By Kelly Wallace
Editor’s note: Kelly Wallace is CNN’s digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She’s a mom of two girls and lives in Manhattan. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.
(CNN) — Just about any woman who watched Huma Abedin publicly declare her decision to stick with her husband, embattled New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, had to feel sympathy for her. How could you not?
No wife, already facing her husband’s sexually explicit digital relationship with another woman (yet again!), wants to face the prying eyes of the public, too. But while women pretty unanimously feel for her, they have dramatically different reactions about whether she’s doing the right thing, judging from the responses of several women I interviewed from across the country Wednesday.
“I think she’s a good wife … and she’s a loyal wife,” said Lydia Montgomery, a married mom with two grown sons in Chanute, Kansas. “I think it’s great that she’s backing him.”
“These days it has become too easy to just walk away when someone shows their character flaws or doesn’t live up to their end of the marriage contract,” said Dee, a married mom with one son who only wanted to use her first name. “I think she’s decided that keeping her family intact and holding up her (end) of the marriage is worth the pain she’s facing right now.”
On the other side are women who think Abedin is making a terrible mistake, women like Andrea Kristina, a divorced mother with a teenage son who says she put up with “bad behavior” from her ex-husband for years. “Standing by your man when he repeatedly humiliates you by getting himself into trouble doesn’t make you a strong woman,” she said. “Leaving him and respecting yourself will.”
Pam Selker Rak, a married public relations professional in Pittsburgh, said while she believes the decision to stay or leave is a personal one that only Abedin can make, she doesn’t think the former aide to Hillary Clinton should have backed Weiner publicly. “I’m not convinced she is projecting the best message by standing behind someone who hasn’t earned her confidence and loyalty,” Rak said.
In the middle of the “Is Abedin doing the right or wrong thing?” debate are women who say we simply don’t know what is going on in their relationship, so who are we to judge? “We have no idea what transpired,” said Rebecca, a single woman without children who asked to be identified by her first name. “I know Huma is a smart woman and hasn’t made this decision lightly, especially with a child in the mix.”
All the criticism, especially from women who argue she is not standing up for herself and not asserting her power, really struck a chord with some women.
“I’ve seen people online call her a chump and call her desperate and (ask) what’s her problem,” said Jessica Dukes, a freelance writer in New York and mom of two young children. “I don’t see the course that she’s taking as weak and capitulating. I see it as taking the harder path that requires even more strength.”
“I understand from a political perspective that you should be looking at (Weiner’s) qualifications for a job, but I don’t feel that anybody should be judging a woman based on how she handles infidelity in her marriage,” said Meg Watt, a married mom with two teenage daughters in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.
Imani Gandy, a senior legal analyst with RH Reality Check, a reproductive and sexual health website, and editor of This Week in Blackness, thinks the focus — for women — should not be on Abedin, but on Weiner. “I would like to see feminist women focusing on the fact that his behavior is inappropriate and not on the fact that she’s being strong enough or being feminist enough by deciding to take her marriage vow seriously.”
As women debated, online and off, about whether Abedin is making the right move, the conversation moved to “What would you do if you were in her shoes?”
“I always think that if that were me, I could never stand by him, but when it came down to it, who knows?” said Jennifer Merritt, a married digital editor in New York.
Women who know what Abedin is going through said no one can know how they would react. A woman who wanted to remain anonymous said she learned her boyfriend was sending naked pictures of himself to random women who were soliciting sex. She broke up with him, and after he sought professional therapy, gave him another chance, but ultimately the “trust was gone” and the relationship ended.
“I will say that people are very quick to judge those women who choose to stay in relationships with men suffering from this disgusting habit, which clearly is the result of a deeper issue,” she said. “I hope for Huma’s sake that Anthony has stopped his habit, but I do not think he deserves to be mayor.”
Another woman, who also did not want to be identified, told CNN her sexting and infidelity nearly broke up her marriage: “I hurt my husband very badly. I can never undo it but I can stand by his side now and not screw it up again.”
Abedin’s background as a top adviser to former Secretary of State Clinton also became a point of discussion among women. Abedin certainly watched Clinton, her mentor, deal with sexual allegations against her husband, former President Clinton.
“I imagine she certainly has a lot of experience in navigating these sorts of situations regarding infidelity,” said Gandy.
Montgomery said Abedin’s critics might speculate that she has political motives, but she disagrees.
“She’s got a family now and her career is on the back burner somewhat, and it’s all about her love and supporting her husband, and building and keeping that family,” she said.
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