Huma Abedin didn’t take the name of her husband, then-Congressman and now candidate for Mayor of New York Anthony Weiner, when the couple married in 2010. But the New York Post has apparently decided that Abedin not only shares the fake name her husband used during some of his sexually explicit chats with other women–the hilariously fake Carlos Danger–but his transgressions. “Señora Danger…What’s Wrong With You?” hollers the headline on today’s edition of the paper:
This isn’t a case where the headline is meant to sell a more mild article. The story inside, by Maureen Callahan, is no less unpleasant, and no less misplaced.
“When did New Yorkers at large become the equivalent of the doormat wife?” she asks. “Is this how we see ourselves — the collective masochist in Anthony Weiner’s endless psycho-sexual melodramas?” I have no idea, Ms. Callahan. Do you? And if what confuses you is Abedin’s choice to stay with and support her husband’s political ambitions, wouldn’t that imply that you and the voters of New York also have agency you could use to either care, or not care, about where Anthony Weiner sent his penis, and the separate question of whether he would govern the city of New York in a way that accords with you and your policy priorities.
There’s some light criticism of Weiner’s record as a legislator in there (and of Eliot Spitzer’s unwillingness to release his tax returns), but mostly Callahan seems to be working out some tsuris of her own when it comes to Abedin. “It’s also time to declare a moratorium on the line that Huma Abedin is the smartest, shrewdest, most level-headed and glamorous asset the Democratic Party has, and if she’s OK with Anthony, we should be, too,” she declares. “Clearly, there is something very wrong with Abedin — whether it’s simply that she shares her husband’s vaulting ambition or that she has a pathological need to be publicly humiliated, something’s up. When The New York Times is calling for you to take your sad assemblage of sexual compulsions out the door, you should consider that a wake-up call. Silda may have stood by Eliot, but even she never opened her mouth in his defense.”
This kind of dudgeon would be amusing, if it didn’t reveal a decided lack of imagination that ought to be a disappointment in a newspaper columnist. Is it really that confusing that two grown people, who went into their marriage understanding that their careers would mean they’d spend time apart, and that they’d both be working very hard during its duration, might be able to work their way through infidelity or sexual compulsion? Is it so impossible to imagine that Abedin might believe her husband might have something left to give in public service, a proposition with which it’s possible to disagree without believing that Abedin is mentally ill, no matter what the state of our political discourse might suggest? Is it that complicated to do the math, and believe that even if Weiner was continuing to struggle with sexual constancy (or even if he’s struggling still) that Weiner and Abedin might consider the matter resolved between them, and consider that’s what matters? And if that’s the case, what does Callahan think the Weiners owe her, personally, or the city of New York? Is complete transparency about the personal lives of politicians actually a standard here? Are we to hold referendums on whether or not we think a couple in public life has made the decisions we’d make in our own thought experiments? And has Callahan truly been so fortunate that she’s never had a relative who humiliated and or caused her repeated pain, but who she refused to cut out of her life for the sake of decency and the overall happiness and comity of her extended family? If she hasn’t, I hardly think she’d appreciate anyone speculating that she enjoys being emotionally abused by her nearest and dearest.
In any case, these might be reasonable questions to ask of Abedin. “What’s wrong with you?” Not so much.
And finally, can we bury the idea that a marriage that supports both partner’s professional ambitions can’t possibly be a loving one, that it’s necessarily mercenary, especially for the poor, emotionally castrated woman who’s either living out her thwarted ambitions through her partner, or suffering until it’s her turn? This is a persistent and exceptionally nasty meme, and it’s resurfaced with particular strength here, because of Abedin’s long professional association with Hillary Clinton, the ultimate modern victim of the Lady Macbeth smear. It sets up a trap for working women, particularly exceptionally ambitious ones.
If we take Sheryl Sandberg–and many other women’–advice and consider who will be supportive of and excited about our careers when considering potential partners, we’re guilty of being mercenary or cold, rather than being appropriately feminine and emotional in our decision-making. If our skills are more suited to advice, support and logistics, the kind of work Abedin’s done for Clinton, rather than to being a public figure (which, I can tell you from personal experience, is an extremely particular set of skills), and we use them on behalf of our partners, then we’re accused of subverting our ambitions in some sort of twisted way. If women with husbands in politics have work in other fields, then they risk being accused of being insufficiently involved in their husbands’ lives if said husbands step out on them. Our political conversation would be a lot healthier–as would our discussions of men, women, and work–if we could agree that it’s not just reasonable but healthy for spouses in all fields to be interested and invested in each other’s success in their chosen arenas of endeavor without speculating darkly about the motivations for that investment.
If I were Huma Abedin, I might well have questions for my husband about what’s drawing him to send sexually explicit messages to women outside our marriage. If I were one of Huma Abedin’s besties, I’d want to know if she was doing okay, and to make sure she had the support she needs to go on with her life. And if I were a New York City voter, I’d have a lot of questions about who might be the best candidate for mayor, most of them centering around policy in the post-Bloomberg era. But if I found myself demanding what’s wrong with Huma Abedin, of all people, my most pressing question might be for myself, about why I care so much.