This weekend’s New York Times Magazine features Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin, and details how they’re rebuilding their marriage and Weiner’s political career in the wake of his boner-photo tweet scandal. I wrote about it in my Guardian column this week, and more broadly the script that politicians follow when caught cheating: Lie, then admit, then apologize with wife in tow, then stage a come-back. And sure, sometimes (often) we should forgive them because their stupid personal flaws don’t impact their ability to govern. But also, I’d like to see political wives have more options. People stay in marriages for all sorts of reasons, and staying in the relationship after an affair isn’t necessarily a bad or wrong choice; none of us are inside these marriages, so we have no idea. But it would be nice if there were more acceptable public models:
Huma Abedin is, after all, a savvy political animal. A great many of the wives of cheating political men are, like Abedin, smart, ambitious and political in their own right – the exact kind of women we want in power. Perhaps Abedin has no interest in running for elected office and prefers to remain on the strategy side. Or perhaps she’s taking a page out of the Hillary Clinton playbook and realizing that while a woman scorned may be able to launch a scorched-earth campaign against her husband like no one else, Americans despise few things more than angry women. While angry men are tough and passionate, angry women are irrational, hysterical, imbalanced and out of control. While her husband gained credibility for his angry antics as a congressman, a political future for Abedin requires a calm facade.
On an individual level, it makes sense for ambitious women to stand by their political husbands, for reasons strategic, romantic or both. But on a broader social level, we need a diversity of post-sex-scandal narratives. We need space for women who have been publicly humiliated, deeply hurt and fundamentally betrayed to be publicly angry without being called crazy. After all, being entirely livid is actually quite a sane response to a large-scale humiliation brought upon you by a person who is supposed to be your partner in life and love. Women shouldn’t have to play the part of the forgiving wife in order to make sure their husbands’ careers aren’t torpedoed; they certainly shouldn’t have to choke down righteous rage and smile for the cameras in order to make their own careers tenable.
I don’t doubt that women like Abedin are doing what’s best in their particular circumstance, whether their actions are motivated by a desire for privacy, love, a choice to continue the relationship, political strategy or something else. But they’re operating in a universe that offers few other options.
Which is why I hope sometime soon, a wronged wife says goodbye to being ladylike and hello to being a crazy bitch. There isn’t one correct response to realizing you’re married to a self-involved fool. But there should be more options for those women whose beloved fools put them in the public eye. Publicly angry women make us uncomfortable; the only way that’s going to change is with a culture-wide exposure therapy of sorts. Bring on the scorned women – and the women who decamp to Paris, or retreat to the spa, or actually hike the Appalachian Trail, or calmly tell their husbands where to shove it.
And if those same women have devoted their intellect and ambition to supporting their husbands’ political careers? Make them the Comeback Kids with the magazine covers. Have them run for office.
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