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I gave up commenting on other people's marriages the day I realized that brother-in-law had become a code word in my family for "the born again jackass who's too stupid to know that he's dumber than all of the women and most of the pets in the family he just married into".

We've had more than our share of brothers-in-law in my family.

There doesn't appear to be much gained from the exercise, unless, of course, you are a character in a Jane Austen novel. And even then, you never know the whole of the story, which is, it seems to me, just as it should be. Projecting appropriate marital values onto someone else's husband or wife never gets you very far, since the only people who really know what goes on inside a relationship and what are the agreed upon parameters thereof, are the two people inside it. This renders the parameters of relationships as vast and varied as are the people that make up our species.

On top of all that, there's just no accounting for taste.  Even in your immediate family (see paragraph one, above). There's little to no objectivity involved in an assessment of tastes.

Nevertheless, there remains in US political discourse, a great heaping tablespoon of marital busybodiness sprinkled across the entire political komentariat's breakfast cereal these days.  And it kind of gives me the creeps.

Feminist and sociologist that I am, I am not unaware of the multiple issues of gender, class, racial privileging and heteronormativity that run through all of this marital rubber-necking that our political culture likes to engage in.  There are a great deal of politics that run through interpersonal relationships and the societal expectations and practices that surround and give those relationships meaning. But the politics we engage when we play cultural voyeurs into the relationships and behavior of individual actors on the political scene tends to caricature and even cheapen those political discussions rather than highlight them and expand understanding about them.

For me, this began many years ago with the discussion of the Clinton marriage, and not simply with the embarrassment and disgust that people had of Bill Clinton's actions, but also with the anger and vitriol that many had for Hilary Clinton's decision to stay in her marriage.  

But the tendency to focus on political figures in the public eye with "bad" marital behavior and to capture that behavior as a sign of something greater than simply a matter between that public figure and his or her significant other has long troubled me. Pointing out GOP hypocrisy vis-a-vis the authoritarian and retrograde "family values" policies and ideologies they support yet do not themselves follow is not an effective political approach to my mind, since the focus always seems to remain on the individual, human failing of the GOP "bad actor" rather than on the insanely authoritarian or retrograde policy he or she professes to believe in.  This is one reason I've never found the discussions about Newt Gingrich's marital history to be a productive or even a useful avenue of criticism.  

And now, just today, I come across discussions of both the Romney and Edwards marriages where the commentary surrounding those marriages is generated from what I'd call a "normative stance".  Nasty stuff, really, where even more than making political commentary, the common denominator seems to be passing normative judgements from an all-seeing, but unseen and unspecific social location of  "authentic" relationships and values, in which the non-normal, and therefore "flawed" relationships (and behavior) can be more easily critiqued.

It's a tad bit too easy for me, I'm afraid. Even if it is for the right outcome in the end. I'm more than a bit troubled by the seeming need to normalize and standardize such things, since the consequences of such "normalization"-- especially in a culture like ours that tends toward authoritarian conformity and a lack of appreciation for how the structures of inequity can foster a diversity of experiences that the "normal" just don't begin to address or correct for--rarely  seems to work in the direction of greater tolerance or a more just arrangement.

It doesn't strike me as a particularly feminist way to look those circumstances.  

But, maybe that's just me.  After all, there is no accounting for taste.

Originally posted to Ungewiss Vor on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 10:04 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.


Passing judgement on marriages in the public eye reminds me of

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Comment Preferences

  •  Both agree and disagree. (30+ / 0-)

    Totally understand where you're coming from: we have no idea what goes on inside some relationships outside of their public face.

    On the one hand, being (happily) married and calling out a discovered-to-be-promiscuous Republican who denies me marriage equality for 'moral' reasons gives me a certain amount of satisfaction, for sure.  

    On the other hand, knowing as many conservative voters as I do, it's never an argument that convinces them.  They just become more cynical about humanity, then retreat more deeply, and less willing to listen to the good reasons for promoting equality.  

    The focus needs to be on the policy as much as possible even when the hypocrisy is clear.

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 10:12:24 PM PDT

    •  I get the personal satisfaction piece of it (17+ / 0-)

      and would not presume to deny folks facing discrimination that enjoyment, but even then, I don't find that it is a particularly effective political tactic for fighting the discrimination because it actually takes attention away from the policy and puts it on the "hypocrite".

      A personal bugaboo of mine for many years.  Don't really expect it to change, but everyone once in a while I just need to say my piece.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

      by a gilas girl on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 10:22:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  and/both. (10+ / 0-)

        Sure, let's put more emphasis on the dastardly policies these people are promoting when they get caught doing naughty things with their weewees.  

        But this is not an either/or.  

        We are at war on multiple fronts: the culture war, the class war, and the sustainability war being three obvious ones.

        When at war, you use whatever ammo and ordnance you have, to take out your enemy.  

        When an enemy such as Newt presents himself, it's perfectly legitimate to pummel and bombard and blast away at his personal conduct.  If doing that helps defeat him, do it early and often and with overwhelming force.

        Though yes, we should certainly tie it back into his policies as much as possible.  Doing so also causes collateral damage to others of his ilk, in this case religious righties.  

        For example, not just "Newt is a serial adulterer," but "Newt is a serial adulterer who can't stop yapping about how he wants to deny other peoples' right to marry.  He needs to shut up and sit down."

        Both parts used together, make the attack more effective.  And more effective attacks on our enemies are always good.

        "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

        by G2geek on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 02:39:19 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  except... (8+ / 0-)

          I don't really care about the serial adulterer part: it is just as egregious to me when folks who don't commit adultery work to deny other people's right to marry.

          People who practice marital fidelity but support egregious policies concern me just as much as those who commit  adultery and support those policies, but focusing on the personal behavior aspect tends to weaken the argument about the bad policy and ideological choices.

          Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

          by a gilas girl on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 04:32:26 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Sorta agree, but... (10+ / 0-)

            So much of the basis for discrimination against LGBT citizens is based on religious doctrine (or the discriminator's interpretation thereof).  If the religious principles are so Very Important to uphold that you have to use secular law to do the job, then the principles should be Important enough for the politician to hew to them as well.  If the politician can have unauthorized sexytime and live to fight another political day, then maybe marriage is a stronger institution than they're letting on, and maybe it can survive without discriminating against same sex couples.  If other politicians who don't dally nonetheless support the Newts of the world, then it suggests that they are okay with some threats to marriage as well.

            Overall, I don't like making a spectator sport of people's private lives, but when those people are explicitly working to regulate other people's private lives, I'll make an exception.  They want to pass judgement on same sex couples and declare their relationships invalid.  It seems only fair that they should be willing to let the public weigh in on their love lives in return.

            •  I think I can (3+ / 0-)

              empathize; the temptation (and the pleasure) of exposing what we see as hypocrisy between personal behavior and religiously-informed anti-democratic policies is very great, but I remain to be convinced that the hypocrisy argument is one that is compelling to authoritarian and hierarchical types.  In an authoritarian system rooted in hierarchy, hypocrisy doesn't matter, since the system is designed to have different rules for different people, depending upon their placement in the system.

              So the only people really disturbed by this kind of hypocrisy are those who already oppose the discriminatory policies.  So, I don't know what's really "won" by the tactic, and I can see what is lost: the opportunity to highlight the democratic, progressive values that these hypocrites oppose.

              But again, it is simply a personal bugaboo, nothing more.

              Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

              by a gilas girl on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 07:49:35 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I think this is just the point - (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                a gilas girl, Larsstephens, MJB
                but I remain to be convinced that the hypocrisy argument is one that is compelling to authoritarian and hierarchical types
                Nothing is compelling to authoritarian and hierarchical types except authority, and then only when they have it.  They simply ignore, or perhaps much more charitably, are unaware of, everything else.
              •  what matters is that it convinces undecideds. (0+ / 0-)

                There's no convincing the hard-core Newties to not vote for Newt.

                What matters, and what wins elections, is convincing the undecideds.  

                A well-placed fusillade that hits Newt right in the bedroom, causes a certain number of undecideds to say "he's a phoney-baloney, I can't trust him."  That translates to votes.  

                Same with Mitt and the dog.  Humans with dogs in the family very often think of their dogs as similar to children.  Some number of them will be aghast at the thought of putting their kid in a cage on the roof of a car, and that translates to votes.

                Bottom line is, attack, attack, attack, relentlessly attack on every front, whether it seems tasteful or tasteless or irrelevant to anything that makes sense to you: the attack will make sense to someone who votes and that's what counts.  

                "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

                by G2geek on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 05:41:33 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Here I disagree (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  that the point is simply to win elections, since winning elections hasn't gotten us any farther along in the push for more progressive politics and systems.  

                  I think we also have to consider pushing the polity in a more progressive direction overall and then the winning over of the elections will be made easier.

                  And I'm not sure we actually have the data that tells us the "he's a phoney-baloney and I can't trust him" is what translates into those votes that we do get. Or that the votes we get are coming from a "he's a phoney-baloney" rather than just a "he's an ass".  

                  But the argument you make is not an unfamiliar one, certainly it is the one that seems to be made every four years.  Even when we win elections we don't seem to make much progressive progress.

                  Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

                  by a gilas girl on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 06:24:29 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Even when we win elections... (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    a gilas girl

                    ... I don't know that you can make that statement until we win many elections in a row.

                    The GOP and conservatives won 5 of 6 presidential elections, and then made it 7 out of 10.  They steadily increased their political power at all levels in that time frame.  The GOP made 10 consecutive appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court and (as Justice Stevens once noted) every single one of them was more conservative than the justice he or she replaced.  

                    The impact of that much control is something that we can't complain that we haven't achieved, until we win that many elections in that kind of time span.

                    Please help to fight hunger with a donation to Feeding America.

                    by MJB on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 09:40:54 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  point taken (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:

                      it seems that Democrats are simply concerned with winning elections while the GOP has long been concerned with establishing a power base.

                      elections are just a piece of it, not the whole enchilada.  

                      Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

                      by a gilas girl on Thu Apr 26, 2012 at 08:24:36 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

          •  I agree with you 100%. (4+ / 0-)

            The behaviors we condemn (Newt, etc.) are behaviors found across the spectrum of political beliefs, class, religiosity, and all other parameters.  I was particularly apalled at the reaction to Hilary's decision to stay with Bill.  It was nobody's damn business.  Infidelity occurs in an enormous number of marriages that are able to weather the storm and improve with the lesson.  When I see couples in therapy where there has been infidelity, my first, second, and third thoughts are not about ending the marriage.  It's about improving communication and exploring the myriad other dimensions of the relationship.  Fidelity is just one aspect of a marriage; there are thousands of other pieces equally important.

            Cats are better than therapy, and I'm a therapist.

            by Smoh on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 07:16:38 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Tipped for the word (16+ / 0-)

    "heteronormativity", and other good stuff.

    I have no idea what it means, but it is so freakin' cool :)

    I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
    but I fear we will remain Democrats.

    by twigg on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 10:42:49 PM PDT

  •  Is This About the Ann Romney Demon-Worship (9+ / 0-)


    I'm personally not taking a position on whether or not she actually calls demons into her body, but I do think we should let both sides have their say and teach our children the controversy.

    "I'll believe that corporations are people when I see Rick Perry execute one."

    by bink on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 05:01:34 AM PDT

  •  thanks (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Smoh, sfgb, Larsstephens

    The radical Republican party is the party of oppression, fear, loathing and above all more money and power for the people who robbed us.

    by a2nite on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 05:36:21 AM PDT

  •  The message, not the marriage (9+ / 0-)

    You're right that the internal dynamics of OPM's should be off limits, for a lot of reasons.  But any brainless twit who has a national platform based on who they married or who their daddy was, can and should be held accountable for every mindless, destructive, malicious, or sexist piece of nonsense that comes out of her mouth while she's exploiting that platform.

    Just make sure to attack the message and ignore the messenger.

  •  Other: Maury Povich. (4+ / 0-)

    Especially in the Edwards case (sigh ...)

    The thing about quotes on the internet is you cannot confirm their validity. ~Abraham Lincoln

    by raboof on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 06:18:20 AM PDT

  •  Identity politics has its place in the (6+ / 0-)

    conequer and divide strategy of American politics. Human beings constantly view social questions through the prism of their own life experience. Thus, some amount of bias and even prejudice is involved in our decision making process. Politicians have a vested self-interest in allowing such discussions to take place about their personality, relationship, and personal matters in general. If even for a news cycle it takes emphasis off of issues and policy that have direct social and economic implications for most of us it is a "win" for them.

    We spend more time on personal attacks and arguments rooted in the war over personality as opposed to substantive policy discourse. The wonky nerd who can explain the need for changes in our tax code simply is not as compelling as talking about someones marriage to a lot of people. That's why identity politics have become a staple of the American political landscape. These issues of personality become not only a distraction, but sadly, are intellectual fodder in place of more meaningful discussion that while not as captivating to as many is far more important.

    I could care less about peoples personal or private matters than just what they will do and advocate for when they achieve power in the form of elected office. Only when those things directly influence or inform policy and their jobs as leaders does it become an issue, IMHO.

    •  but even (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      the identity politics approach (which, btw, I am in favor of highlighting) when captured via personalities and individual stories, tends to distract away from the actual politics of identity politics and just tends to reify the "identity" part, which in our less than reflective political culture mostly serves to reinforce the notion of a "natural universality" which ignores all the power relations, institutional structures and historical conditions that give rise to the "politics" part of identity politics.

      You can take the girl out of the sociology department, but you can't take the sociology out of the girl, I guess.


      Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

      by a gilas girl on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 07:41:52 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  There are perhaps some instances, (7+ / 0-)

    like in domestic violence and abuse, where we are called on to react, but the ways and byways of an intimate relationship are best left to the individuals involved.

    I long ago figured out that people tolerate or enjoy very different things in relationships.  I once read an article about very dominant male CEO that said that sexually, they prefer to be dominated because of their normal everyday dealings with the world. It made sense even if I had no idea if the stats they cited were correct since many of the marriages I know, the division of labor and emotional load are different according to the couple/arrangement.

    I guess I get caught up in the marriages of politicians as mini soap operas and romance novels ... entertainment.  But I stay out of speculating about the marriages of my relatives and friends, especially when they try to triangulate me.  

    "Life without liberty is like a body without spirit. Liberty without thought is like a disturbed spirit." Kahlil Gibran, 'The Vision'

    by CorinaR on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 06:54:54 AM PDT

    •  agree (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      confitesprit, Bob Johnson, cai, JBL55

      with your opening statement wholeheartedly, and it should be stressed: there may be instances where one is called upon to react, but those are situations of extreme volatility and danger: exceptions to the rule that prove the case, so to speak.

      Even that kind of intervention does not require the spectator orientation and collective play-by-play that our contemporary political sport seems to require.

      Thanks for adding that caveat!

      Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

      by a gilas girl on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 07:37:32 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Years ago, one of my best friends asked me what (5+ / 0-)

    ... I thought of his fiancé and I made the mistake of being honest. I said, "I don't think she's smart enough for you, and I think you'll be bored."

    They did manage to stay married for eight years, though I haven't talked with my friend in a number of years.

    I am with you. No one from the outside can understand the dynamics of a marriage.

  •  Hmm (4+ / 0-)

    Did I marry one of your sisters?

  •  Well, I agree with your general stance, but (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JBL55, a gilas girl

    on the other hand, marriage wouldn't exist if we didn't feel an investment in other people's relationships. We could just waddle off in pairs like geese, y'know. Instead, we feel the need to define each others relationships. And, I would add, the reason the field of anthropology exists is that there seems to be a basic human need  to establish societal norms, even given that many/most of those norms are not universal.

    I would argue that no relationship is an island. We all judge our relationships in the context of other people's. On the other hand, we make ourselves crazy and cause pain when we over-invest in other people's relationships. I suppose the distinction is that we can judge with the desire to connect and form bonds, or that we can judge out of the desire to self-gratify, i.e. tell ourselves we're better than so and so. It's really not a bad thing- in its own right- however, to care about other people's relationships.

    •  actually, I'd argue that (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      marriage exists in order to establish effective and "legitimate" (read: officially sanctioned) property transfer, and in some cases governmental power, given that legitimate social contracts derived from the will of the people in the form of democratic apparatuses, weren't so readily used in most of the pre-modern world.

      "We" don't all feel the need to define each others relationships at all, but our power relations to tend to work upon an axis of legitimacy and value that requires the defining of these relationships. In societies less focused on private property, the need to define "marriage" is less pronounced.

      It's because there's an axis of privilege and a strong power differential in kinds of relationships that contributes strongly to our need to define them, not anything inherent per se in the relationships that requires it.

      Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

      by a gilas girl on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 01:24:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  in a recent long diary about politics in France (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JBL55, a gilas girl

    the diarist briefly mentioned the French president's marriages:

    Sarkozy while in office switched wives. He entered office married to Cecilia, who had earlier warned: “I don’t see myself as First Lady; it bores me.” When she left Sarkozy to return to her lover, the president took up with Carla Bruni, a woman famously bored by monogamy, who has publicly sighed that “burning desire” lasts only about two weeks.
    In a subsequent comment contrasting the French attitude seen "when former president Mitterand's funeral was attended by both his wife and his mistress,"  the diarist said:
    At the current depressing rate, I estimate that it will be another 350 years, at minimum, before Americans will be able to accept the idea of a "First Lady" deciding to leave her husband, while he occupies the White House, because he's a boor/bore.
    Then a commenter wryly asked a question about the Bruni-Sarkozy marriage.
    Inquiring minds, treading water in the shallow end of the intellectual pool, want to know: If/when M. Hollande replaces Sarko as president of the Fifth Republic, does he get Carla Bruni as well as the Elysée Palace?
    The diarist deigned to reply that Carla and Nicolas seem at the moment "genuinely twinned" and added this observation similar to one of yours:
    The one true thing I have definitively learned, without question, in this life, is that no one truly knows anyone's life in love, but those who are themselves enraptured in it.

    The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right. -- Judge Learned Hand, May 21, 1944

    by ybruti on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 09:43:03 AM PDT

  •  I voted "other" (4+ / 0-)
    Passing judgement on marriages in the public eye reminds me of [...]
    ... people passing judgement on my own marriages, and it creeps me right the f#ck out.

    I have been married three times.  My first husband died, which compelled perfect strangers who knew absolutely nothing about me or my marriage to attempt to "comfort" me in a variety of ways that were of no comfort whatsoever and at times drove me right back into that black hole of grief.

    My second marriage was undertaken when I was in the depths of indescribable pain, sorrow, and depression.  My epiphany about the mess I had made of my life and ensuing journey out of it is due entirely to the grace of the Holy Spirit, because I sure as f#ck had little if anything positive to offer beyond, "Oh, wow.  I really f#cked up."  But some of the things people said who knew nothing about me or my marriage or my divorce were, in a word, appalling, and on every imaginable level.

    My third marriage is an unwarranted and miraculous gift, and I thank God several times a day, even when my husband has really pissed me off.  And again, people who aren't in my marriage occasionally feel compelled to weigh in on how we seem to be living our life, but I have learned to smile and inquire, "So, how 'bout them Sox?"

    I have also learned to never ask anyone if they are married or have children.  Whether the answer to either question is "yes" or "no," they'll tell me soon enough.  I don't want to put them in the position of feeling they need to "explain" something they may not be happy or at peace about.

    At the end of the day, my general philosophy is that nobody is qualified to judge a marriage except the ones who are in it, and even they don't always know what they're talking about.


    "The fears of one class of men are not the measure of the rights of another." ~ George Bancroft (1800-1891)

    by JBL55 on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 11:42:08 AM PDT

    •  I hope it's okay to say I'm glad you've found (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      a gilas girl, Calamity Jean, JBL55

      happiness. It's lovely and uplifting that you're so appreciative of it.

      •  Oh, yes, and thank you. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        a gilas girl

        I don't mean to sound unapproachable.  Every now and then someone will say, "Your husband is a great guy," and I reply, "Omigosh, you have no idea ... and yes, I thank God several times a day, believe me!"

        When one knows how bad things can really be, there is a lot of happiness to be found simply in things not being bad.  I ran across this quote from sci-fi author Ralph H. Blum and have it taped over my monitor at work:

        "There is a calmness to a life lived in gratitude, a quiet joy."

        "The fears of one class of men are not the measure of the rights of another." ~ George Bancroft (1800-1891)

        by JBL55 on Thu Apr 26, 2012 at 07:27:55 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Whew... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a gilas girl

    at least the Idiot from Seattle With One Hundred-Fifty HRs yesterday didn't show up to harvest some more donuts....

    "Ronald Reagan is DEAD! His policies live on but we're doing something about THAT!"

    by leftykook on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 12:13:37 PM PDT

    •  probably too many words (0+ / 0-)

      arranged in funny phrases in this post to attract that kind of attention.

      over the years, I've found that to be a pretty good troll repellant. It helps if the words have multiple syllables, too.


      Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

      by a gilas girl on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 01:28:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Totally agree. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    joe wobblie, a gilas girl, ybruti

    This type of "culture" has been in the making for a long time now and our technology has enabled it to move from the level of village gossip and entertainment centered obsession to a similar attitude toward every level and institution of our society.  And the result is antithetical to a well-informed and logical populace.

    Excellent rhetoric as well as scope in your essay.

    99%er. 100% opposed to fundamentalist/neoconservative/neoliberal oligarchs.

    by blueoasis on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 04:11:20 PM PDT

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