DOES She Forgive Him? Or How CAN She Forgive Him?

There I was all set to report on the doings around the Royal Baby, when an item about Anthony Weiner popped up as the head column in the International pages of the distinguished left-wing newspaper, The Guardian: “Weiner Admits he continued online affairs after downfall,” and months before declaring his candidacy. Wow. Again? And again, the wife stands by him in public: “Anthony’s made some horrible mistakes [but] I love him, I forgive him, and I believe in him.” Really? What can a girl do? At least not appear by his side. And voters?

To me the issue is not so much the sexual idiocy (ew…) as the continued acting out of what Freud nicely called “His Majesty the Ego” in the essay “On The Poet and Daydreaming.” His Majesty the Ego thinks to himself: “Nothing can happen to me!” It’s not for nothing that Freud chose royal imagery to convey the ego’s power of presumption and invulnerability. That presumption is what drives me crazy and makes me think that anyone who thinks that way should not serve in public office. That a smart lovely woman wants to stay married to him is saddening, but truly not my business. But the good thing about the Weiner Report is that it gave me the link to the Royal Baby business, and not only that to the Jews (see my last post!) in England.

royalbabyI was looking for a photo that would not be one of the ones prominently circulated in the States, but that captured the spirit of the event, and I thought that this one did the job. “Born to Rule” the caption on the little boy’s tee shirt says―and the stenciled crown is materialized above in the crown sitting on the boy’s head. Because of the new law―whose application is moot on this occasion―girls from now forward can inherit as well as boys–and given the popularity of Kate, I don’t think there would have been a national sigh of disappointment if a princess had been born instead of a prince. The key thing was the continuation of the Dynasty, that only 20% of the population is said to object to. In other words, the problem for them is the very idea of Born to Rule. Should anyone be born to rule? Headline in The Guardian offered a plot that does not require verbs: “A birth, a boy, a prince, a king.” The Royal Narrative.

a birth a kingAnd now my secret link. The day before the baby was born, a piece appeared in The Evening Standard (in which a little (or at least lesser) known royal fact appeared: that traditionally the royal boys were circumcised by a London rabbi (the tradition dates back to George I–Diana’s boys were the exception). Will Royal Baby be circumcised? The topic has not yet been widely discussed. (Though there was a side bar about what some referred to as the matter of whether Kate was “too posh to push,” a euphemism for the likelihood of vaginal (vs. caesarean) birth (vaginal, a word eschewed in all the journalistic reports), referred to instead as “natural.”

The problem with Anthony Weiner is that his very own majesty the ego thinks he is born to rule (circumcised, no doubt), thinks he can do anything he wants and that nothing will happen to him. His destiny will protect him, as will his devoted wife, believers as they are in the staying power of the redemption narrative. It would only be justice if Weiner’s arrant egoism led him to be defeated not only by a woman, but a gay woman who will not be impressed by his penis.

I can’t wait.


Can we forgive them? Jews in the news.

Back in New York for a few days, and reading the Times (on paper, of course), I’m reminded how publicly Jewish a city New York is―compared, say, to London or Paris, the only other cities I know well, where Jews and Jewishness do not (except for Israel and Palestine) make news.

In Monday’s paper, Anthony Weiner on the road to public forgiveness was the subject of a longish piece, “Courting Group of Voters With a Strict Moral Code, Weiner Faces a Challenge.” 

The article frames a striking photograph of Weiner, sitting at a long table in profile, wearing a yarmulke, looking like a slightly overgrown, penitent Bar Mitzvah boy, surrounded by at least ten black-hatted, payes-wearing, bearded rabbis solemnly debating his political future. Oy, not only has he exposed his crotch (almost) on the internet, his (betrayed) wife is not Jewish! A difficult case.

To my astonishment, I learn, Weiner is doing well in the polls, but the votes (and moral approval) of the ultra-Orthodox would solidify his lead. A woman, “an Orthodox Jew accompanying her mother to [a senior] center,” summarized the more “forgiving” view: “What he did was harmless. It wasn’t like it was embezzlement. Let’s forgive the guy.” If “we” could forgive Clinton and move on, why punish Anthony Weiner? Especially if he has been helpful in the past to the “community.”

“A Question of Forgiving” is the title of a column in Sunday’s Metropolitan section about Eliot Spitzer and his run for city comptroller (in a self-financed campaign). Spitzer is asking for “forgiveness,” he has said in public, in order to qualify for the position. The column compares his situation with that of Norman Mailer who ran for mayor nine years after pleading guilty to stabbing his wife at a party. In that case, it seems, even feminists (!) forgave him since Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem advised him on the campaign because they believed in his vision for “urban revitalization.” So since they were able to “compartmentalize”―set aside their dislike of his personal behavior, shouldn’t the rest of us be ready to look past Spitzer’s indiscretions and admire his vision of a less powerful Wall Street?

As a Jew, I mainly feel embarrassment that these two quite ridiculous, hubristic Jewish men are the topic of so much serious attention, and might even have a chance to display their arrogant personalities in an official capacity. But beyond that is my feminist memory of how Geraldine Ferraro was treated in her role as the first woman nominated for national office. Ferraro was vilified for the dodgy financial schemes of her husband, and then hounded for her position on abortion because of her Catholic identity. This gutsy woman could not get a break.

The analogy isn’t perfect, I realize, but there is something to it: why do “we” find it so easy to excuse men for their…imperfections, but impossible to forgive a woman (think Hillary and her cookies)?

Anthony Trollope pondered these questions in Can You Forgive Her, one of his arguably feminist novels. Check it out if you want a satisfyingly long summer read.

Plus ça change, or are women people?

“Murray ends the 77-year wait for British win.” Ooops.

wadeThe headline misses the fact that Virginia Wade won Wimbledon in 1977. But she won in women’s singles. Feminist writer Chloe Angyal tweeted the now much retweeted egregious omission: “Murray is indeed the first Brit to win Wimbledon in 77 years unless you think women are people.” In other words, the only win that seems to have counted was the winner of the men’s singles. To specify gender presumably would have messed up the over the top celebration and its perceived significance: nothing less than a knighthood for this man.

It was impossible to be in England, during Wimbledon, as I’ve been for the past month and miss the fact that Andy Murray was the first British winner of men’s singles match since 1936, when the winner was Fred Perry. But that’s not how the story was told, since to specify men’s singles would have meant remembering Virginia Wade and women’s tennis more generally. Although television and journalism coverage paid attention to women’s tennis with a decent number of stories, the acknowledgment of the gender difference was belated. Three other women won women’s singles after Wade did. But who else would care whether women were people? Feminists, presumably, but are we people?

I love how Virginia Wade and the Queen are both wearing pink!

Same boyfriend, different life.

We memoirists like to think our lives are uniquely ours, but often it turns out not to be true–at least not wholly true. I’ve been worrying these past weeks about creating what publishers today call “platform.” I always thought platform was something to stand on, something physical to lift one to a stage from which to speak (I also remember platform―elevator–shoes for the short men of my youth), but today I’m learning platform means something related but radically different: the only physical part being the computer screen, and speaking, digital. I thought I was alone in finding the platform imperative disconcerting, even demoralizing. But a wonderful post by Judith Newton on the Shewrites website about the twists and turns of publishing not only confirmed the reality of my discomfort but showed how she creatively handled the challenge. The usefulness of Newton’s reported experience in the crowded online marketplace is not my point, however.

It turns out that I know Judith Newton, sort of, though we have never met. But both as academics and as feminists for many years, our careers were shaped by the history of our generation-―I have one of her books on my shelf. We both directed Women’s Studies Programs, I on the East Coast in the 80s, Judith on the West in the 90s.

When I first read the post―urged upon me by Shewrites founder Kamy Wicoff―I thought Newton’s name sounded familiar, familiar beyond the book on the shelf. I had an odd feeling I couldn’t shake that a man I had known in the 1970s had mentioned her name to me as someone I should meet. I wasn’t completely sure, and I could not remember why I made the connection, so I wrote to Judith and asked her whether this was possible, thinking that this was a kind of weird thing to do. I was amused to learn that we had both dated this same person decades ago before he became gay! That strange coincidence made me want to read her memoir even more. I wanted to see what else we might have shared.

judithI stayed up all night last night reading Tasting Home, Newton’s memoir, a book that has a lot to do with food, as its name suggests. So does my memoir Breathless. But the similarities stop there. Judith’s experience with cooking―as attested to by the many recipes collected in the book―became a kind of lifeline for her as she came of age, and after. For me cooking―the desire to cook and find meaning in making food―ended with the years in Paris that are the subject of my memoir. My food stuff is all about fiasco meals and culinary humiliations that finally drove me out of the kitchen altogether. I recall them with a comic edge, but in fact trying to cook well made me suffer. The only part of Julia Child I related to was to dropping food on the floor and picking it up while no one was looking.

In the end the boyfriend in common was more of a blip of intimacy than a deciding factor in the shape of a life―in fact he does not appear in Judith’s memoir; nor in mine. Still, would I have read Tasting Home with the same intense curiosity had we not had this shared autobiographical accident? Probably not, but I’m glad I did because while the differences in our lives ultimately outweighed the similarities of age and one-time lover, they also made me see the outline of my story with new clarity. And isn’t that why we are so enamored of memoir? Because the details of other people’s stories bring us back to the distinctive shape of our lives when passed through the scrim of memory and revised by us.

P.S. Less sexy but more important and certainly sweetest: we have shared an editor. Brooke Warner was Judith’s editor at she also acquired and edited my memoir before leaving Seal.