Laurie Toby Edison

Photographer

Leave Silda Spitzer Alone

Laurie and Debbie say:

The governor of New York is caught in a prostitution scandal, and what do people want to talk about? His wife’s behavior.

(Yes, we know that a prominent right-wing commentator is actually blaming Silda Spitzer. That’s not what we want to talk about.)

Far more interesting is the personal rage directed at Silda Spitzer by people who believe that she was betrayed … and that she somehow has betrayed them by the choices she’s made.

Washington Post reporter Sally Quinn,
appearing on CBS’s Early Show, said,

The wife is always standing there while the husband is — is apologizing. And — I look at those women, and I think they might as well be in purdah, they might as well be Taliban women with scarves over their heads standing there because not once has any woman ever said, this is not acceptable.

Do we have to say how offensive this is? To women of the Taliban, who are deprived of literacy, work, and the right to their own lives? To Silda Spitzer (and Wendy Vitter and Hillary Clinton and Suzanne Craig) for implying that they are prisoners rather than people with free will?

Fox News makes an astonishing generalization: “Few political wives are considered strong women, said Stanley Renshon, a political psychologist at City University of New York.” (He does consider Hillary Clinton an exception, although she behaved the same way as the others.)

And all over the newspapers and the blogosphere, people are telling the world what Silda Spitzer and the women who have preceded her in this situation “should” have done. Mostly, they seem to think that she should have refused to stand next to him at the press conference. Wendy Vitter is coming in for some extra vitriol, because she excoriated Hillary Clinton for standing by her man, saying, “I’m a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary [Clinton]. If he does something like that, I’m walking away with one thing, and it’s not alimony, trust me.” Then, when it happened, she stood by him.

First and foremost, we say that nobody has a right to criticize any of these women’s personal choices. They all have had their private lives thrust into the public view. They have to consider their children, their futures, and what the media will say about them. Under those circumstances, no choice is a good choice. We guarantee you that the first woman to give her husband the finger and storm off before the press conference will get at least as much crap as these women are getting. And then there’s the very interesting question of what happens the first time that the husband of some woman in public office is caught in a sex scandal–what will the “right” thing be for that woman to do?

Second, what’s happening here is that these women are being forced not only into the limelight but also to stand in for what everyone else in this country thinks about marriage. They are there to validate other people’s reactions, responses, and expectations. Perhaps this is a legitimate thing to expect of people who run for public office, but there’s no way it’s acceptable to put it on the spouses of public officials.

Third, of course, it’s always easier and more fun to blame women than to really look at what men in public office are doing. If you look at the actual scandals, the very varied behaviors of Bill Clinton, Larry Craig, Dennis Vitter, James McGreevey, and Elliott Spitzer, then you have to talk about what’s acceptable for politicians. By concentrating on the wives, we reduce the conversation to what’s acceptable within a marriage–which is nobody’s business except for the two people in that marriage.

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9 Responses to “Leave Silda Spitzer Alone”

  1. iflurry says:

    Is anyone else disturbed that Lorena Bobbit is held up as an example of a proper way to react to infidelity?

  2. vesta44 says:

    It also goes without saying that if a woman in public office were caught in an affair, or using a paid escort, she would be crucified by public opinion (and her husband would be told to dump the bitch). What is acceptable for a man to do (whether he’s a politician or not) is never acceptable for any woman to do. While I don’t think anyone who is married should be out fooling around on their spouse, it’s not anyone’s business how the other spouse handles the situation. Not being that person, not having their experiences, and not knowing what they have invested in their relationship, no one has any business saying they should have done this, that, or the other.

  3. Laurie says:

    Iflurry,

    Really! I can’t think of reading any commentary on that in the Vitter case.

    vesta44,

    I agree. And it going to be interesting to see the reactions to her choices when when it’s her husband whose unfaithful.

  4. Vicki says:

    Yes. It’s one thing for someone to say “If my husband did that, I would send him to the press conference alone” or ” I would call my own press conference to announce that I was leaving him.” It’s quite another to assert that therefore a woman that the speaker doesn’t know should (a) leave her husband and (b) do so in such a way that their children find out about it from television news.

    There are things that Silda Wall could have done that I would consider inappropriate–and most of them, like what Bobbitt did, would be matters for the local police department. Short of that, this is Wall’s business, Spitzer’s, and in some ways their children’s. (Not theirs to decide, but it affects the children; it doesn’t affect me.)

  5. Godless Heathen says:

    I’d seen this on a feminist site where a lot of women were saying DTMFA, and all I could think of was this: You stand there for the press conference and mouth a few platitudes about your family and the media takes pity on you and leaves you alone, or you refuse to do it and the media crawls up your ass for the next three years and paints you as bitchzilla. Neither choice is palatable or easy for even the strongest woman, but it’s not like women are given that many other options. Many people were talking about Silda Spitzer starting over after this, and I can’t imagine she’d have an easy time of it if she’s been pilloried in the media.

    I don’t know if I’m a bad person for not ever paying attention, but I frankly don’t notice political wives. My eye kind of slides over the family “window dressing” that every male pol pulls out to show how he’s such a great guy. Other than feeling bad for the women who get screwed over by these men, I don’t give them much thought. Their lives certainly aren’t any of my business, and I wish the media would leave them the hell alone.

  6. Denise says:

    If it were me, I’d be in such horrible shock that my husband had done such a thing, that I think I’d have an awfully hard time pulling my shit together enough to know what to do…so I’d probably robotically stand there next to the asshole as well. Give this poor woman a break – it just happened. Imagine her humiliation and heartbreak – her world just collapsed. In those circumstances, you just put one foot in front of the other and try to get through each moment. My heart goes out to her and her daughters.

  7. Akanimo Uwan says:

    What was Silda Spitzer’s response when asked what she would do in Hillary’s position during the Lewinsky scandal? Did she not say that for her, she would leave the marriage. I am not in support of divorce, but her comment reeks of hypocrisy. See, talk is cheap. Admirable that she is ‘standing by her man’, but her earlier stance totally contradicts her latest action. Indeed, talk is cheap. Next time, send Mrs Clinton an apology letter.

  8. Laurie says:

    I think what’s true of Silda Spitzer is true of a lot of us. It’s one thing to think you know what you’ll do in a hard place and it’s another when you’re actually there.

    I’ve sometimes surprised myself over the years about this. There lots of situations in which you really don’t know what you’ll do til you’re there.

  9. Clara says:

    If Silda hadn’t said that forgiving Eliot wouldn’t be her way in response to Hillary’s decision to stay with her husband, no one would be discussing it. And if she did know about Eliot’s behavior, I can’t imagine her taking such a position.


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