Political Wives’ ‘Tipper Point’ Is Way Too Late

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LOS ANGELES (WOMENSENEWS)–Malcolm Gladwell is the author of a best-selling book based on social science that defines a tipping point as "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point."

Tipper Gore is the woman now divorced from her husband, former Vice President Al Gore, a prominent social activist, after 40 years. In June 2010, she gave notice just three weeks before allegations of sexual abuse by her husband against a massage therapist in 2006, hit the national news.

With a tip of the hat to Gladwell and Gore I define the "Tipper point" as the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point where a wife can no longer stand for the sexual philandering, sexual abuse or gross misconduct of her rich and powerful husband.

I just wish more women reached this point more quickly. It would do a lot of other women a lot of good and might have altered this week’s double feature of sex scandals.

First came Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund, accused of sexually assaulting a hotel worker in New York. The woman involved didn’t follow the code of silence that is widely reported to protect French male elites. Instead she reported her story to police and Strauss-Kahn was forced to trade in his Frette sheets at the Sofitel for a cot at Rikers.

Then–in a "can you top this move"–Arnold Schwarzenegger, our former governor out here in California, announced that he fathered a child with a family employee 10 years ago. Apparently he’d provided his wife of 25 years, Maria Shriver, with that information a few months ago.

Having a baby with a woman who worked for the family for over 20 years shoved Shriver over the Tipper point, past what had long seemed like a "stand by your man" form of martyrdom. She left him.

Too little; too late.

"This is a painful and heartbreaking time," Shriver said in a statement this week. "As a mother, my concern is for the children. I ask for compassion, respect and privacy as my children and I try to rebuild our lives and heal."

A Role of Public Consequence

The problem is that being a wife of a man with immense power–including over numerous women–is actually a role of much public consequence. As we used to say in the 1970s, the person is political. Especially for women intimately involved with influential men.

Eight years ago, during Schwarzenegger’s 2003 campaign for governor, women came forward to say he had groped and sexually abused them on the set. Shriver stood behind his staunch denials and went further. She applauded his character and went on the attack against his accusers.

Imagine how these women felt. First they went through the degradation of being groped and sexually abused by Schwarzenegger and then, with help from Shriver’s deflections, they suffered the humiliation of being pegged a liar.

What Shriver did seven years ago in standing up for her husband was wrong. Her behavior perpetuates a social code that protects predators and undermines women who try and do stand up against abuse.

What if Shriver had stepped up and confronted her husband? There could have been severe consequences. He could have lost the election. She could have been excoriated by her husband’s backers.

By this time, however, her family’s healing could be much further along. And Californians might have had a different governor.

Strauss-Kahn’s wife, the New York-born Anne Sinclair, appears to be following Shriver’s misguided footsteps.

In 2007 when allegations surfaced that Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulted a young French writer, Tristane Banon, Sinclair said nothing. In 2008, when her husband admitted to an affair with a subordinate, she wrote on her blog: "We love each other as much as on the very first day."

Now Sinclair is standing by her husband and protesting his innocence, offering to put up the million dollar bail, which the judge rejected, seeing Strauss-Kahn as a flight risk.

Since the United States has no extradition treaty with France, New York courts are apparently avoiding another Roman Polanski-like situation. In 1977 filmmaker Polanski was charged in California with having sex with a 13-year-old and fled to France to avoid sentencing. He refused to return to face the consequences here and now lives free in Paris.

Confrontation or Complicity

Sinclair has another chance to choose confrontation or complicity.

Banon, a goddaughter to Strauss-Kahn’s second wife, stayed silent in 2007 on the advice of her mother. Now–spurred by the courage of a West African immigrant woman who stood up to speak her piece in New York court on Wednesday–Banon is planning to reopen her case and make a complaint. She has been quoted as saying she wants to put a stop to Strauss-Kahn’s behavior like a "rutting chimpanzee." He currently faces charges for attempted rape, sex abuse, a criminal sex act, unlawful imprisonment and forcible touching. He could face up to 25 years in prison.

Once a frontrunner in the upcoming presidential race in France, Strauss-Kahn attributed his difficult time in politics to "Money, women and the fact I am Jewish." He added: "Yes, I like women . . . so what?"

Likes women? I shudder to think how he’d act if he didn’t like them.

I wonder what Sinclair’s Tipper point might be? Or for that matter, many other women, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who, after silently supporting her adulterous husband through his numerous public affairs, suffered through the humiliation of him being impeached for lying about an affair with a young intern.

Elizabeth Edwards reached her Tipper point only months before she died. For years her presence at John Edwards’ side protected the North Carolina politician and presidential aspirant from rumors that he cheated. Then came news of his "love child" and she was gone.

Many Other Wives

There are plenty of other wives to wonder about and wish they’d reached their Tipper point sooner.

Jenny Sanford of South Carolina did finally leave her adulterous husband Mark Sanford, the governor of South Carolina, who became scandal-embroiled after he left his post under the cover story of hiking the Appalachian Trail when he was really visiting his mistress in South America–on the state’s dollar.

Dina McGreevey’s husband, Jim McGreevey, resigned as governor of New Jersey after he disclosed an affair with a man. Yes, she stood there by his side. But they too later divorced.

If women stand up sooner it could help women who try to speak up about sex harassment and sex assault.

Consider Mike Savage’s radio talk show on Tuesday, which spent time on the host’s theories that Strauss-Kahn was "framed" and gave air time to callers who trashed rape accusers as "liars."

The right-wing Savage has little in common politically speaking with the "caviar Socialist" Strauss-Khan. But when it came to the spectacle of an anonymous woman challenging a powerful man, Savage and his ilk circled the wagons.

Wives who don’t stand up for themselves support a culture of impunity for male power and reprisal for women who dare to challenge them.

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Sandra Kobrin is a Los Angeles-based writer and columnist.

9 thoughts on “Political Wives’ ‘Tipper Point’ Is Way Too Late

  1. Good column. In the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, I believe that the issue of power is complicated by racial inequities, or what some call the “Miss Anne” syndrome. As in the antebellum U.S. where a wife (i.e., Miss Anne) of a plantation owner exercised little power herself, white women even today stand to gain reflected power through association with powerful white men. Women of color, on the other hand, have always had less to gain by overlooking the abuses of powerful men. In his alleged attack on a woman of color, Strauss-Kahn picked a woman least likely to be believed by a largely white male judicial system. As a white woman and former sexual assault advocate, I have witnessed this pattern time and time again.

  2. I agree with the author and would add that men also need to confront their brothers who engage in egregious and criminal sexual misconduct – not just the wives.

  3. This sentence in the article makes no sense:

    “In June 2010, she gave notice just three weeks before allegations of sexual abuse by her husband against a massage therapist hit the national news in 2006.”

    What did Sandra Kobrin mean to say?

    Sonia P. Fuentes

  4. I agree with the comment that the brothers of these men should also be responsible to stop this. I don’t think it is just the wives, but it is society. Perhaps because it is in the news so much we have reached this Tipper Point as a society. But each wife has a different level of insecurity both physical and emotional, and she also has her own psychology of what she wants to believe and what is her reality. She may believe her husband when he tells her it’s just the public, the other politicians, out to get him. What wife wouldn’t want to believe her husband? When you have nothing to go on but their word against his, well, it becomes more complicated than just walking.

    Yes, most definitely, this abuse is prevalent, too prevalent and Sandra’s most important point is that we need to stand up for ourselves, not just women, but as a society, to not be raped, sexually abused, or overpowered in anyway. It’s everyone’s responsibility. I would hope that if anyone of us saw it happening, we wouldn’t just turn the other way. That we could perhaps let the wife know that she does have a group that supports her if she chooses to see how her husband is abusing his power. Now, where’s Hillary?

  5. Totally unfair to include Gore in this article. Not only was he married to Tipper for 40 years without a hint of scandal, the allegations made in San Fran. were shown to be totally baseless by the police refusing to prosecute and the accusor not even being able to find a single attorney willing to bring a civil action. Do your reserach, the San Fran. paper ran an article that explainied its own investigation showed the allegations to be so questionable that they did not run the article orignally. Only the Inquirer ran with it years later and after paying the woman for the use of her photo. Men should behave, but throwing baseless allegations and lumping Gore in with these others guys is poor jouarnalism and not fair.

  6. Well said. I felt sorry for Shriver, I still do, but your point, your tipper point, is right on the money. I realize to some degree Shriver was protecting her kids by protecting her husband, but in the end, she silenced victims in favor of her husband’s political career. She aided the masquerade.
    With the endless parade of entitled, oversexed, animalistic male politicians, perhaps we need more than a Tipper Point…we need a Lorena Point.

  7. “Wives who don’t stand up for themselves support a culture of impunity
    for male power and reprisal for women who dare to challenge them.”
    -These women are also supporting their own lives as wife of…, the home, the neighbourhood, the organizations they support, the knowledge of all of them that their husbands are likely doing similar actions to vulnerable young women as it IS a culture of impunity. The wives have been doctrinated to believe this is right and a part of the privilege of their level of society. Freedom is not intended for women when women are not considered fully human. I witnessed an interview with Ralph Lauren on Oprah on May 18, 2011, where Lauren’s wife was the typical self-effacing, dutiful wife and mother, whose husband Ralph, “…completes me”. He did not respond to this or in fact show any emotion to her, while she was holding and stroking his hand that was resting on his own knee. She kept saying all the right things, as he kept the same smile on his face he had throughout the interview, not responding to her at all, in facial expression, words, or with his hands. I doubt if she began their marriage expecting to be so secondary, or did she? How many American girls look to ‘a good marriage’, and being the ‘support person’ to a talented husband, thus literally forgetting themselves, and being pushed to completely forget themselves in all ways that do not actively support their husbands? How many of them, for example, are threatened with the loss of their children if they leave? How many of them could offer their children even close to the life they live with the dads of their children? Almost nothing is more important to a mother than the wellbeing of her children, she would accept much to not have this threatened, so, a man knows that by providing her with children, means another effective way to keep her doing what he wants and saying or not saying what he wants her to do and say. We have seen many cases of women who have left wealthy husbands, who are not able to get serious access to their children because the women cannot afford the legal advice their husband has easily. It is only the women’s movement that began the challenge of this in the 20th century, and the men fight back, so, we have thousands of rape kits never tested, increasing emphasis in homes of denouncing feminism, etc.
    I am attempting here, to discuss my observations of why I believe women reach this point of being unable to extricate themselves from subtly cruel men, and especially when these men are powerful and/or very talented. It may be a complex web of financial and psychological long-term control including a kind of intellectual and emotional battering of these women, who believe their lives are normal and the best they can expect. It is my opinion, that this problem can only be successfully attacked by addressing these foundational problems, and stop blaming these women who are caught in a seriously tight web.

  8. Regarding “Tipper Points and Other Wives or partners of people who abuse them in many ways including such consistent lying and cheating; these wives need only to decide on an individual basis how to respond according to their situational needs. The particular ages, needs, and other circumstances of any children will weigh on wives’s scales and their abilities to leave or even challenge such behavior of a spouse because leaving a marriage or relationship despite such treatment may mean loss of homes, finances, status, jobs, health or even their children at times.

    It is helpful to remember how extremely convincing these perpetrators are; they often have been very successful in swaying others to believe in them, cover for them, in convincing thousands to vote for them, or getting their own children, friends and/or families to accept their lies. It takes time to acknowledge the truth, to risk challenging or leaving a person with such charm and/or with whom one has a long, perhaps entwined or especially public history.

    Victim/partners usually want to believe those they have loved are telling the truth for a multitude of reasons – and such people who victimize others are often expert at building false facades in general as well as at home. At times it can be helpful for someone outside looking in to think of how adept a used car salesperson can be telling a “buyer” just what he or she wants to hear. There are many similarities used in the acting skills of perpetrators too.

    Adapting to significant losses that come with such betrayals takes courage, and often takes time and much help according to individual circumstance and the situation. Supporting the truth they are brave enough to acknowledge and strive for, and to allow each individual’s timeline and way of dealing with all losses are important; for timing can be very challenging, and is often risky. History has often swept such victims under its carpet.

    If our value system is to support such bravery, let us take public stands and show our support for victims of these very public exposures and commend them for their survivorship.
    Andrea Lissette, primary author, Free Yourself From an Abusive Relationship: Seven Steps to Taking Back Your Life; Hunter House Publications

  9. Wise and timely observations. Of course, not all wives know (or admit to themselves) that their husband are adulterous. Moreover, as a rapist, Kahn-Strauss needs psychiatric help. As for anyone who blames the chambermaid, they are kidding themselves. In defense of chambermaids, I just posted at Open Salon blog, “My Rape-Free Morning as a Chambermaid in Santa Fe. http://bit.ly/lDLxM1