In her June 30 column, Maureen Dowd offers a series of sardonic “pointers” for women whose politician husbands have been caught in a sex scandal. As often happens when I read Dowd, I argued with her in my head, but was forced to acknowledge a kernel of wisdom in her polemic.
First the argument: Why heap scorn on the heads of women who, unlike their husbands, have not sought the spotlight and have presumably been blindsided? If they react in ways we find counterproductive or embarrassing—well, who hasn’t? They are amateurs, courted and seduced by sophisticated and persistent media professionals. I don’t know about you, but I have said more than my share of stupid things to journalists, and that was only talking about my book or about psychological theories, not about deeply personal, hot-button issues. Disorientation and blathering are de rigueur in interviews for most of us regular folks. Give them a break, Maureen, please.
But I keep returning to item #10 on her list: “High-powered women like Hillary, Elizabeth and Jenny who give up their careers to focus on their husbands’ ambitions feel doubly betrayed. But it’s not your husband’s fault if you sacrifice more for the relationship than he does. Like an investor in a down market, you took a risk without a guarantee it would pay off. If you make your husband your career and you lose your husband, you lose your career, too.”
It’s more complicated than that, of course. The web of familial, cultural, and relationship expectations that induces many of us to put our careers on hold while the kids are small, or to take an adjunct position because that’s all that’s available in the city where our husband got a great tenure-track offer, is pervasive and powerful. Simply reprimanding a woman for doing what she has been taught, from early childhood, is appropriate and right is thoughtless victim-bludgeoning.
But we do have choices, and it’s important to be reminded of them—and of the possible consequences of shortchanging ourselves. The messenger annoys, but the message resonates.