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Corinna Clendenen

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Walk of Shame for Men? There Is None.

Posted: 12/14/11 05:01 PM ET

The college experience is all about progressive thinking, independence, and the shedding of obsolete attitude, right? Or so I thought, until my daughter told me about the "walk of shame."

The phrase alone conjures up biblical judgment, a puritanical tar and feathering, limbs locked in the stocks for all the world to see. But in fact, this is a relatively new term that refers to a young woman seen in the morning still wearing her clothes from the night before -- in other words, she didn't sleep at home.

When this term is directed at a couple still sporting their dressy duds, it apparently applies only to the girl, not the guy.

And that's what strikes me most about this judgment. Attitudes run the gamut on pre-marital sex, but whatever the view, shouldn't it apply to both parties? It seems to me that a girl who chooses to have breakfast with last night's date ought to be able to tie up her pearls so they don't dangle in the eggs and eat her breakfast in peace.

Historically, there has been some justification for the double standard. Men can have as much sex as they want and, if they make a quick enough exit, not have to shoulder the responsibility of a child. Not so for women. In addition, the father's identity was critical in times of primogeniture when a family estate was handed down to the first born son, or a title was inherited, or, more currently, when child support is due from an absentee dad.

But modern medicine has come a long way towards solving the pregnancy and paternity issues. Birth control has practically quashed the risk of an unplanned baby, and DNA verification can provide proof should a child arrive and the fatherhood be in question.

Oh, brave new world that has such wonders, where is your attitude adjustment? Why does the social stigma against the sexually active woman persist?

Literature and lyrics are full of tales of male virility. From the exploits of Don Juan and Casanova to James Bond and even JFK, the male taste for variety in women is the stuff of legend, often told with no more than a nod and a wink for their bad boy practices.

From the free-love era of the1960s, classic songs celebrate the escapades of men. "Take It Easy" by the Eagles sings, "Well, I'm runnin' down the road tryin' to loosen my load/ I got seven women on my mind." The Grateful Dead sing on "Friend of the Devil": "Got a wife in Chino, babe, and one in Cherokee."

These stories are accepted, even lauded. But they have no female counterpart -- where is the story of the heroine who enjoys having more than one true love? Even our language reflects the double standard: the term "stud" doesn't carry nearly the dishonour of "slut"; in fact, it's almost a backhanded compliment.

Female characters in literature with multiple lovers meet sorry ends. Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary commit suicide, Hester Prynne is branded with a scarlet letter, Anna in Sue Miller's The Good Mother has her young daughter taken away from her.

Many people would agree that consensual relationships between adults and what they do behind closed doors is a private matter. But somehow, the allowance doesn't fully extend to the woman in these alliances. Could Fellini's film, The Man Who Loved Women engender an equally acceptable sister title: The Woman Who Loved Men?

As an experiment, conceived in the interest of fairness, I've written a novel in which the traditional tables are turned: Double Time. Without revealing any spoilers, suffice it to say that the female protagonist has more than one lover -- and more than one marriage.

The role reversal portrayed in Double Time is not advocating promiscuity but a leveling of the playing field. As my grandmother would say, sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Will my 21st-century heroine be celebrated? Will a kinder, gentler audience receive her more readily than her predecessors? It's too early to tell, but I can say that in the end, she does no walk of shame. She holds her head high, is a solid citizen, and her story has a happy ending. A fairy tale, perhaps, but who doesn't like a fairy tale once in a while?