Women are fascinated with Huma Abedin for the same reason we have always been riveted by long-suffering political wives: they give lie to what we are taught from the time we are young. More importantly, when they suffer indignities at the hands of their cheating spouses they have opportunities for coming back better and stronger that we mere mortals (i.e. non-political wives) could only wish for.
From the time they are young, girls are taught that you can know a woman by how she reacts if her spouse is unfaithful. The strong, smart and empowered leave right away and without hesitation. They take their kids, they move on, they pick up their lives and, free from that jerk, they make a successful life for themselves. The others, the weaker and less empowered, stay. And since we know the old adage "once a cheater always a cheater," it's pretty clear that their lives will be like Betty Draper's in seasons 1 and 2.
But these rules don't apply to political wives; even in the post-feminist era, they have options the rest of us don't have. It's not just Hillary Clinton, either; you can go all the way back in American history and women -- political wives we adore and respect -- have not only stayed but were empowered as a result: Jacqueline Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, even Elizabeth Hamilton come to mind. These women have shown us that at least in a political marriage, staying is an act of power and can actually be empowering.
Consider Hillary Clinton: She made it clear that she wasn't just "sitting here, some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette." And right she was, she refused to sit complacently anywhere. Instead, she went on 60 Minutes, stuck up for her husband and saved his political campaign and career in the process. Watching we just knew he had to be -- and has been, apparently -- forever grateful. She then went on to be first lady, senator from New York, candidate for president, secretary of state and one of the most beloved women in America, if not the world -- talk about empowerment.
True, not every political wife who has stayed has gone on to reach the heights Clinton has, but each in their own way has shown us that despite what we've been taught, staying is not a sign of weakness -- in fact it can actually be empowering. Consider two of the most beloved figures of the 20th century, Eleanor Roosevelt and Jacqueline Kennedy. Both suffered well-known indignities at the hands of their husbands, both made the decision to stay and both chartered their own paths forward to become respected public women and advocates in their own right. Had either chosen to leave we would have certainly understood and respected their decision, but would they have then gone on to have the impact they had? In all likelihood, the answer is no.
Imagine, however if instead of political wives we were talking about the non-political variety? Not only are we told from the time we are young that staying is a sign of weakness, but deep down we fear that it may be true. Think about it -- unlike Huma, Hillary, Jacqueline, Eleanor, and Elizabeth, if we decide to stay there are no press conferences or public mea culpas. He is not going to come out publicly and admit his wrong, how much his failings have hurt his family, how much he adores and needs us, how sorry he is. We are not going to be credited with "saving" his job, we are not going to enjoy adulation and have the opportunity to go on talk shows, write books, serve on boards, or become ambassadors to the UN. He is not going to have to be forever grateful that we stayed and remember each and every day that he (and his campaign/office) owe it all to us.
So when we watch Huma of course we feel for her, but we also watch because we know that she has options we don't really feel like we have. We want to see what she will do next because we know that after suffering at the hands of this fool she has the opportunity to come back better and stronger. We all like a good story of beating the odds, of someone who has been wronged who makes the best of it, and not only survives but thrives. We all want to believe we can do that too, but fear in reality the odds are stacked against us -- at least more so than they are against political wives.
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