Friday, December 2, 2011

The Women "Behind" Our Politicians

Herman Cain’s once promising campaign for President has been waning in recent weeks, resulting from revelations of harassment and improper relationships with several women. He will soon be holding a press conference to announce the “next steps” in his campaign – which some are predicting is code for dropping out of the race. Whether or not he will continue to seek the Republican nomination remains to be seen. However, political pundits and Internet commentators have heavily focused the conversation on Cain’s wife, Gloria, as a result.

In a recent interview with Fox News, Cain vehemently denied the allegations and decried what he characterized as the Establishment/media’s smear campaign. But he also admitted that he would terminate his campaign if asked to do so by his wife. The New York Times reported the interview in an article entitled, “Wife’s Word to Decide Cain Campaign’s Fate.” Given the gravity of the allegations surrounding the Cain family, one would hope that they would discuss their future together, both politically and privately. At first glance, this seems an innocuous title. In fact, one would hope that partners in any relationship would consult each other before making a monumental decision that affects them both.

But is it fair for male political candidates to blame their wives for their campaign decisions? Jim Newell argues that race resignations or explanations for not running at all are replete with undertones of blame disguised as apologies. He has a point. But is this truly what is happening? Are politicians like Cain and Mitch Daniels blaming their wives for short-circuiting their political agendas? I suppose it could be argued both ways. Newell spells out the argument that, yes, these men are blaming their wives. As such, I will forego any further analysis on that point.

But, playing devil’s advocate, couldn't their decisions be just as easily celebrated as a “win” for feminists? Politics has been considered a “man’s world” for centuries. But by including their partners in their decisions, aren't these men dispelling the notion that male politicians’ wives must stand idly by, that they must get out of the way while their husbands govern the nation? Couldn't it be argued that these men are the antithesis of the phrase, “Behind every good man, there is a good woman?” Instead, they are treating their partners as equals, seeking their full input and standing beside each other in their decisions.

I’m not sure where I stand on the question. I think both arguments could be made with a straight face. But I was surprised by the media’s portrayal/reaction nonetheless. Gawker denounces their statements as thinly-veiled attempts to deflect responsibility. And the New York Times has made Gloria Cain the focus of the story, rather than the accusations themselves and their effect on the Cain family. What do you think?

1 comment:

Ringo1985 said...

I think that one can approach Herman Cain's resignation from two polarized perspectives. One could point of view may consider Cain's decision to withdraw from the presidential race as a sign of respect for his wife and a "triumph" for feminists. Faced with charges of infidelity, his wife and family were barraged with negative media attention regarding Cain's alleged extramarital adventures.

From another perspective, Cain's decision could also represent a drawback for women as well. If the myriad accusations hold any water, then the outcome for feminists largely depends on how the story ends. For example, assuming the rumors are true, if Cain's wife stays with him despite the numerous times he was unfaithful to her, the wife may take on the role of the self-defeated woman. In this scenario, Cain's wife has almost taken on a "secondary status" where domestication and fidelity to one's husband trump female individuality and independence. Cain's alleged affairs, similar to Clinton's, will be judged more harshly by the public if they turn out to be true. If Monica Lewinski and Clinton's oval office excursions had remained unvalidated rumors, Hillary may have picked up less slack from her critics for staying with her unfaithful husband.

For Cain and his wife, I think the most troubling part of the allegations is that Cain is a self-proclaimed Christian, whose public harangues about his personal beliefs have received massive media attention. Furthermore, Cain's politics do not leave any room for deviation from marital expectations. A conservative who adheres to the "family values" line of the Christian Right, any repeated rumors of an affair (let alone several) were bound to ruin his career.

The Cain affairs, depending on how they turn out, could be a perfect case study for Feminists. Devout believers of many faiths oftentimes separate personal life from their religious beliefs. Many Christian women, faced with an unfaithful husband, would leave an instant. But for those women who do not and cannot disassociate one from the other, which is where I think the tension between feminism and religion comes in, divorce may not be a viable option. I am aware that I am making many assumptions about Cain's personal faith, some of which are probably unwarranted. However, based on his public proclamations about his interpretation of faith and family values, Cain appears to belong to the hardline religious portion of the GOP. It will be interesting to see the status of Cain's marriage 2 years from now. The decision his wife makes will have important implications about how women aligned with the Conservative train of thought truly view "family values" and will have reverberations throughout the political arena.