When I wrote my last entry on Eliot Spitzer’s newest scandal, I struggled to figure out how to talk about what it felt like to see his wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, standing next to him during yesterday’s brief public apology. I knew that it felt strange and wrong, like some kind of sad political show that male politicians’ wives are forced into after they’ve royally screwed up. I wanted to write something about that, but couldn’t figure out how; it was getting late, I’d already written a long entry and I just wanted to be done. So I wound up writing this:
Is anyone else tired of wronged politician’s wives being forced into public embarrassment for the sake of standing by their cheating men?
But when rereading the post, I realized it didn’t come off quite right; the words didn’t even sound like something I’d say. Though I’m in a happily monogamous relationship, I’m certainly not invested in some idea of monogamy as sacrosanct or the exclusively correct relationship structure. I think this stance complicates my view of infidelity in a way that doesn’t come through in what I wrote, which actually sounds rather hetero- and monagamonormative, to coin a word there. To clarify: the fucked up thing about infidelity is not the multiple partners/lovers part, but rather, the violation of trust and deceit part.
When I read my friend Rabi’s take on positions like the one I put forth with the above statement, my dissatisfaction with what I’d written increased to the point that I took it down completely. Rabi writes:
i just want to say that I’m sick of people assuming that every time the wife of a man who has been revealed to be a cheater — so yeah, like hillary clinton and silda wall spitzer — stands next to him at a press conference, she has been forced to do so. maybe she is, which would be hideous and despicable. and it’s not that I doubt that happens pretty often. but MAYBE she isn’t, in which case your assumptions are unhelpful, nasty, and judgmental. argh.
[this is in response to like 95% of the feminist websites on my blogroll. NO i don't think it's antifeminist to decide to stay in a relationship after infidelity. although cheating on your wife with a prostitute probably is, assuming she didn't know about it.]
All very true. Silda Spitzer is strong, intelligent woman, and while it’s necessary to acknowledge how sexism plays out in situations like these, to immediately assume that she was forced to appear at her husband’s side does negate her agency. I agree with Rabi that leaving a relationship after infidelity is neither the inherently feminist response nor the right response for every relationship or situation. Silda Spitzer seems perfectly capable of assessing her relationship with her husband, figuring out what’s best for her, and acting on that. Perhaps she’s chosen to forgive him, or perhaps she can separate their personal troubles from his political career and genuinely supports him as governor. The NY Times reports that she’s among the advisers who’ve told Spitzer “that he should not resign in haste.” So who are we to assume that she’s merely a pawn here, playing a forced role in a sexist political tableau? Such an assumption seems rather patronizing and more than a bit sexist in itself. There are ways for us to point out the weird and quite possibly sexism dynamics of the situation while not perpetuating said sexism in the same breath.