Something has been bothering me. It has been for awhile, but with the volume on the election rhetoric cranked up so high, it’s really striking a nerve. I’ve been accused of over-sharing in the past and may be again here, but so be it:
I have a really hard time with people criticizing Hillary Clinton for her handling of her husband’s affair. I say this as a man who had an affair. I say this as someone who knows that unfair things were said to my ex about how she was handling things. I say it as someone who has both firsthand knowledge and a lot of guilt and shame in this area.
There are a couple of criticisms that I hear that I think are wildly unfair. The first is that she couldn’t take care of her husband. When said, this can mean a lot of things; that she didn’t satisfy him sexually, that she didn’t have a tight enough leash on him, that knowing the kind of man he is, she wasn’t more proactive. Somehow, without having any real, intimate knowledge of what was happening in their marriage, we are lead to believe that somehow what Bill did was Hillary’s fault.
See, I think this is where I am supposed to be on the side of the critics. After all, if that’s true of Hillary, that’s true of my ex as well. While I fully acknowledge that marriages require both sides be fully engaged in order to work, ultimately, people have to take responsibility for their actions. I don’t know what kind of wife Hillary is or was, but that frankly shouldn’t matter. I also don’t know what kind of husband Bill is, but that doesn’t matter either. Affairs are selfish. Always! An affair takes energy away from the hard work of repairing whatever breaches may develop in a relationship. It is the epitome of passive aggression. It never comes from a place of health. To have an affair is to make a decision against your marriage and the responsibility falls on the one who has the affair to own that.
The other thing I hear that makes it clear that Mrs. Clinton is being treated unfairly is that it was somehow wrong for her to have stuck it out with Bill. The assumption here is that she only did it for her own political aspirations. Perhaps they did have some sort of arrangement, perhaps there was some of “your turn then my turn” deal, or perhaps we’ve all seen too many episodes of House of Cards… or perhaps she really loved him and didn’t want her marriage to end. Whatever the case, there are so many issues with criticizing her for making this choice. Many of the critics are from the same religious establishment that condemn divorce and often coerce women into staying with their abusers. What we imagine we know about the Clintons’ motives somehow tarnishes their decision to keep their union in tact. So many assumptions are being made about these people who have chosen to live their lives in public service for the last three decades that we’ve lost the ability to see them without projection.
The other side of this is the fact that Hillary is seen as an ambitious woman, which for some, is still a cardinal sin. It’s clear that from her earliest political life, she has had aspirations to high office. I can’t see anything wrong with that. And as I look at this election cycle, you can’t fault her for being overly prepared. When an incredibly qualified woman is pitted against a buffoonish, racist, misogynistic, reality TV star, both being seen as legitimate contenders for the presidency, you’d have to be blind to miss the sexism. I see nothing wrong with a motivated woman working to achieve the dream of millions of women and girls, recognizing that it would be a fight every step of the way.
I go back and forth on whether the opposition to Mrs. Clinton is rooted in a hatred for this particular woman or in a hatred of all women. In the last week, I’ve leaned more towards the latter. Donald Trump, now on wife number three, has in his own words and those of an increasing number of women that demonstrated that his behavior is not just unbecoming for the Commander-in-Chief, but in some cases, also criminal. Still, there are those who say that we must forgive. It’s funny how forgiveness is only trotted out for those who oppress in those circles. There are some who would go as far as normalizing talk of sexual assault as something that all men do behind closed doors. I promise you, it is not. That the affair(s) of Mr. Clinton, the spouse of the nominee, have been made an issue by those who willingly ignore their actual nominee’s behavior is beyond hypocritical. It speaks to a double standard that women have faced in every arena of professional life. That women have been amongst Mrs. Clintons’ strongest critics shows how deep the oppression goes. Mrs. Clinton can’t just be beyond prepared for the position, she also has to be responsible for the behavior of the men in her life. This is simply unjust.
My divorce became official just over two years ago. There are times that I wish my ex would have stuck it out with me, but I know how toxic I had become for her. She’s a strong woman who took control of her life and did what was best for herself so that she could in turn do what was best for our kids. It hurts, but I respect that so much. The burden of changing my behavior wasn’t hers to bear and it’s unfair for me or anyone else to say otherwise. These conversations that have been happening in the media about the Clintons’ marriage have been surprisingly triggering for me. I can’t imagine how much more so they have been triggers for those who have been cheated on. I suppose that I have been able to see things in the treatment of Mrs. Clinton that I wasn’t able to see up close in my own life. Mrs. Clinton is also a strong women who forged her own path. And let’s face it, she would have been criticized regardless of the decision she made. We ask a lot of women in our country. We ask them to be mothers, wives, lovers, and professionals and we ask them to do all of this in an environment where men are rarely held accountable for actions that affect them. This is not the world that I want for my children, my son or my daughter. More and more this election, which many believed would be about choosing the lesser of two evils, is becoming a moral referendum for the kind of nation that we want to be and who gets to have voice. The voices that silence, abuse, denigrate, assault, and burden women have had their say for most of human history. While I don’t think Mrs. Clinton’s election will end sexism, much as Obama’s didn’t end racism, it will mean that a majority of us have said that we’re ready to listen to a new voice.
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Love and Gratitude!