest difference in modern-day male and female sexuality is not the lack of desire, but rather fear of consequences – consequences that have been artificially constructed by society. For example, because men tend to see affairs as unforgivable violations, divorce is a real possibility if the affair is ever found out. Most divorced women never recoup their pre-divorce salary, and many slump into poverty; a fate that fewer divorced men face. (Martin also notes that men are likelier to murder their female partners when an affair is discovered, which is sometimes even still today brushed off as a “crime of passion.”)
Through a deep, first person journalism style and a feminist slant, Martin brings this subject to life. She injects the material with humor, talking about how awkward she feels attending a therapist’s workshop on consensual non-monogamy, or the reactions her friends had when they found out she was writing this book. (Many expressed their condolences to her husband, as if merely contemplating the subject of adultery announced the intention to cheat.)
One interesting finding the book covers is that men are likelier to be happy in a monogamous setup, possibly because women tend to do more of the childrearing, housework, and emotional labor. When a new mother is exhausted from tending to an infant, cleaning, and feels neglected by her husband, she may tend to be less attracted to him. Women desire being desired.
Untrue is a fascinating look at female sexuality, the evolution of how it became so policed in the Western world, and what we might do in the future to bring equality back into the bedroom.