The S.O.B. Diet: Silda Spitzer & The Sisterhood

We women always try and look on the bright side. Case in point: a friend who was going through a painful divorce and custody battle said to me, “Well, at least I’ll lose a few pounds—I’m on the Son of a Bitch Diet.”

Her husband—father to her children, ages two and four—had been having an affair. She kicked him out. He begged her to try again. She took him back. Several months later, she discovered he was back with his mistress.  He couldn’t help himself, he tearfully explained to his wife, his mistress was “the best friend I’ve ever had.” (Not surprisingly, he didn’t end up with the mistress after their divorce.)

After all that stress, my friend had shed her Mom jeans and was back in her skinny jeans.  She was right—the so-called Son of a Bitch Diet is the one surefire diet that works.

Of course, there are a few teensy problems with this diet.  Of course there are the innumerable tsunamis of emotional, financial, and psychological suffering it causes women and their children.

But the bigger issue is how this diet dishes up the Blame Game.

The very name—the Son of a Bitch Diet—suggests the first in a string of females supposedly responsible for a man’s moral, ethical, and legal transgressions, in this case, the mother of the perpetrator.  Think about it: “He’s a “a son of a bitch”.  So obviously we have dear old Mom to thank for him acting in such an egregious, unconscionable or downright sociopathic manner.

The Son of a Bitch du jour is, of course, Eliot Spitzer, the as-of-today former governor of

New York

, who apparently had a long-standing fondness for high-priced hookers. By-his-side-standing Silda Spitzer is the latest to be thrown under the bus in the aftermath of the excruciating allegations coming to light. 

Witness “Dr. Laura” Schlessinger—she of the doctorate in physiology—explaining to the Today Show’s Meredith Vieira (who could barely contain her disdain) her wife-vilifying perspective: “You know what, the cheating was his decision to repair what's damaged, and to feed himself where he's starving. But, yes, I hold women accountable for tossing out perfectly good men by not treating them with the love and kindness and respect and attention they need.”  Yep, it’s inattentive Silda’s fault that Eliot was apparently depositing big bucks (and heaven knows what else) into a hooker instead of his daughters’ bank accounts.

There’s been a media pile-on, with Silda’s psyche dissected under klieg lights. Witness headlines such as, “Silda Spitzer’s Behavior Is Unflattering.” HuffPo’s Patt Morrison referred to her as “Silda Spitzer, Human Prop.” Reports that “Silda urged her husband not to resign but to fight” made her seem somehow complicit.

Others went further in their attack, suggesting that “the Spitzers must have had a Clinton-esque arrangement; Ms. Spitzer must have known.” 

Rumors flew that, years ago, when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, Ms. Spitzer reportedly told her friends:  “If that happened to me, I would never stand by my husband like Hillary did.” (Notice that we nailed two women with that gossip.) So now she’s vilified for not having been able to put herself in another woman’s shoes.

Ms. Spitzer was also accused of being “a bad role model for her daughters—and for other women”—for staying by the side of their lying, cheating, duplicitous father. Sally Quinn castigated Ms. Spitzer on the Early Show for standing by her man: “I look at those women, and I think … they might as well be Taliban women with scarves over their heads standing there because not once has any woman ever said, ‘this is not acceptable.’”

Some, likeAlan Dershowitz, a former law professor of both Mrs. and Mr. Spitzer, even called what Eliot Spitzer allegedly did “a victimless crime”. His argument invited Ms. Spitzer's critics to circle back to and expand upon the hypothesis that “Ms. Spitzer probably went along with an agreement with her husband”. But, they piled on, what she didn’t bargain on was her daughters finding out, especially in such a publicly humiliating way.”

Are these people smoking crack? So, it’s Ms. Spitzer’s fault for not factoring in the possibility that her daughters might find out about their father’s prostitution escapades before she allegedly made “an arrangement” with her husband to let it go on (and, let me reiterate—there is absolutely no evidence to support this mean hypothesis)?

During the media coverage, Silda Spitzer’s shell-shocked, devastated face reminded me of the artist Frida Kahlo’s, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace” (1940).

Of her expression in that self-portrait, Kahlo biographer Salomon Grimberg writes:

“Inspired by traditional paintings of the inwardly staring Christ Pantocrator, Kahlo had portrayed herself in front of a backdrop of plants with a black cat over her left shoulder and a spider monkey on the right one; deep into her tender flesh dug a necklace of thorny branches from which dangled a dead hummingbird. It was a disquieting presence that one could not avoid…What Kahlo did not state in words, she conveyed in the self-portrait. It was plain to see that although she was there, she was absent too.” (From an essay published in the book, I Will Never Forget You … Frida Kahlo to Nickolas Muray.)

We saw Silda’s face—and we judged her.

Yet, who are we to judge what is in any woman’s head when she has been betrayed on so many levels:  her marital trust annihilated; her public persona smeared; her daughters’ father-figure role model image shattered? 

Who are we to presume to know—and who are we to judge—what’s going on with this mother and wife?  We have no idea whether she’s in a state of shock, or how she may be strategizing and weighing all of the options so she can act consciously, mindfully, thoughtfully, and deliberately—the opposite of the impulsive, zero-delay-of-gratification behavior of her husband? Twenty years of marriage and she’s supposed to, what? Climb a tower and unleash a torrent of sniper bullets at…whom? Her cheating, lying husband? Those who protected him? The young woman who was herself victimized by his money and power?

I imagine that Silda Spitzer fears first and foremost for the well-being of her three daughters.

Her oldest daughter is only four or so years younger than the young woman their father allegedly hired for sex. That daughter is reportedly heading off to college next year and may be in the midst of making one of the most important choices of her life—where she’ll go to college—against the backdrop of the explosive fall from grace of her father and the ensuing slow burn of uncertainty about whether he’ll be prosecuted and maybe end up in jail. 

This backdrop makes our hasty, harsh judgment of the mother even more egregious.

One newspaper article reported that “Silda’s friends say she ought to pack up her girls and take a 6-month vacation somewhere.” Right—leave the family home (which, by the way, any divorce attorney would tell her never to do), uproot her daughters from their home, from the school friends, from their community. 

Perhaps there’s nothing she’d like more than to run away. But a mother bear protecting her cubs goes into fight, not flight, mode—even as she is surely confused, not thinking clearly, and without even having the benefit of the dignity of sitting with her feelings in private, outside of the glare of the media circus and the damning court of public opinion.

Mrs. Spitzer must be feeling downright crazy right about now. Like so many other women, she’s being gaslighted—a term coined to describe the phenomenon that occurs when others act in ways that cause someone to doubt or deny her internal perceptions of reality. 

We saw another victimized woman—Dina Matos McGreevey, former wife of ex-governor James McGreevey of New Jersey herself slam dunked this week, even as she was part of a panel discussion on “Larry King Live” talking about the Spitzer fiasco.

Ms. McGreevey expressed compassion for Ms. Spitzer, saying, “When I saw her face, my heart just ached for her because I know the pain she’s enduring right now.” Ms. McGreevey’s ex-husband resigned as governor after coming out as “a gay American”. 

Dina McGreevey shared her belief that “her ex-husband had never loved her, but rather had married her for political gain—i.e., to cover up the fact that he was gay, which he deemed would be political suicide, were it to come out.” She further alleged that, not only did he have sex with men while married to her, but to quell rumors that he was secretly gay, he hired prostitutes and bragged about it to further cover his closeted tracks.

Here’s the kicker.  “Dr. Drew” Pinksy, also a panelist, responded to Dina McGreevey’s assertion with, “Oh, I don’t think that’s the case at all that your ex-husband never loved you. I think he loved you as best as he was capable of.”

”He loved her as best he could”? Give me a break. I thought, “Are you nuts?” Here’s another person, an “expert”, telling a woman—in this case Ms. McGreevey—that her perception of the reality of what happened to her is incorrect. Ms. McGreevey’ expression communicated that her reaction was one of controlled disgust and disbelief—and yet she maintained her composure, her dignity and grace under assault.

I silently applauded her for managing to convey her disdain of “Dr. Drew’s” misogynistic and absurd analysis.


The

New York

Posts’s Cindy Adams thinks Silda is silly to leave a man merely for paying for sex: “Unless you're a pig or a monk, many an able-bodied -- and I use that term deliberately -- 48-year-old husband of 21 years has grazed. I'm not advocating it. I'm merely saying, so what? It's like takeout food. Less work for mother.”

Who are these freaks? And I’m not claiming to know whether Ms. Spitzer should or shouldn’t stay with her husband—who am I to judge; how could I or anyone else possibly say? I can say that tossing out unbelievably cavalier, overly simplified “advice” like Cindy’s explains why so many people end up blaming the victim—the shattered, devastated woman who’s just had the bottom fall out from under her.

Our society has a double standard: ambitious men are go-getters; ambitious women are bitches.

Along with Eliot Spitzer, who publicly praised his wife for setting aside “her promising legal career”, we breathed a collective sigh of relief—finally, this woman had seen the light—when Silda stepped off her high-powered career track to be the best wife and mother possible.  This socially sanctioned ambition we could get behind. 

But dammit, Silda screwed up again.  She put her husband’s ambitions first, but then she neglected his needs.  And when she stood by his side, she neglected her daughters’ needs.  We built her up, then we tore her down for failing our expectations under the fire of excruciating public scrutiny and private emotional pain.

It’s bad enough that women just can’t win in the court of public opinion:  when the jury is made up of a group of our female peers, it becomes impossible to stand by watch silently; that makes us complicit.

Back off, everyone. Let’s give Silda space and time and credit. Let’s acknowledge that not a single one of us would know what the hell we’d do if we were suddenly put in her shoes. Instead of criticizing her, let’s applaud her strength and resiliency.

Silda, trust your own instincts and intuition.

Be kind to yourself even as you steel yourself to ignore unkind remarks.

Don’t read the gossip.

Take a news fast; just turn off the television and radio.

Respect your need to take this at your own pace, according to your own internal compass. You needn’t answer to anyone other than yourself.

Yes, you are responsible for bearing witness to your daughters’ questions and helping them sort through their own trauma, but you can’t be there for them and guide them unless and until you figure out how you are feeling and what you think and what you want to do. And it’s just fine if you take a “let’s wait and see” and “it’s none of your business” attitude.

This is going to take a long time for you personally—and as a family—to figure out. Take all the time you need. That’s what you should model for your daughters and for other women: putting yourself first right now by telling everyone else to back off.

Muriel Rukeyer wrote:

“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?

The world would split open.”

Let’s think about that. Where is the sisterhood? The village? The sharing with each other our most private painful stories even as we heal ourselves by making another wronged woman feel less like a freak, less like a lone chimera? Where is the wrapping of our arms around one another, rather than vilifying and attacking and judging yet another woman who has been brought to her knees? Why do we not encircle women like Silda Spitzer with a protective wall of fierce, outspoken, adamant collective compassion?

It’s time for us to tell Silda—and other women who have seen their worlds turned upside down:

“The sisterhood has your back.”

« SAME OLD STORY: CLINTON'S CAMPAIGN PROVES THAT THE SCARLET LETTER FOR 21ST CENTURY WOMAN STANDS FOR AMBITION | Main | The Day My Son Almost Died »

More Like This: Ambition , Current Affairs , Integrity , News + Events , Parenting , Role Model , Women

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Comments

Debra:

I've shared about your great message for women on my blog, www.redhotrainmakers.blogspot.com.
Your readers can read about the panel discussion you moderated on generational experiences of professional AMBITIOUS women and their terrific daughers. Great job.

Nancy Fox
www.bizdevsuccess.com

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I am a business psychologist, researcher, author, executive coach, and career advisor. I lead workshops and lecture frequently on women’s need to embrace our ambition. I founded the Women’s Business Alliance, a motivational think tank for more than 2,500 women. For more details, see my about page.

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