Watching Huma Abedin stand by Anthony Weiner at the mayoral candidate's "Oops, I Did It Again" press conference was painful. And, yes, it was cringeworthy to see her take the podium, calmly admit that she was extremely nervous and read a prepared statement in which she justified her decision to stay with the philandering former congressman.
Painful, cringeworthy and heartbreaking, but not as disgusting as the endless barrage of next-day (and next-hour) thinkpieces and prognostication on a brilliant woman's intensely personal decisions. My colleague Emma Gray has a nice tick-tock on some of the main offenders on this topic, but no one took it as far as the New York Post, who broke through the bottom of the barrel with a cover that referred to Abedin not by name, but as "Señora Danger," a reference to Weiner's saddest nom de sext, and asked what was "wrong" with her.
What's happening here, aside from a tabloid doing a decent job at pissing off anyone with anything resembling a moral compass (that sound you hear is a gold star being added to someone's column at 1211 Avenue of the Americas), is the greater media environment thinking that since we know more about this particular marriage than most, we know enough to decide what a highly educated and successful grown woman and mother should do. (For comparison, Weiner himself got a much less vicious treatment on the Post's cover the day prior: "Meet Carlos Danger.")
Weiner made plenty of references to the "difficult time" he and Abedin were having staying married, enough that he was almost asking viewers to wonder if his filthy behavior was borne out of some sort of struggle. Thankfully, pitying Anthony Weiner has not become the dominant media narrative borne out of the press conference, but that it hasn't speaks again to our readiness to decide that a woman in Abedin's place is without the agency to impact her own marriage (for better or worse) and chart the path that makes the most sense for her (and her son).
The media's willingness to decide that Abedin -- who rose from White House intern to become Hillary Clinton's right-hand woman -- is a mindless pawn reminds me of an interview I did with Passion Pit singer Michael Angelakos, who made the bold decision to reveal that he was struggling with bipolar disorder and had attempted suicide on multiple occasions. I didn't want to ask Angelakos, who appeared to be in a great place and recently sold out Madison Square Garden when we spoke, about his mental health, but it seemed too large a part of his story to ignore. Instead, I asked him about how reporters had treated him since he made the news public. Here's what he said:
You start realizing that there's a version of you that people know, or think they know. And then there's the real you. Because it gets totally eaten up and spit out in a very confusing way. And doing a lot of press between the ages of 21 and 24 when I was also trying to figure out who I was in the first place was very difficult. And it still can be, for me. So many people, without even understanding the illness at all, would say things like, 'Well now that you're happy, how are you going to write another album?' You won't believe what people ask. I've recently learned to stop trying to be understood the way that I want to be understood, because it's not going to happen. You can't understand me in the media. You have to talk to me, and we have to have a conversation. And not about me! Just a regular conversation. I've become this caricature of mental illness, for better or worse.
Music journalists deigning themselves experts on mental health is not unlike any journalist deciding they're an expert on the Weiner-Abedin marriage. Abedin's story is quickly boxed up because it reminds us of many before her. Tuesday's press conference was hardly the first time we've seen a woman stand next to a man apologize for and/or defend scummy behavior, and it most certainly won't be the last. But that doesn't mean that Abedin is Jenny Sanford, Hillary Clinton, or any other woman who happens to have married a man that engages in extramarital activities. Treating her as though we not only know what happened to her and how it should affect her is arrogance on high.
We know that her husband sent inappropriate messages to a number of women while using a number of laughable nicknames. We know that he was seemingly incapable of stopping this behavior even after losing a high office because of it. We also know that people are mad because not only does no one deserve the public humiliation and personal struggle this behavior has undoubtedly caused Abedin, but because she seems like a wonderful person in a very difficult spot. Ostensibly, the broader rage about Weiner's actions and Abedin's decision to speak in his defense stems from our sadness at what appears to be continued suffering on Abedin's part.
But then again, if you think Weiner is a monster for degrading his marriage, maybe you should avoid doing the same in gigantic block letters on the front cover of your tabloid.
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