While political sex scandals are nothing new, the media's scrutiny of their impact on politicians' spouses is a relatively new topic of conversation.
As far back as we know, men in power have engaged in extra-marital affairs. It wasn't until then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, perhaps due to her elevated profile on universal health care reform, endured the public humiliation of standing beside her husband, before a phalanx of cameras on live national television, did the public begin unrestrained discussion and debate about the behavior of the victims, especially that of the politician's wife. "Stepford Wife" was a label often uttered by the disdainful; others defended her stoicism.
Perhaps the cacophony signals a change in the perception of the women behind the men in powerful roles, reflecting the changing world for women in all spheres of life – from the traditionally polite and smiling wife ("for better or for worse") to a powerful partner with her own individual image. From someone who is attractive in photo opportunities to advisor and power behind policy decisions, sometimes publicly, presumably more often, privately.
The women in these roles are now likely to be highly educated and holding professional positions in their own right. Even so, probably none can know the demands of living under the public spotlight and being thrust into a higher standard of accountability, until they have actually lived it.
With women running for higher office and holding powerful leadership positions in corporate America, the pressure not to play dutiful wife will come from some quarters. Some will see themselves in similar circumstances and will identify with the women who embodied the old-fashion virtues of sucking it up to keep the family together, seeing their husbands' philandering as "not a reason to walk away from long-term marriage," as Cindy Adams stated on her New York Post column yesterday. According to the Center for the Advancement of Women's research on women and religion, 44 percent of women support the idea that divorce should be more difficult to obtain, further illustrating women's stance on this issue.
– Faye Wattleton, 360° Contributor/President of the Center for the Advancement of Women
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