There's a lot to be annoyed about in the recently resurfaced Anthony Weiner “sexting” scandal. At the same time that the disgraced New York mayoral candidate has been excoriated for being a lying jerk, his wife Huma Abedin has been excoriated for not really doing anything.
A lot of writers have something to say about Ms. Abedin, and not without reason, because she has been affected by her husband’s infidelity more than anyone but Mr. Weiner himself. But rather than comment constructively on the obviously gender-based power dynamic at play in the scandal, far too many commentators have instead chosen to expound their subjective views on how a woman should respond to infidelity.
One of the worst offenders was the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd, who in a column that ran in The Blade this week advised Ms. Abedin to dump her “eel-like” husband. Ms. Dowd is thought by many to be a feminist writer and thinker, and I have no doubt that she is.
Which is why I was astounded when she wrote that to understand why Ms. Abedin is still standing by Mr. Weiner, you need only “remember one thing: Ms. Abedin was raised in Saudi Arabia, where women are treated worse by men than anywhere else on the planet.”
Washington Post blogger Sally Quinn echoed Ms. Dowd’s view. Ms. Abedin “makes all women look like weak and helpless victims,” she wrote. She even played the calculating, power-hungry wife card: “The only possible reason I can guess for Abedin’s embrace of her husband is that she wants the power as much as he does.”
Ms. Dowd and Ms. Quinn mean well. A surface reading of both pieces, and dozens like them, would suggest that they’re just sticking up for women everywhere. It is odd, then, that both writers have conveniently misappropriated feminism to rob Ms. Abedin of agency in making her own decisions.
It’s reductive and infantilizing to explain away Ms. Abedin’s motivations as the outcome of an upbringing in Saudi Arabia. Rather than speak on Ms. Abedin’s behalf, a truly feminist take on the Weiner scandal should affirm her right to make decisions privately about her marriage.
That’s not to say that there’s no way to comment critically about gender as it relates to the scandal. Mr. Weiner’s infidelity, compulsive or not, repented or not, has unfairly embroiled his wife — who, news media like to point out, guards her privacy — in a public-relations nightmare.
Ms. Abedin has become the object of embarrassing and no doubt enormously stressful public scrutiny, as she pours emotional resources into cleaning up her husband’s mess. Both husband and wife have been flailed by news media.
Ms. Abedin has been criticized not just by opinion writers such as Ms. Dowd and Ms. Quinn, but also by news outlets such as the New York Post, which blared in a front-page headline: “What’s wrong with you?” Yet Ms. Abedin has been attacked not because of any wrongdoing of her own, but because her husband had the power to risk her reputation for her.
And to the extent that American politicians are still largely male, the women behind the scenes invariably will be on the receiving end of their public-relations gambles. None of that was to be found in the coverage by Ms. Dowd, Ms. Quinn, or virtually any other commentator who has expressed an opinion about Ms. Abedin.
Ms. Dowd managed to mention the salience of Mr. Weiner’s political clout to his wife’s life, but in precisely the wrong way. Bill Clinton, she wrote, “was a roguish genius while Mr. Weiner’s a creepy loser,” suggesting that Hillary Clinton’s choice not to end her marriage after her husband’s affair with Monica Lewinsky was more legitimate than Ms. Abedin’s because of her husband’s political shrewdness. That a woman’s marital decisions should be tied to her husband’s skill as a politician is perhaps the most disempowering notion of all.
There is something deeply ironic about those who have doled out relationship advice to Ms. Abedin. Calling on her to leave her husband does not do her any favors. It doesn’t do women any favors. It instead adds to the undeserved and uninvited scrutiny that Mr. Weiner’s actions have inflicted on his wife.
It is no coincidence that Ms. Abedin has been made to bear a disproportionate burden for a crime she did not commit. Women are routinely criticized, mistrusted, and condescended to for romantic decisions that should be theirs to make.
Ms. Abedin deserves to take relationship advice from friends and loved ones on her own terms. She doesn’t deserve to be told how to arrange her private life in a public forum.
Marina Bolotnikova, a senior at Harvard University, is an intern with The Blade’s Pages of Opinion.
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