It’s Okay to Stay

If you’ve been following the news, you’ve probably been watching the explosion that has engulfed Anthony Weiner, New York City mayoral candidate and ongoing political comedy sketch.  Aside from the fact that his name is almost too perfect considering his scandal, you may have noticed something else about Anthony Weiner: his wife, Huma Abedin, has stuck around through this mess.  And she’s been getting a lot of flack for it.

Even Hillary Clinton seems to think that Huma Abedin should leave.  Which is a little ironic, considering she stayed with Bill.  Obviously Bill and Hillary had more history when their scandal broke, and they were in different situations, but the real question is this: does Hillary Clinton have a right to make a public statement about what another woman should do in her marriage?  In fact, do ANY of us have a right to judge another person’s marriage or relationship?

Probably not.

It’s one thing to support someone trying to leave a bad situation.  Or to say that YOU would leave in that situation.  It’s one thing to say that abuse is unacceptable, etc.  But those aren’t actually the kinds of statements we’ve been hearing.  The scandal surrounding Anthony Weiner has led to a surge of instances of society projecting its own moral judgments onto a particular woman’s decision-making.  And that needs to stop.

We see this all the time.  When Rihanna and Chris Brown went through that nasty split years back, people were outraged…that she didn’t leave when it first got bad.  Survivors of domestic abuse are actually blamed all the time.  “Why didn’t you leave?”  Women who stay with husbands who cheat are criticized for staying.  Society has its own particular ideas about monogamy and relationships and morality and projects them as blanket judgments on situations that require more than simply one-size-fits-all determinations.  Life is not always black and white.  We exist in a world marked by shades of gray, and when the media, when fellow women and fellow members of society, start to project those black and white determinations onto those gray areas, they end up condemning women for making choices that may have seemed like the only options, or who may have made the choices that they deemed best for them.

Huma Abedin and Hillary Clinton

It actually bothers me that Hillary Clinton made such a comment about Abedin and Weiner.  I’ve heard so many criticisms from people about the fact that Hillary stayed with Bill even after the Monica Lewinski scandal.  I’ve heard people say that she’s a bad woman or a bad feminist because she chose to stay.  But the truth is, people invalidating her experiences and her judgment isn’t feminism.  Accepting that she made this choice for her own reasons, whatever they might have been, is far closer to a feminist analysis of what transpired.  And Hillary Clinton, of all people, should know what it feels like to have people make condemnations of your marriage when you choose to stay in it.  If Huma Abedin still believes that it is better to stay with Anthony Weiner than to leave, that should be a valid choice.  She shouldn’t have to hear her boss, a woman who has lived through a similar scandal and stayed with her husband, saying she should leave.

The truth is that we can never know all the details of Huma Abedin’s marriage, just as we can never know all of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s secrets.  And marriage is only one element of a person’s life, albeit a big one, which intersects with many other things.  No one but Huma Abedin could ever rationally determine what the correct choice would be for her, because only Huma Abedin is able to see what leaving would do to her life, and what staying would be worth.

But society makes these claims because society places a premium on monogamy.  Society places value on honesty and it likes to believe that its politicians are perfect and shiny, because they are supposed to represent us.  On top of that, American society places taboos on sexuality, and likes to keep things associated with sex and sexuality out of sight.  When people step out of line, society expects consequences for them-~-and oftentimes expects their spouse to carry out those consequences, even without knowing the full story.  Americans are quick to place blame on those who don’t handle things precisely as they would, despite the fact that they may have never lived a similar situation and are, again, merely projecting black and white understandings of morality on a world where such rules may not necessarily work.  There’s a reason why Kant’s categorical imperatives are interesting but not necessarily practical: there are no absolutes.  And what one person would perceive as the correct handling of a situation may not match that of another person’s.  There is no magical correct answer to situations like this.

From a feminist perspective, however, there’s a particular facet of this which bothers me.  When society makes these claims, when individuals make these claims, about people making difficult decisions in difficult situations, it undermines the idea that women are autonomous individuals capable of making rational decisions about what is best for them.  It undercuts the idea that women are full adults capable of choosing for themselves.  Society is quick to say that women are responsible for taking certain actions when men make mistakes, or that women should behave a certain way, or that women are “bad feminists” if they choose to stay.  Folks, women are adults capable of making these decisions.  And the idea that they are anything less than that…well, that’s a pretty problematic idea to promote, even if it is only people gossiping about Huma Abedin and Anthony Weiner.


~ by Randi Saunders on August 12, 2013.

28 Responses to “It’s Okay to Stay”

  1. I think she is most likely staying for reasons that have little to do with love or loyalty, but like you said, it is her decision and I agree she should not be judged by other public figures.

  2. I agree the only one who can state anything is the person who is in the shoes of this lady and that is her. Her decision is not for review because it is her decision. I have learned that there is usually a lot of material people are not prevy to and that the end result is supposition which can be faulty,

  3. Well said.

  4. Exceptionally well written, and I couldn’t agree with you more.

  5. Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin is not interesting to me but it is current events. If it isn’t them, there will be something else to debate about!

  6. You’re right. It is pretty hypocritical of Hillary to criticize Huma considering her past experience. Congrats on being freshly pressed!

  7. […] It's Okay to Stay. […]

  8. I’m surprised by Hillary’s remarks, and I agree with you that being a feminist is the freedom to choose what’s right for the individual, and that judgments about what a “real” feminist should do are retrograde. I’m surprised that this is even a story in the U.S. I’m always shocked that the public care what their elected officials do in their private lives. Here in Canada, we don’t pay much attention to it, because it’s none of our business. I understand that he was sending pictures of himself via the Internet, but I still don’t believe it should be newsworthy. Also, politicians should be free to define their relationships however they please to, and the public should have no influence. Great piece. I enjoyed reading it.

  9. […] It’s Okay to Stay. […]

  10. Well stated.

  11. Excellent piece. Yes, Hillary Clinton should really have kept her mouth shut about this, as should we all. It’s such a knee-jerk reaction to say that Huma Abedin should leave her husband. We have no idea what goes on in their relationship — it’s possible she knows all about the other women. Perhaps she has relationships of her own? It could be an open marriage, for all we know.

    And even if it isn’t… I remember talking about cheating boyfriends with a friend of mine, when we were both 19. I was absolutely adamant that if I were going out with someone, and he cheated, I’d ditch him. But now… the Handsome Sidekick and I are about to celebrate 16 years together. If he had an affair, a one night stand, whatever, it wouldn’t be so clear cut anymore. We have an enormous shared history, and we’ve invested ourselves in each other’s lives and in the lives of our children. I don’t know that I could just up and leave that all behind.

  12. I agree with your perspective but I think Hillary is coming from a mentor/motherly perspective. Huma is a young woman who got involved with her future husband while she was working with Hillary on the her presidential campaign. He should know better but ultimately, Huma should make her OWN decisions.

  13. This is a wonderful article that you have written. I have not been following the news so I was not really aware of all that was happening, but I am disturbed by the fact that H. Clinton would have the “chutzpah” (as my mom would say) to judge. As a survivor of Domestic Violence, I have been faced many times with the question of “why did you or did you not do certain things” and every time asked it became uncomfortable and I felt judged. I am sure Huma has her reasons to stay with her husband, and although I may or may not agree with those reasons (which are really none of my business anyway) they are hers for her to deal with and for her to own, and the rest of the world needs to mind their own business….

  14. I had a girlfriend who spent a lot of time encouraging me to leave my current boyfriend, to the point of threatening our “friendship”. I distanced myself from her &, when we DID split temporarily, she was right there to stab me in the back with the new girl he was dating for two weeks when she & I had been friends a few years.
    I dumped her, got back with him & guess what? Without her in my ear constantly criticizing, I have started appreciating him, making our relationship the best it’s ever been.
    People don’t want to see anyone happy.
    The minute they see a crack, they’re in.
    People are human and no relationship is perfect.
    People stay and there are success stories.
    People can change.
    People leave too & sometimes that’s the right decision.
    Sometimes leaving is how you find out you want to stay.
    Being a friend is saying “Hey. You’re a wise person who has been through a lot. I trust your judgement making YOUR own decisions that only YOU have to live with. Let me know if you need anything.”

  15. I would normally agree, but they choose to be in the limelite. I don’t judge or care, I’m not married to him. I would also think that a politician SHOULD be better than that. Just saying that they might try being role models for our young.
    Congrats on getting pressed.

  16. Politicians are interested in one thing ///// themselves////

  17. I have always been the first to say, “I can’t know what makes another couple’s relationship work.” I do truly, truly believe that. However, in this case, I’m not completely in agreement. If we can judge Anthony Weiner for his actions, basically throwing him out of the mayoral race, (although I do think a lot of that has more to do with bad judgement and timing than on the content of what he did) why can’t we judge Huma for her actions in staying in this marriage? My friends and I, all mothers in NYC, were discussing Huma yesterday. We can’t help but start to judge her, although we are loathe to be critical of other mothers. I think what it is, is not the sexual aspect, but his lack of respect for her in the eyes of the entire country. He humiliated her with the first scandal and now he is showing that he clearly has no regard for her. He knew that she was judged by his actions and yet he did it again to the detriment of both himself and her. That is my real problem. I don’t care if you’re swingers or have an open marriage or schedule sex for one time a year. It’s his complete disregard for how this affects her, her life, his child’s life, and her professional future and her seeming, at least publicly, not to care about that. All of that said, I still want to respect her decision. Only she knows how important their relationship is to her and how much she can go through to keep that. I also believe, as much as I love Hillary, that she should have stayed quiet on this one.

    • Anthony Weiner is a candidate for public office, and I’m willing to say that it is within the public’s right to judge him for his actions when he is seeking to represent a community. I’m not actually sure that I buy that a candidate’s public behavior should play into our decisions regarding our leadership but I can accept that that behavior reflects values and character and that we as a constituency have a right to take that into account when choosing our politicians. Huma Abedin is NOT a candidate for public office. Her decision-making doesn’t impact New Yorkers, and for people to compare making a private decision about one’s marriage with demonstrating a moral failing that could potentially prove problematic in office is simply incorrect. We judge Anthony Weiner because he chose to ask to represent the people and proved not to reflect their values. Huma Abedin never made such a request of us. Her life is still her own.

  18. Hillary Clinton made no public comment about what Huma Abedin should do and this post is incredibly misleading. Yes, there are rumors and sources saying Clinton thinks Huma should leave him, but it is misleading to tell your readers that a public comment was made.

  19. Brilliant writing on a difficult subject I do agree whole heartedly. Judging men or woman in these things is to over step the mark. Its not just americans with these views, in UK we feel it right to say our view when we don’t know enough or have any right to. I have re blogged your piece and hope others hear your view.

  20. […] […]

  21. My comment about Hillary came from a Huffington Post article that I read a day or two before posting this. I unfortunately can’t find the article now, and I apologize if my remarks about Hillary are incorrect. I have nothing but respect for Hillary Clinton and her work in the political and international arenas. But EVEN IF Hillary Clinton never said anything about Huma Abedin, even if she has been nothing but supportive, the rest of this post still stands. Our society is quick to judge women and quick to project moral standards on situations to which they may not apply, and that’s the real problem I wanted to discuss here.

  22. wonderfully written!!

  23. beautifully world writters.

  24. I agree with you. I think all of us should stay out of it. Also, a postnatal woman has needs and emotions that are unique. It is instinctive to want to create stability in the nest at that time. Huma may have felt that leaving Weiner would be such a public act of rejection that she herself would have been perceived as dooming his chances for a public career. Who knows. From the outside, it does seem self-abusive to stay while a man continues to engage in these immature and selfish practices, but that is nor my call. I often find that people make snap judgments because they don’t know all the facts. We should let Huma work through her own process, intelligent, capable person that she is.

  25. Well Said, My suggestion is to stay with it whatever happens and bring him out of it,,, We live with our partners not with society,ofcourse we live in society..get the difference,,
    I am bachelor and no idea of suggesting to married friend’s….

  26. I agree with the comment about judging Huma. Unfortunately, these situations do require judgment. If she chooses to stay with a man who has no respect for her, she is essentially giving him permission wrong her again. He knows this, that’s why he has no problem getting her to tow that line. If we constantly sit back and say that it’s okay to allow a man to treat a woman horribly, then we do ourselves a disservice as women. That’s a horrible message to send to little girls and young women. Huma deserves better. It’s about her quality of life, not his.

  27. Judgment, unfortunately, is here to stay. If not upon Huma, upon you and me. The question is, can I still have an identity when you’re done with me? Hmm…

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