I grew up listening to country western music in the South Bronx, back when rap was starting to come on the scene. A bit of an anomaly, but surprisingly it provided me with a wider perspective on gender relations. As a result, I am more than a little familiar with Tammy Wynette’s Stand by Your Man anthem. I was advised from an early age that I had to learn to cook and clean, as well as accept the fact that women have to put up with a lot from men. Women, I was advised, should stay with their man, despite his faults and shortcomings. I didn’t quite buy into that. Actually, I didn’t buy into it at all. Period. But it would be disingenuous of me to protest about the current trend of political wives standing right beside their off-kilter husbands. While I am not Tammy Wynette, not many women can truly claim to be decidedly anti-Wynette.
Yesterday, the media was abuzz about Anthony Weiner, embroiled in a virtual cacophony of outrage: Ick. Yick. Yuck. Eek. Anthony Weiner, dude, what’s going on? How does someone go from a disgrace, to staging a real comeback, to falling so low beneath the bubblegum on the underside of a pre-k chair? There are all sorts of political pundits sounding a bit like armchair psychologists these last few days, taking on the challenge of figuring out Weiner’s mind. Me, as psycholgistmimi – I’m just not going there. Why? Shake my head. It is too easy. A guy who pronounces his name “Weener” instead of going the possible route of “Whiner” needs no additional psychoanalysis.
Huma, now, she is worth talking about. And not in the way the paternalistic Chris Mathews’ of the world have been doing. Oh, they are so high and mighty, pontificating on the callousness of Weiner making Huma go through her pain-laden speech. This may be unpopular to state, but I do not believe Weiner put a gun to her head. So, why is everyone talking about how she did the unthinkable; that she did what a majority of women wouldn’t do? On the morning news circuit, newscaster after newscaster stated that she “stood by her man”, arguing that most other women would not. I ask, how do you know that? I truly do not see how newscasters can bring themselves to make these pronouncements? Obviously, critical thinking is not a highly valued skill when your job is to read the teleprompter. Listen to this. Some of the estimates in the United States are that 1 in every 2.7 couples, some 20 million, have experienced infidelity in their relationship. One study conducted by the University of Washington (2008), that involved close to 20,000 participants over the course of 15 years found higher rates of infidelity for populations under 35, or older than 60. Over the study period, researcher found rates of infidelity among men were found to have risen from 20 to 28%, and rates for women, 5% to 15%. Furthermore, many of those couples survive the affair, rather than ending up in divorce.
So, is Huma all that different? Is Hilary? Not really. According to past controversial studies as low as 27% to as high as 50% of divorces in the US are caused by extramarital affairs. While infidelity is the highest cause of divorces, it is not the cause of all divorces. History is laced with accounts of infidelity. Why do you think that the Ten Commandments have a specific commandment to address it? Anthropologist Margaret Mead once suggested that monogamy is the most difficult of all human marital arrangements. Similarly, many anthropologists have repeatedly claimed that Homo sapiens, throughout our evolution, like most animals, have not been naturally monogamous. So, why is there a television show called The Good Wife as if this was something new and hard to fathom? Because modern-day women should just pack up their bags and leave a cheater? Or maybe because modern wives have as equal a say in the career trajectories of their spouses? Lady Diana kind of set an odd precedent for dealing with a cheating husband. She eventually divorced a Prince, but it was an ugly scene that involved a lot of public shaming. Let us review the Good Wives’ husbands hall of fame. We have Senator John Ensign of Nevada, Senator Vitter, John F. Kennedy, Senator Craig Thompson (the wide stance in the bathroom stall), Elliot Spitzer, and Bill Clinton. French President Francois Mitterand had a well-known mistress (but that is also the stereotype of the French, eh?). What was disconcerting to many was the fact that the mistress stood beside his wife at his funeral. Interestingly, of all the American political sex scandals of late, Governor Mark Sanford’s wife was a rare instance of not sticking around. And, why was that? Well, it was probably because he didn’t have so much of a sex scandal, but instead had a full-blown love affair. The same happened with former San Francisco Mayor Gary Newsom’s wife. He had an affair with her friend. That is not the equivalent to anonymous sexting; so she left and he went on to become California’s lieutenant Governor. Sex scandals, in of themselves, are apparently somewhat discounted.
Let us go back to the statistics for a second. Half of spouses who engage in an extramarital affair end up getting a divorce. But that means a pretty good percentage do not. Let us also look at this Good Wife syndrome in terms of economic class. There is a lower divorce rate (by 50%) for college-educated women who marry after the age of 25 and a much higher rate for poor, primarily women of color who marry before the age of 25 and do not have a college degree (Heller, 2013). This is consequently a complicated story and not so straightforward. The fact that for college educated women who marry after the age of 25 and have established an independent source of income, the divorce rate is so low is contrary to many popular beliefs! It almost seems counter-intuitive, because many believe that a good wife stays married due to economic considerations. But these women, the Humas and the Hillarys earn their own money and have their own prestigious careers. I am not too sure about senator Vitter’s wife, though, I must say. There is always an outlier in the statistics. So, Huma as a college educated woman who got married after the age of 25, is statistically likely to stay married despite Weiner’s ongoing self-destructive behavior.
Each relationship has an implicit contract. I cannot believe that many of these good wives do not go into their “prestige”-filled relationship with an implicit understanding of what it means to be married to a powerful figure. It seems pretty well known that an elevated sense of power is associated with infidelity. Further, it seems common knowledge that politicians have a narcissistic strain to their personalities. Furthermore, narcissistic individuals may be especially prone to marital infidelity. Therefore, if this were an LSAT question, you would conclude these wives go into their political marriages with a good idea of what may come. When you enter into a relationship contract with a power seeker there are many other considerations.
Huma did not stay by the side hanging her head in shame while Weiner professed he was a changed man. She went out and had an unprecedented presence at the “mea culpa” press conference. She came out and said she forgave him and that the issues were a family matter. While I was watching the television show Glades later that night an unusually insipid character noted that forgiveness is the key to deeper connections. And, you know what, that character was onto something. For many people, forgiving others is liberation from anger and grievance, and it leads to a richer and happier life. Adjusting your perspective to a place of forgiveness and gratitude allows you to avoid playing the victim card. When you continue to blame someone else, you automatically give control of your life to someone else and thus set yourself up to be a lifelong victim. Huma, despite the paternalistic television talking-heads, was possibly standing there in a position of strength. We should not be victimizing her, creating a narrative of a weak, bamboozled wife, just because we don’t want to admit we might do exactly the same thing. When she stood up there reading her prepared statement I could not help but hum to myself Rihanna’s Umbrella song (and yes I get the irony):
Because when the sun shines, we’ll shine together
Told you I’ll be here forever
Said I’ll always be your friend
Took an oath, I’m a stick it out to the end
Now that it’s raining more than ever
Know that we’ll still have each other
You can stand under my umbrella
You can stand under my umbrella
She was not only forgiving him and standing by her man, but she was actively providing him a space of comfort and shelter. This was a woman possibly acting from a deeper place and not merely idly standing by. I am sure that she went through a shock phase and she may still be shell shocked. I am fairly sure she felt a sense of betrayal, violation, despair, hopelessness, rage, anger, revenge, fear, distrust, and depression. She may have even obsessively pondered the details of the online sexting activities. She may even be in a state of hyper-vigilance, continuously watching for further signs of betrayal. This level of media exposure must have exceeded her initial comfort zone, but she has been mentored by Hilary. Whether because of love, shared history, the child, finances, life-style, not wanting to fail, fear of the unknown thereafter, the ability to compartmentalize, the ability to forgive, or a desire to grow old together she has remained steadfast as many other woman have and will do today, tomorrow and the day after. Let us stop spouting this fake incredulity and work on understanding the complexities of relationships and the implicit contracts therein. Oh also, there is a mayoral race going on for one the greatest cities and largest economies on earth. Let us debate the issues, vote and move forth in its best interests.