Loud as the gunshot reports of frozen floes being wrenched apart at the end of an overlong Ice Age, those sonic booms you hear in the air are the sounds of male privilege cracking.
Men have cheated on their wives since the invention of wedlock, but it didn't used to ruin their reputations; indeed, it often burnished them, at least among their fellow miscreants. Even when illicit liaisons resulted in unplanned offspring, it didn't necessarily end their marriages.
But now Arnold Schwarznegger's name is synonymous with douchebaggery, his family is destroyed, his wife is divorcing him, and he's going to have to fork over hundreds of millions of dollars to the angry spouse he deceived for so many years. The cost of his disgraceful conduct for his children will not be publicly enumerated, but it will be permanent.
Men have raped women since the beginning of recorded time, but they usually did so with impunity—as is still the case in many benighted parts of the world. But in New York, an alleged sexual assault on a hotel maid wrecked Dominique Strauss-Kahn's career. Instead of disbelieving the black female victim, the cops pulled the rich white man off his flight, put him in handcuffs, and paraded him on a perp walk like any other accused criminal. The French can squawk all they like, but women all over America were cheering—and French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, stern and snowy-haired, was ready to take over the top job at the International Monetary Fund.
Men have always beaten up their wives and girlfriends, screaming abuse and threatening homicide when women refused to do as they were told, but the victims didn't used to be able to record such attacks for everyone else to judge. Just ask Mel Gibson how well that turned out for him (and how much of his fortune—reported at near $1 billion—he had to hand over to his long-suffering wife when she finally divorced him).
Compared with that tab, Tiger Woods may have gotten off easy with the bargain price of $110 million, but getting dumped by his wife turned out to be disastrous for his golf game. And nobody's begging him to endorse their sneakers or cereals for ridiculous sums anymore.
No matter how they rationalize what they've done (and Newt Gingrich's excuse about committing adultery because he was working so hard for his country has to be awarded the all-time gold medal for self-serving delusion), men can no longer count on escaping the toxic consequences of their own bad behavior.
Tiger Woods may have gotten off easy with the bargain price of $110 million, but getting dumped by his wife turned out to be disastrous for his golf game.
Extramarital adventures began to catch up with politicians when Senator Gary Hart, hormonally addled by an excess of testosterone-fueled hubris, dared the media to catch him cheating—and then was shocked when they did. A presidential candidate who needs an image consultant to tell him it might not be a good idea to take a T-shirt-clad hottie on a yacht called Monkey Business is too dumb to be president, anyway. But such cautionary examples didn't deter John Edwards, whose life, marriage, and future prospects were blown up by a bleached blonde whose sexual and drug-related excesses were so legendary they inspired Jay McInerney—the author of Bright Lights, Big City, a definitive chronicle of Manhattan debauchery, and the inspired originator of the term Bolivian Marching Powder—to base a depraved character on her.
Then there's Mark Sanford and all that restorative time he spent hiking on the Appalachian Trail while his wife stayed home and took care of their four sons. His name too has become a punchline; his wife got a divorce and wrote a tell-all.
Twenty-three years ago, when Hart's presidential ambitions were torpedoed by the Donna Rice affair, his wife stayed with him. Now it seems you have to be French to get away with insulting your spouse like that; Anne Sinclair may blow kisses to Dominique Strauss-Kahn across the courtroom, but these days most American wives aren't blowing anything but razzberries in such situations.
As Sandra Kobrin wrote on Women's eNews, women have reached "The Tipper Point." The author Malcolm Gladwell defined a tipping point as "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point." With a nod to Tipper Gore, who threw in the towel on her 40-year marriage three weeks before headlines broke about Al Gore's alleged sexual abuse of a masseuse, Kobrin defines The Tipper Point as "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point where a wife can no longer stand for the sexual philandering, sexual abuse or gross misconduct of her rich and powerful husband."
And when women finally get fed up, consumer culture will eventually follow. Charlie Sheen was the highest-paid actor on television despite his longtime drug use, patronage of hookers, and violent assaults on wives, girlfriends, prostitutes, porn stars, and fiancées (including the one he shot with a gun). Now he's unemployed, and his place on Two and a Half Men has been taken by Ashton Kutcher, who—with his wife, Demi Moore—is spearheading a campaign against sex trafficking called Real Men Don't Buy Girls. You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, fellas.
Male misbehavior is still endemic, of course—heartbreakingly so, as even the most cursory glance at any day's headlines about men's barbaric actions will attest. What's changed is women's reaction. Boys can be boys all they want, but girls have had it with being played for fools. We're not interested in the doormat role anymore. You choose, you lose, suckas.
The girlpower message came across loud and clear at Sunday night's Billboard music awards when Beyoncé electrified the crowd with “Run the World (Girls).” Beyoncé—who raked in $87 million last year, according to Forbes, handily beating out hubby Jay-Z, whose mogulhood earned him $63 million—spelled it out.
"Disrespect us no they won't/Boy don't even try to take us," she sang, powerful as a fembot and surrounded by a dancing army of other Amazons. "I'm repping for the girls who taking over the world... Boy you know you love it/How we're smart enough to make those millions/Strong enough to bear the children/Then get back to bidness/See, you better not play me!"
So here's a news flash for all the guys out there who might have missed the memo: Don't say we didn't warn you.
As Beyoncé told the crowd, "Men have been given the chance to rule the world, but ladies, our revolution has begun!"
Leslie Bennetts is a longtime contributing editor at Vanity Fair and the author of the national bestseller The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much?