Why stand by?

Who knows? Why can't we leave Silda Spitzer alone?

By Lynn Harris
Published March 12, 2008 5:29PM (EDT)

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: With every breaking political sex scandal -- and the excruciating press conference that follows -- it becomes more and more tempting to imagine little thought balloons over the heads of the apparently stoic, forbearing wives. ("Well, this explains a lot." "Game face game face game face." "Dude. Diapers?")

And man, is it easy to judge. The wives, not the husbands. (Well, them too.) As the New York Times' Alessandra Stanley confirms today, the talk shows yesterday, to say nothing of the Interwebs, were aswirl with opinion, much of it as unforgiving, well, as we expect women like Silda Spitzer to be. What are these wives doing at those press conferences? What sort of public display of solidarity do they possibly owe these hosers? Can they really be such doormats? Why aren't they home waiting by the door with a frying pan, or changing the goddamn locks?

You know, I think we need to back off. I think these women owe us no explanations, or "revealing body language," whatsoever; I think we owe them their privacy and complex, possibly convoluted or even disagreeable decision making. As Dina Matos McGreevey, who has some experience in this matter, writes in today's Times: "Not only do she and her children have to weather the storm brought on by her misguided husband, she also has to endure the judgments of the commentariat, many of whom have asked, with some frequency, why on earth she would stand by her man during his public -- and anemic -- mea culpa."

Really, after all, who knows what has gone on chez Spitzer? Maybe she is cheating too. Maybe he promised her a quick and clean divorce if she'd do just this one thing. Maybe she is even acting out of savvy self-interest, as Anne Applebaum suggests -- compellingly, I think -- at Slate: "I can see one clear advantage to this option: It's all over quickly. And no one asks you for a follow-up interview. You appear once -- and then you vanish forever, along with your husband's career. If you've been clever about it, you've kept your maiden name and can thus return to your own career. Those who make other, more attention-getting choices will later be forced back into the limelight to explain themselves, which is gruesome." That, or if you simply don't appear at all, you can bet they'll come after you, even more relentlessly.

I'm not saying Silda Spitzer, or the next one to stand in her shoes, wishing they would whisk her home with three clicks of the heel, should or shouldn't show up; I'm just saying that in a scandal such as this, her conduct, of all people's, is not for us to judge. (I'm talking to you, lady I heard yesterday on WNYC saying that this whole thing was Mrs. Spitzer's fault in the first place because she didn't kink things up enough.) The real thing to question is not each wife's motive, or her backbone. The real thing to question, I think, is why these women are expected to show up in the first place, when the matter of public concern is betrayal of public -- not marital -- trust. While we're at it, we might also wonder what will happen someday when the "stoic wife" is the husband.

Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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