Friday, September 14, 2007

A Cuckquean Scorned

As the GOP freak show rolls on, with fresh sex scandals exploding every week, we've gotten to where we know almost every step in the ballet even before it starts. The apologetic press conference, the stammered (and painfully transparent) excuses, the whining accusations flung back on the accusers, the laughably quick trip through "rehab" -- and through it all, the loving wife standing silent on the dais, her hair perfect, her strained smile frozen in place, her eyes dead with humiliation and shame.

It's horrible for everyone. She doesn't want to be there. We don't want to see her there. Somewhere, in the back of our minds, we dimly understand that however badly he betrayed his backers and the people who bought his "family values" fiction, it's a pale shadow of the furious betrayal this woman is entitled to feel. She's invested her life to the tune of a dozen sacrifices a day, for decades on end, to put him where he is: years of raising the kids and running the house alone; endless campaign seasons of 18-hour days and rubber chicken; often very little chance to build anything of her own apart from his public life. And, with the flash of badge in a men's room, there she is -- watching it all crash down around her feet in a lightning storm of flashbulbs and the thunder of press questions.

But nobody's gotten inside the truth of what it means to be "some little woman, standing by your man" (in the immortal words of Hillary Clinton during like circumstances) like Susie Bright in this piece over at Alternet. The public humiliation, she says, comes with being queen: many political wives seem to absorb it with an aplomb most of the rest of us could never manage, because they recognize this as one of the many compromises that comes with the job. But the real crime is the way the years of marriage to a man whose sexual passions lie elsewhere -- whose appetites she cannot satisfy, usually through no fault of her own -- eats away at a woman's ego, robbing her of her own....well, "stuff." And this bone-deep humiliation is hardly limited to political wives: there, but for the grace of God, go any of us. Bright also resurrects an old but still very useful Middle English word:

There's a part to the cuckquean's inevitable reaction that is completely denied, because of our cultural inability to imagine a woman's sexual outrage. We don't even commonly use this word for a female cuckold, which is remarkable considering the extent of the experience. It's not just GOP Christian SAHM's who are going through this.

Let us consider the cuckquean's complaint:

She's in shock. She can't believe the guilty plea either, because once she accepts her husband's true behavior, the "everything-is-a-lie" nausea will overtake her. There'll be months -- or years -- where she doesn't feel like she can trust her guts, make simple decisions, or keep up with cursory obligations. Getting out of bed and giving a shit will become major struggles.

Did she know all along? Half the women with closeted-gay husbands I've spoken to over the years have confided, that yes, they had a clue. The others say they were blindsided.

In some cases we see married men who openly proposed to their fiancée, "You're my last chance, you've cured me; now that I've found you I'll never stray again." The tender girls believed it. They believed it because of their inadequate sexual education, and because it was so flattering to feel that special, the romantic ideal. "Sublimate your sexuality to devote yourself to your husband's transformation!" --It never works, and yet it keeps getting takers....

A woman scorned is an iconic figure we understand. We see her stripped of dignity, and the impression is that she was denied a possession that "belonged" to her: her husband, her home, her stature.

But the only thing that ever really belonged to her -- to her alone -- was her sexual identity and self-confidence. Her STUFF. If she was deceived or deprived of those big eggs, or if she never knew what to do with them in the first place, she's been damaged, and it's no careless stripping. There is a female hellfire, and if our myth-making of events fails to take in a cuckquean's sexual imperative, we're all in for a little taste of it.
Part of why the humiliation is so intense is that the same society that judges women first and foremost on their sexual desirability also refuses to recognize that we come equipped with desires of our own. Bright describes the quiet desperation of a sexual woman who can't seem to arouse the interest of the man she loves. By the time she's standing up on that podium, this has gone on for so long that she may well be numb to any further outrage. She's already been privately disgraced by his lack of attention and her own sheer frustration for years -- to the point where finding out that the problem lies with him, not her, may even come as something of a relief.

Bright's post doesn't do much to explain the fact that very few of these wives go on to divorce their husbands in the aftermath. It's something I'd like to understand better. Personally, no matter how many years I'd invested, I'd find it impossible to stay with a man who'd first put me through years of private hell -- and capped it by dragging me through a shattering public one as well. Divorce might be the only way to salve lost dignity, and reclaim my own identity as a moral entity separate from the tainted mess of the marriage. But, obviously, most of these women don't make the calculation with the same weighting I do. Maybe someday I'll understand why.

But Bright is certainly correct when she points out that these scenes would play out very differently if society placed a higher value on a woman's right to a healthy, happy sex life. The fact that we don't allows us to look past one of the deepest, most heinous parts of these betrayals -- and, while we're at it, look right past those pitiable women who are dutifully putting on their game faces, doing their best to be invisible while also standing up, for, and by men who never knew what to do with them, and don't deserve them now.