As New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner battles additional revelations that he shared nude photographs with another woman, the media circus has ensnared both the woman to whom he sent these pictures, and Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin. Article after article is asking, “Why does Huma stay with him? Why doesn’t she leave?” The answer to that question is, quite simply, none of your damn business.
This kind of feigned concern about why wives like Abedin — or her boss, former Secretary of State and First Lady Hillary Clinton — remain with their husbands after sexual indiscretions is nothing short of paternalistic policing of women’s personal decisions. Abedin is an intelligent, autonomous, driven woman who is more than capable of making her own decisions about her personal life and marriage. Why do we question her choices? What does that say about us?
I am not married to Anthony Weiner, and unless you are Huma Abedin, neither are you. Her choice to remain with him has absolutely nothing to do with any of us. Yet, we feel all too comfortable chiding this “beautiful woman” for her decision to stay with her husband, because we feel entitled to an opinion about her choice. (The fact that reporters feel the need to mention her beauty, intelligence, and success is also incredibly telling.) Our society infantilizes, scrutinizes, and polices women, treating them as incapable of autonomy. It is incredibly sexist to second guess Abedin, rather than allowing her to decide for herself whether to leave or to stay, and accepting her decision.
This reaction to Abedin and Clinton's choices betrays the assumption that women, even powerful political figures, are innocent angels-in-the-house who are in need of protection and guidance. Under the guise of empowerment, scores of people (many of whom are women, might I add) are demanding that Abedin leave Weiner, and that she “stand up” for herself. Because Abedin has, thus far, chosen to stay, her character has been assassinated and her choices have been ridiculed; in the example below, right-wing pundit Michael Graham audaciously says that Abedin is worse than Weiner, because she’s an “enabler.”
Unfortunately, this rhetoric also comes from some self-identified feminists.
Even Gloria Steinem has joined the shame-and-blame fray. In an interview with the New York Times, Gloria Steinem said, “I have no way of knowing whether Huma, for whom I have great respect, is responding out of new motherhood, the Stockholm syndrome or a mystery,” then adding, “I strongly object to holding one spouse responsible for the other’s acts.” On the one hand, Steinem doesn’t wish to hold Abedin accountable for Weiner’s actions. On the other hand, Steinem just framed Abedin’s choice as the result of anything but Abedin's own volition.
Let’s be clear about something: there is nothing inherently disempowering or shameful about staying with your partner after infidelity if that is the choice you make. And there is absolutely nothing feminist about chastising Abedin for her decision to stay.
What Abedin does or doesn’t do in her marriage should not involve anyone but her and her husband. And yet, because the couple is in the public eye, it is understandable that there is rampant media speculation surrounding Wiener's actions. What disturbs me, in the midst of all of this, is the entitlement that we feel to a woman's personal choices. Yes, as feminists often say, the personal is political, but the personal is also just that: personal. Policing private choice is not only decidedly anti-feminist, but destructive, as it denies women's autonomy.
Huma Abedin is not to blame. Nor is she a victim who needs you to save her. Abedin is an independent, adult woman, and is capable of making her own choices and living her own life. Shame on Huma? No. Shame on all of us.