The media manages to victim blame Hillary Clinton's top aide for the former Congressman's bad behavior.
It probably isn’t that surprising to learn that former Democratic congressman and serial sexter Anthony Weiner has been caught yet again. After all, choosing a name like “Carlos Danger” as his moniker doesn’t necessarily scream sound judgment. What has been surprising, however, is how despite the years of crotch shots and naughty DMs cluttering his history, so many people are willing to put his wife—presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin—at fault for her husband’s behavior. Shorter media hot take: Sure, Weiner is an awful husband, but why wasn’t Abedin there to “protect” their family?
According to the New York Post, Weiner has been engaged in a nearly two-year long online affair with a “chesty brunette” Trump supporter who recently turned over these electronic flirtations and bare-chested selfies to the publication. Among the photos of an aroused Weiner was one that was sent while his preschool-aged son lay in bed next to him. The exposed Weiner admitted to the conversations, the Post ran the story, and soon the whole humiliating affair was front-page news on outlets across the globe.
If life (or the media) was fair, Abedin herself shouldn’t really be involved in this story at all, other than perhaps receiving some condolences for spending so much time with and giving so many chances to a spouse who appears completely incapable of not sexting women. Instead, reporters can’t stop tripping over themselves to put blame at Abedin’s feet, too.
The most egregious of these was Amber Phillips of the Washington Post, who, early Monday wrote, “The day after these revelations, Weiner isn’t just facing questions about his political career. He’s facing questions about his parenting skills. And for the third time, his questionable decisions are ensnaring his wife, one of Hillary Clinton’s top aides, by raising questions about her decision to leave their son alone with her husband while she’s on the campaign trail.”
Yes, apparently Abedin forgot her duty when she had the audacity to focus on her career while her spouse was caring for their child.
If there was any question that this was in fact a deliberate message to partially blame Abedin for her husband’s actions, that doubt was removed when the Washington Post rewrote the section (without announcing its revision). The new version instead read, “And for the third time, his questionable decisions are ensnaring his wife, one of Hillary Clinton’s top aides, by raising questions about her decision to leave their son in a potentially dangerous situation.”
It’s not exactly clear what was “dangerous” per se, with a 3- or 4-year-old child being in the care of a stay-at-home parent who seems to get thrills from sending dirty texts and racy photos to strangers online. As for being interrupted by your child in the middle of some sort of intimate play, well, I’m pretty sure any adult who doesn’t have a lock on their bedroom door can probably relate to that one, too. After all, if sexual behavior only happened when there were no kids in the house, there would probably be a lot more only children in this country. As any parent knows, 3 a.m. should be one of the safest times of the day or night to do things privately. And while sending a photo explaining that his son just crawled into his bed may not have been the wisest decision, there is no evidence that he was doing anything inappropriate. In fact if there was, you can bet the Post would have made sure to include it.
The media’s “blame the victim” sexism doesn’t just enforce gender stereotypes, it makes it that much easier for politicians like GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump to justify his own blatant sexist attacks on Abedin—and, by extension on Hillary Clinton. If the press considers Abedin responsible for the bad actions of her husband, how can they justifiably criticize Trump for claiming that Clinton is somehow “careless and negligent” for no other reason than employing the woman married to him?
Abedin fell victim to one of the oldest stories in the book: an unfaithful spouse who was unable or unwilling to remain faithful, even if it caused his family pain. But she’s also fallen victim to the second oldest story in the book: a society that believes that a woman’s first job is to care for her family, “protect” her child from any danger (real or perceived), and that if the family unit does fall apart, she has somehow at least partially to blame. Sadly, as a result of Weiner’s newest humiliating sexcapade—and now their pending separation—Abedin is painted into a corner. If their son lives with Weiner, she will be accused of leaving him in the same “dangerous” situation, or at the very least with a vaguely irresponsible parent not shown to have the best of judgment. If she takes custody, she will have to either find someone to help her, or put work on hold at what is most likely the most important point of her career. The first option will continue to frame her as a bad parent, the later will indefinitely derail her professionally.
It should not be lost on anyone that Abedin is essentially being criticized for committing herself to a campaign to help a woman win the White House, rather than supervising her own household. In this historic moment where the biggest political glass ceiling is about to be shattered, our media still far too easily reverts back to the easy tropes of bumbling or dangerous “Mr. Moms” and the misguided women who put their careers first while mistakenly trusting them with their own children.
Unfortunately for the country, finally having our first female president is unlikely to do much to resolve the everyday sexism that still permeates our cultural beliefs. We may be willing to vote a woman into the highest office in the nation— especially when our alternative is something as offensive and destabilizing as a President Donald Trump—but when it comes to fall-apart marriages, dissolving families, and sex scandals, they are still the first ones we look at to take the blame.
It’s not just about the stories. Journalism is also about who is telling them.
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