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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