Friday, March 14, 2008

Can someone please explain?

I see I'm not the only one who has been asking this question ALL WEEK LONG.

What Was Silda Spitzer Thinking? (Sally Quinn for the Washington Post)

Once, just once, wouldn’t you love to see the politician up there at the lectern sweating bullets, apologizing for letting down his wife and family …. alone?

Once, just once, wouldn’t you love to see the wife issuing her own statement saying that what he had done was unacceptable and that she was leaving him?

Wouldn’t that be morally correct?

But instead, again and again, we see the pathetic, ravaged faces of these women victims, standing supportively beside their husbands as they allow themselves to be excruciatingly humiliated in front of the whole world.

We really haven’t come a long way baby, have we? Certainly not in the case of women married to elected officials.

For the past few days since the Spitzer scandal broke, all anyone has been talking about is why? Why would a guy with a fabulous education, brilliant career, powerful position, beautiful and brainy wife and a lovely family, risk losing everything for a couple of evenings with a hooker.

I’m asking why, too. Why would a beautiful and brainy wife with three wonderful children allow herself to be put in this hideous situation for even 49 seconds -- the time it took to apologize. Much less do it all over again two days later when her husband resigned as New York’s governor.

I know why he did what he did. Because he could. Arrogance and power are a lethal combination, and men who combine both often begin to believe in their own invincibility.

The more baffling question to me is why she did it. All I could think of, watching Silda Spitzer’s defeated expression, was of Taliban women covered from head to toe in burqa, standing a few paces behind their men, appendages to their all powerful husbands. Or Indian women committing sati, throwing themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre.

American women are so quick to criticize the religious tradition of others, where women take a subservient position – but are we so different? That’s not what the Spitzer scandal suggests.

One can only assume that the women who do this are just as enamored of the power and the position as their men. Of course their power is derivative, which makes it all the more difficult to lose. (It was reported that Silda Spitzer did not want her husband to resign.) Would Hillary Clinton have run for the Senate or even President had she not stood by her man after the Monica Lewinsky episode and insisted he not resign? We’ll never know.

I have been writing about this for decades. I could run a story I wrote in the seventies today and it would read exactly the same way. Remember Mrs. Gary Hart, Mrs. Bob Livingston, Mrs. Larry Craig, Mrs. David Vitter? Certainly Hillary Clinton comes to mind as a competent and successful woman in her own right, standing next to her husband over and over again as he lied to her and to the country about his dalliances. It is such a demeaning role for women to play and one that should have stopped a long time ago.

Think of the message this image sends -- not to just adults, but to young children, both boys and girls. For young girls, it says this is an acceptable role for women -- to be lied to, cheated on, disrespected and humiliated in public/ You take it and must still be supportive. because that is what is expected of women.

For boys, it says it’s okay to lie and cheat and dishonor your family, and you might grow up to be a senator or a governor or a president. You can get away with it.

I know that many women are supportive of those who stand by their man, for no other stated reason than to keep the family together. Imagine, though, the scars that the children will suffer from getting conflicting messages. Surely they are taught to be honest and to honor their family, but suddenly it is also to do as I say and not what I do.

Shouldn’t we expect that anyone who betrays his family and the public trust to pay the consequences for his actions?

That is why these wives must stop standing supportively next to their husbands as they confess and explain and apologize. They are just as enabling of them in their shame as they were in their glory.

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