By Ellen Goodman
BOSTON—To think that I had never focused blame on this particular part of the male anatomy. But there was anthropologist Helen Fisher on the “Today” show explaining that Client 9’s destiny was in his eyebrows. And his cheekbones.
“All you have to do is look at Eliot Spitzer,” she said authoritatively. “He’s got very high cheekbones and a very heavy brow. And these are signs of extremely high testosterone.” Who knew?
Of course this anthrobabble was not as bad as what came from Laura Schlessinger, the guiltmeistress of talk radio, who located the cause of infidelity entirely outside of the male body and onto the wife.
“When the wife does not focus in on the needs and the feelings, sexually, personally, to make him feel like a man, to make him feel like a success, to make him feel like her hero, he’s very susceptible,” said our gal Laura. “The cheating was his decision to repair what is damaged and to feed himself where he is starving.” At, say, $1,000 an hour?
While eyebrows were being analyzed, jaws were dropping across the face of the nation. Even in a cynical age when one politician after another leaves his reputation in a bathroom stall or a D.C. Madam’s book, the New York governor’s fall from “Eliot Ness” to John of the Week was stunning. He’d gone from “the steamroller” prosecutor to Kristen’s customer to the announcement: “I am resigning from the office of governor.”
But if anatomy is really destiny, this scandal laid bare a gender gap in attention. Across the blogosphere and dinner table, men were asking, “How could he do it?” But women were asking, “How could she do it?”
The female focus was Silda Wall Spitzer, the Harvard-educated lawyer and wife of 20 years. It was on the “stone-faced,” “ashen-faced” woman, her “eyes puffy and visibly shaken,” who stood by her husband’s side. Not once, but twice.
The frustrated wish that echoed through my real and virtual neighborhood was that “just once” some politician’s wife would say no to the ritual public humiliation, hit the jerk upside the head, and yell, in blogger Amy Ephron’s words: “And another thing, I’m keeping the house.”
The closest anyone had come was the woman who once warned, “I’m a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary. If he does something like that, I’m walking away with one thing, and it’s not alimony, trust me.” Alas, that was Wendy Vitter, who did not walk away when her husband’s name, Sen. David Vitter, was found in the D.C. Madam’s black book.
There were other musings and postings from the XX side of the biological ledger. More than one angry woman blurted, “This is why we need a woman in the White House!!!” Others cringed at the echoes—oh, no, not Monica reruns—that could keep a woman from the White House.
But adding it up, there were few women left standing by the woman who stands by her man.
Well, allow me to raise one (very light and estrogen-ated) eyebrow. The very model of a political wife today is a strong woman. Silda Wall Spitzer is not unlike Elizabeth Edwards or Michelle Obama. They are all lawyers, all advisers, and all left their own professional lives. That’s the way we like them. We want an independent thinker who rarely contradicts her husband. We want women who are powerful but not uppity, to shine but not outshine, and, above all, to be equals who happily choose to walk one step behind. We expect them to stand by their man in good times and are horrified when they do it in bad times.
In a moving speech this week, Diane Patrick, lawyer and wife of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, described the pressures that led her into a deep depression last year. “I stopped being Diane and I started being the lovely wife,” she said. “I was demoralized, I was diminished, I was exhausted.” And that’s without a scandal.
I can’t figure for the life of me why so many prominent men are sexual risk-takers. I can’t even figure out the allure of a hotel assignation. The hotel fantasies among traveling mothers I know are about taking baths alone and calling room service.
I also don’t know what combination of strength and weakness, family obligation and humiliation sets the Sildas on stages. But I do know that the political demand for two-for-the-price-of-one often comes at the cost of one. So, before we start deciding what we want from a wronged political wife, we better start changing what we demand from the right political wife.
Ellen Goodman’s e-mail address is ellengoodman(at)globe.com.
©2008, Washington Post Writers Group