I forget exactly where I read that Silda Wall Spitzer had become the real face of the "opt out revolution," but looking at the picture of her standing behind her husband without a noose or machete in hand has stuck with me. Ariel Levy summed up why pretty well with:
This is a Harvard-educated woman who was once a corporate lawyer who made more money than her husband and was proud of it. But since 1994, the year Silda opted out of the workforce to witness her husband’s first run for attorney general, all her formidable drive has had to be channeled into his career.
-- "Why Stand By?," New York, Mar 16, 07
What would make you angrier -- that your husband paid to have sex with another person, or that he failed to appreciate how his actions were a slap in the face to everything you had contributed to Team Spitzer?
It's striking that we've had the supportive-spouse show in a year when Hillary Rodham Clinton has a serious shot at becoming the Democrats' presidential candidate. It's a vivid illustration of how you just don't know whether any of the decisions you make will work out for you -- and how some of those decisions are still made more frequently by women than by men. Let's face it: how many articles about the Clinton marriage would we see if he hadn't been president -- and ergo in no danger of being eclipsed by his wife professionally? -- and had spent his life supporting his wife's ambitions?
If racism is one of the lingering bonds that constrains America's potential (and I'm on board with the sentiments here that argue it is), sexism is another. I think it's sexism that kept Silda Wall Spitzer up on that stage, and it's sexism that keeps us from freely unpacking all the gendered baggage in this election cycle.
Some of that sexism is coming from feminists. I was sort of appalled by several passages in Robin Morgan's "Goodbye to All That #2," including the one in which the Kennedy record of public service was reduced to "I still recall Marilyn Monroe’s suicide, and a dead girl named Mary Jo Kopechne in Chappaquiddick." It is dismaying to see the quick-n-easy "Woman as Victim of Men!" trope as a cri de coeur for women. Sexism is more complicated than victim and oppressor.
For a look at how tricky the gender woes are, look at "Sexism in the Workplace," in this month's Portfolio. The article asks why there are so few women in the highest echelons of American corporations ... and concludes that it's all the chicks' fault:
"Women go into top jobs thinking that hierarchy is foolishness: Let's clean this up. And we lose," says [Anne] Jardim. "Circular organizations are great when everybody is doing more or less the same thing and can help each other out. But they are not useful when you get into producing anything of complexity. In a hospital, for example, there is no room for egalitarianism. A doctor would not take time away from his work to help the cashier. But good doctors can be a symbol of both authority and compassion."
Women taking pride in their authority—maybe that's the only thing missing. Once that comes, look out. Poof—no more sexism.
The thing that makes this more irritating is that it comes after pointing out that women who are fairly comfortable being in charge -- say, Hillary Rodham Clinton -- are routinely called out in the press. So congratulations, ladies! We've diagnosed the problem! Now go fix it!
I am not sure who will end up with the Democratic nomination. But I will say that one of the good things about this race is that it's begun to force the discussion on how comfortable each and every one of us is with the idea of a chick in charge. Maybe that's the fix. Or maybe it's just a start to a conversation about what equality and partnership means for everyone. Two political wives -- Silda and Hillary -- and two different positions behind a podium, two different forms of authority. Which one are we more comfortable with?