Another day, another scandal, another day to collectively ask ourselves an important question that is truly the foundation of human enlightenment: Is this woman with a job a very bad mom or what?
As you might have heard, Huma Abedin announced this morning that she was separating from her lying, cheating, scandal-plagued husband, Anthony Weiner. On Sunday evening, the New York Post reported that Weiner, a serial philanderer, had been caught sexting yet another woman. “Stay at home cad,” the Post dubbed Weiner, a tongue-in-cheek reference to Weiner and Abedin’s five-year-old son who was captured sleeping next to his sexting father. Sure, this story could be a referendum on Weiner’s continually bad behavior or his own questionable parenting skills, but for the Washington Post, it’s apparently an opportunity to wonder about Abedin’s decision to “leave [her] son.”
In a post this morning at The Fix, the paper’s politics blog, Amber Phillips writes (emphasis mine):
[...] 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.
It’s written in the standard contrarian perspective of a lot of politics blogging; the “what if” tone that carries an internal defense that it’s “just speculating.” Phillips isn’t, after all, actually saying that Abedin is a bad mom because she dared to leave her son with his father, she’s just raising the question. It’s a tired approach to writing about women in politics, though one we’ve seen quite a bit in this particular election. It simply posits that this will be a line of attack by the opposition and thus is a fair line of inquiry.
Of course, the speculation is underpinned by ridiculous stereotypes about working mothers, as well as the moral responsibility of wives to persistently monitor the inevitably bad behavior of men. But this narrative isn’t interested in critically approaching the frame, just reiterating it under the false pretense that doing so is somehow intellectually provocative. It’s not, but it’s the lingua franca.
Donald Trump has already used Weiner’s behavior to discredit Abedin. In a July news conference, Trump raised questions about Clinton’s trustworthiness: “Her number one person, Huma Abedin, is married to Anthony Weiner, who’s a sleaze ball and pervert,” Trump said. “I’m not saying that, that’s recorded history. I don’t like Huma going home at night and telling Anthony Weiner all of these secrets,” he added.
Abedin’s in an impossible position—her trustworthiness is compromised by behavior outside of actual control, but not her perceived control. Being a bad wife and bad mom inevitably make her a bad employee, but working makes her bad wife and even worse mother. It’s the perennial bind of being a working mom and one that we don’t seem to have much interest in deconstructing.
In an interview earlier this year with the podcast Call Your Girlfriend, Abedin spoke pretty frankly about the push and pull of being a working mother. “I’m on the road a lot on the campaign,” Abedin said, “[...] and I don’t think I could do this if I didn’t have the support of a spouse who is willing to basically be a stay-at- home dad as much as he possibly can so I’m able to be on the road.” She continued:
I miss my son but I don’t worry about him because I know between this little village we’ve created between Anthony and my in-laws and my mom and our families and this wonderful woman who we have helping us I can go out and be the best professional woman that I can be because I have that support.
Abedin’s perspective on motherhood, of the “village” she’s compiled to help raise her son so she can continue to work, is fairly common. Yet what’s telling about the Washington Post’s perspective, is that this seemingly commonplace blend of family and child care workers is questionable; that Weiner’s inability to prioritize childcare over his boner is somehow Abedin’s fault.
Ironically, now that Abedin has announced that she’s separating from Weiner, she’ll need that “village” even more. No doubt that if Weiner continues to act as he always has, that the media will be quick to “just ask questions” about the moral failure of single mothers.