Susan Shapiro Interview
Today we are happy to have with us Susan Shapiro Barash who is one of the leading experts in the field of Gender Studies, and for over 30 years has been studying Female infidelity and has written numerous books on the subject. Today we will be chatting about her newest book, “A Passion for More.”
First of all, thanks so much Susan for joining us here at ViewsonBooks.com, I must admit that yours is the first gender studies book I have reviewed, and I have found your topic fascinating and it brings a lot questions along with your findings. So let’s get right into things.
Could you please tell everyone about your background, in terms of education and writing, and while you are at it what made you want to get into Gender Studies?
I earned my undergraduate degree from Sarah Lawrence College and my masters from NYU. I have long been interested in how women are positioned in society and what sexism is about.
To that end, for over twenty years I taught Gender in the Writing Department at Marymount Manhattan College. Every nonfiction book that I write is an investigation into how women navigate a path, as sisters, mothers, daughters, in laws, colleagues, friends, rivals, lovers, wives.
Much of your research has to deal with the issue of Female Infidelity, has that always been your main topic of research?
The role of wife in contemporary culture is very curious to me. Women are judged and watched closely by everyone, their friends and foes, family and society at large. At the same time, women hold the bar very high when it comes to their partners and/or husbands. And so they are disillusioned, they want more. Thus female infidelity. It has always been an area of great interest.
This book is an update from your prior book of a similar title back in 2001, what made you want to revisit this issue?
I began my study of female infidelity thirty years ago, tracking it yearly. The updated edition, just out, reflects the changes due to social media, access to a lover, and most recently Covid, which has sparked emotional affairs and virtual affairs as well as those in real time .Women are wondering what the world ahead will be like, and whatever happened to that old fling or the crush at work.
One of the reasons your book really struck home with me was that a few weeks ago I was visiting with a few female friends from college and they both have had some very major cancer issues, and many times felt none of their doctors were listening to them. Do you think that the same thing goes on with Female Infidelity with partners and even researchers not paying attention to what women are saying?
In my book/ study I divide women’s affairs into four categories: empowerment affairs, sex-driven affairs, love affairs and self-esteem affairs. The self-esteem affairs are about women who feel they are not appreciated by their husbands or partners. As if they’ve become invisible and the lover listens and pays attention. In this way it does dovetail with your friends’ reports. Because feeling unheard and unknown is very troubling and often happens to women.
Your book consists of 70 interviews of women, was it hard to find women to interview, and how do you do that? Do you place an ad, get referrals? Since these women come from across America were they hard to find?
It was very important to me that it was a diverse group of women and that they came from all over the country. Affairs are emotional and physical, they affect women everywhere and it isn’t about one’s level of education or how much money is earned, or one’s religion or race. It is about yearning for more in their romantic lives and feeling known and understood.
I networked and placed ads and the women were everywhere—it was quite incredible to find all these stories.
The women age in range from 20 into the 80’s, that is huge age range. Was there one period in women’s lives that was more prone to infidelity than any other time? And do women have that same midlife crisis that men go through?
I was quite taken by the age range—that young women first beginning with a partner or husband to women who have been divorced, widowed and re-partnered or remarried and were seeking a lover. And the women for the decades in between as well. Although women conduct affairs at every age and stage, there is definitely something about turning forty or fifty and wondering what else is out there. What else is in store at this mid-point.
Were there any telltale signs that a woman was being unfaithful to their partner? And what percentage of this infidelity may be attributed to the women learning their partner was unfaithful?
Although women are quite facile at keeping an affair a secret and juggling their busy lives to make time to accommodate an affair if they so choose, there are a few telltale signs that a woman is being unfaithful. If she is actually happier in her marriage or with her family because of the lover, if she loses weight and pays more attention to her appearance and wardrobe, if she suddenly has a different schedule and is not as available. These are indicators that she might be having a tryst.
Could you please briefly give our readers an overview of the four main reasons for Female Infidelity?
Based on my research, women fall into four different catetgories when it comes to affairs. They do it for empowerment – trading in the same currency as men have historically done. They do it for sex and those affairs are not emotional, only about sex. They unexpectedly fall in love with another man and their lives become complicated – these are the trickiest affairs of all. And they do it for self-esteem, because they do not feel appreciated or ‘seen’ in their marriages. (as mentioned above).
Had you expected that these would be the categories, or were even you a bit surprised by the results?
My research informed the categories. As I listened to women, their stories resonate for the reasons cited above. What is notable is the lengths a woman will go to have an affair and how compelled she is to be with her lover. These are often traditional women who have taken their vow and are now involved with the ‘other man’.
While your area of expertise is Female Infidelity, are you aware if there are any similar overlaps as to the reasons regarding Male Infidelity, and if so what are they?
I do not interview men for any of my projects and so I report the men from the female interviewee’s POV. In a patriarchal culture, men have affairs for different reasons than do women. I am here to report how women conduct these extra-curriculars and how they are affected by the experience.
I know we all love statistics and so I hope you don’t mind if I delve into some. First of all, you have interviewed a broad cross-section of women for this book, your statistics are based on what number of women?
My stats are an overview of the women in my study, including the women in the updated version of my book.
Some of my findings/ anecdotal, qualitative research:
70% of women will engage in an affair at some point in their marriages/ committed relationships.
65% of the interviewees reported sex is better with their lover.
78% say the lover is the opposite of their husband/partner.
52% stay in the primary relationship after the affair
48% leave their marriages/committed relationships
45% report their lover is the catalyst to leave
90 % have no guilt and actively pursue the affair.
One of the most interesting statistics are those that relate to % of women who left the relationship after infidelity. According to your statistics, 48% of women who had an affair left their relationship after their affair. That is a large number, so did you find that those women were looking for a new relationship when they entered into an affair, and If you know does that also apply to men?
The rate of women who left after their affair seems close to the divorce rate. Yet only 35% ended up with their lover. For others, the lover was a bridge to the other side, a way to understand what they had and couldn’t have in their marriages/ primary relationships. In this way, women use the affair to better understand themselves and what they long for.
If, at all, do political or religious beliefs ever factor into the infidelity. For example, I am wondering how these statistics are influenced by the women’s religion or non-belief?
To some extent one’s belief system and religion factor into the decision to have an affair. Yet what is striking is how convention-bound women do embark on an affair. It is almost as if the affair has a life of its own and the women are swept up in the experience – beyond their belief system.
Infidelity is still a pretty sensitive subject for many to discuss, did you have any women who were reluctant to discuss this topic?
From the start of my research on female infidelity there have been women who deny knowing much about it and don’t buy into the idea that it is happening. However the majority of the women with whom I’ve spoken report it is alive and well. This is definitely happening among a disparate group of women. They are forthcoming about a discussion and reveal the details of their affairs.
As women have become more empowered, and become so prevalent in the work place do you feel that the rising tide of feminism has fueled the infidelity, or made it easier to occur?
Since I began my research on female infidelity, myriad women have viewed it as a way to have agency and a form of self-exploration. Earning power in a capitalistic society naturally yields power, so there is that too..
While this is pure speculation, based upon the changes from your initial study, what do you see in the future regarding Female Infidelity, and will it ever be viewed like Male Infidelity?
I believe that female infidelity is on the rise because women have more independence, more self-awareness, more longevity today than ever before. As mentioned earlier, the metaverse also makes infidelity more available to women.
I’m not sure that any female behavior or choice around infidelity will be or can be viewed similarly to a male experience.
So what is next for Susan Shapiro Barash? Are you working on any more books?
I am. I am working on a new nonfiction book and under my pen name, Susannah Marren, I have a novel coming out in summer of 2023.
Susan, I want to thank you for making time and answering these questions. I could probably ask another 20 questions because your book and topic are so interesting.
Thank you for such smart questions! With all best wishes…