The Ashley Madison CEO Is Exactly Why We Don’t Trust Male Feminists

“I found out my husband was cheating on me,” my co-worker explained with a false sense of composure. “He had one of those leaked accounts, and then it all came out.” I cocked my head in confusion. “You know,” she spat out, “an account with Ashley Madison.”

By Jillian Schroeder4 min read
Shutterstock/Julia Strekoza

It was the first time I had heard about the now infamous dating website designed for married people and the site’s 2015 information hack that brought thousands of relationships to a sharp and ugly end. I may have seen a headline or two in the news, but it did not become real until I stood before a woman whose life had been blown to pieces by Ashley Madison’s digital path to adultery

Who was behind this site whose slogan was “Life is short. Have an affair”? Who had helped orchestrate the ruination of my co-worker’s family? His name is Noel Biderman, and he is a self-proclaimed male feminist.

Noel Biderman, CEO of Ashley Madison and Male Feminist

The story of Ashley Madison, most recently told in the Netflix documentary Ashley Madison: Sex, Lies & Scandal, is even uglier than I believed it could be when I first heard about the data hack. Under the advertised guise of female sexual liberation, CEO Noel Biderman led a war against monogamy and faithfulness in relationships. 

According to Ashley Madison: Sex, Lies & Scandal, initial attempts at advertising the Ashley Madison site were only moderately successful at best. “When monogamy becomes monotony,” read the site’s initial slogan. Yet despite several aired infomercials, the site failed to gain serious traction in the dating social media world. “It just didn’t work,” says Marc Morgenstern, the site’s original Creative Director. “They weren’t bringing the people in. It wasn’t until Noel showed up that things really changed.”

When Biderman became CEO of Avid Media and Ashley Madison in 2007, his mission was to create explosive growth on the dating site. Changing the site’s slogan to the bold and brazen “Life is short. Have an affair,” Biderman justified the site’s mission by claiming, “We’re just a platform. No website or 30-second ad is going to convince anyone to cheat. People cheat because their lives aren't working for them.” Adultery, Biderman argued, was inevitable. Ashley Madison simply helped people to achieve their sexual desires without getting messy in their relationships.

“I’m one of the most important feminists the world has seen.” – Noel Biderman

But Biderman’s new PR spin on the Ashley Madison site didn’t simply argue that the site was a useful tool for inevitable adultery. Biderman believed the site was empowering to women, who could finally find fulfillment in their sexual lives outside marriage. “One of the things that Noel would always claim,” says journalist Claire Brownell in Ashley Madison: Sex, Lies & Scandal, “he’d say, ‘I’m a postmodern feminist.’ ‘I’m just trying to make things better for women.’ ‘I am trying to help them, ya know, escape the bounds of patriarchal marriage.’”

This isn’t just the opinion of an isolated journalist. In an article posted six months before the Ashley Madison hack, Biderman told reporters that he was excited to expand Ashley Madison’s business to Turkey to help women have safer affairs. “In the Muslim world, I can provide women the opportunity to have discreet affairs and not risk their marriages, or something more severe,” Biderman said. “I’m one of the most important feminists the world has seen.”

Noel Biderman, Faithful Husband?

It’s not just the brazenness of Biderman’s claims that is unbelievable, though – it was his ability to sell them. How could a man convince millions of users and news outlets alike that a cheating website was truly empowering women? The answer is simple: under the guise of a faithful husband’s good intentions.

In many of Biderman’s interviews, he was joined by his wife, Amanda Biderman, to discuss the supposed heart of Ashley Madison’s mission. “The point is,” Amanda said in an interview, “That it’s a business, and it’s really separate from our life.” Biderman even “convinced [Amanda] to go on billboards around North America,” Evan Back relates in Sex, Lies & Scandal. Presenting a united front of a happy husband and wife would, Biderman thought, increase trust in the services Ashley Madison provided. Amanda admitted she would be “devastated” if Biderman ever cheated on her – but she expressed confidence that their marriage, unlike many others, was happy.

Called the “King of Infidelity,” Biderman repeatedly claimed that he did not cheat on his wife. “I am happily married. I guess people find it ironic that I myself am in a monogamous marriage,” Biderman claimed in one interview included in Sex, Lies & Scandal. In another interview shown in the docuseries, Biderman sits next to his wife and praises their open communication as a couple: “My wife and I are honest with one another about what we need in our relationship.” 

The hack of Ashley Madison’s information, however, cast doubt on Biderman’s narrative of being the “happily married King of Infidelity.” “Evidence came out in the e-mails very quickly,” says Brownell, “that Noel had been having affairs with multiple women.” 

Not only did Biderman allegedly carry on affairs, despite claiming to be faithful to his wife, but in many of the messages shown in the docuseries, Biderman allegedly sought “18-19 year olds” from escort services. “Send me 2 girls and I will choose 1,” says Biderman in one email shown. 

“It’s upsetting to read,” Brownell states in Sex, Lies & Scandal. “It’s upsetting to imagine his wife finding out about that in the media.”

Biderman’s Fall and the Problem with Male Feminism

After the 2015 hack of Ashley Madison’s information was released online, Biderman resigned as CEO and the site was reopened under different management and a tamer public image. But Biderman’s fall from power is more than a cautionary tale for cheaters. The story of Ashley Madison’s web of lies is a classic example of how feminist rhetoric claims to protect women and instead covers up for men who want to use and abuse them.

Male feminists want women to believe that being used – be it for sex or success – is the same thing as being empowered and respected.

We’ve seen this kind of behavior before – the “nice guy” claiming to be a feminist ally to earn social brownie points. But men don’t claim to be feminists for altruistic reasons. Chances are, he’s either expecting something in return for being “an ally,” or he’s trying to cover up a secret disrespect for you. Male feminists don’t want to empower women. They want women to believe that being used – be it for sex or success – is the same thing as being empowered and respected.

The desire of men like Noel Biderman to liberate women from patriarchal marriage is a cover-up to use women for their own desires without any consequences for their actions. There’s a cost to accepting the lipservice of male feminism instead of expecting men to rise to the true virtues of masculinity – a cost which, more often than not, is paid by women. 

Closing Thoughts

Cheating site Ashley Madison sold the lie that adultery is true freedom to millions of users. But the self-described feminism of men like Noel Biderman brought destruction to the marriages of millions of women – including his own wife, Amanda. If the Ashley Madison scandal teaches us only one thing, it should be this: real women suffer on the ideological altar of male feminists.

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