It’s Complicated: Media, Players Attempt to Simplify the Grayest of Gray In Marriage, Family

This photo taken March 28, 2009 and provided Tuesday, May 5, 2009 by Harpo Productions Inc. , shows talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, second from right, with former presidential candidate John Edwards, his wife Elizabeth and daughter Emma Claire Edwards at their home in Chapel Hill, N.C. , for a taping of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” The show aired on Thursday, May 7, 2009.I haven’t watched any clips of Elizabeth Edwards’ interviews with Oprah Winfrey about her book or her husband’s infidelity because, honestly, what can be said that hasn’t been said before? Former presidential candidate John Edwards wasn’t the first power hungry individual to throw everything to the wind in pursuit of a good lay. Elizabeth isn’t the first wife to stay by his side and even encourage him on when she knew the no good, very bad news could drop at anytime from anywhere.

She says she honestly thought he would make a good president. He blames his pride. Everyone plays armchair therapist. I claim the mantle of “It’s complicated,” or, in other words: Don’t bother trying to understand because unless you’re in it, you’ll never, ever know.

More after the jump.

I once got into a heated debate with a friend over whether or not Michelle Obama would walk away from her marriage if her husband had cheated on her. I said in all likelihood she would not as divorces after your husband reaches that high in the political stratosphere are rare and since about half of all US marriages end in divorce that means a lot of people choose to stay with a spouse even after an affair. I argued that it wasn’t as simple as pride and the hurt that came with infidelity. I argued that they had built a life together, were teammates and had two children. I pointed out the long, long line of political wives who’d taken that walk of shame right by their husband’s side and grinned and bared it, and that black women do not have some sort of magical powers different from white women in this regard. (See Kwame Kirkpatrick’s poor wife and that videotape explanation of shame. They’re still together and “starting over” in Dallas, TX.)

In other words, it’s complicated.

She argued that Hillary Clinton was a horrible champion for women because she joined in the destruction of the women who came forward to accuse her husband of either being a chronic poon hound or a sexual harasser. I simply kept repeating — she’s his wife. Why would she ever, in any scenario, undermine or go against her husband if she planned on staying with him? All the feminism, us ladies are in this together solidarity goes out of the window when it comes to whom you’ve married. There’s a reason why courts don’t make wives testify against their husbands and vice versa. Hillary had to choose between Team Clinton and Team Womanhood she chose Team Clinton every time because she already decided, years ago, that she was not leaving no matter who showed up claiming to have slept with her egomaniac hubby.

The pressure to stay together is immense when you’re that high profile. And let’s not forget that in these situations, no matter how flagrant the foul by the husband, it’s usually the mistress who takes the beating publicly. My friend argued that people would be angry at Barack if he, for some reason, stopped thinking with the big brain and pulled a Bill Clinton. I said some would, (as some were with Bill), but it would be far more likely that who ever the accused woman he committed the act with would be the pariah who would have move to Great Britain, reinvent her self as a handbag designer and hope people will just forget about that time she gave the president a BJ.

Wait. I’m describing what actually happened to Monica Lewinsky. Never mind.

It’s easy to say you should just leave or he’s an asshole or make a 1,001 assumptions when you’re not actually in that relationship, when you don’t know the benefits and the drawbacks, the highs and lows, the things that are good and the things that are woefully bad. 

What often makes it worse is when the players involved in all this drama encourage some of the simplification of their problems and motives. In Elizabeth Edwards’ case all this has left her open for criticism in regards to the fact that she supported her husband’s run for president when he was basically a walking, good-hair time bomb. Explaining what is basically illogical to people outside of that cult of two that is a co-dependent marriage is near impossible. The Edwardses aren’t going to say, honestly, that “Hey, we totally thought we were going to get away with it and get in the White House because, at the end of the day, we’re ambitious social climbers who had our eye on the highest office in the land and wouldn’t take no as an answer — possible love child or not.”

This same rule of sudden simplification is present in this horrid media tour of Bristol Palin, daughter of Sarah Palin. For the life of me, I don’t know why or who thought this was a good idea, to take a recent teen mother who has plenty of issues to work out on her own and make her the spokesperson for anything. I thought that since the McCain-Palin ticket had failed, Bristol could quietly fade into obscurity, already dodging a bullet in the form of a shotgun wedding to her teen boyfriend and would get to live a relatively normal life. Instead, she and her choice have been trust firmly into the media cycle.

Gone from mentioning the nuances, like when she stated herself that abstinence only was unrealistic, she is now front and center talking about the errors of her ways and encouraging teens to abstain. No mention of condoms or birth control or the irony of having an unwed teen mother preach abstinence. And now, of course, her ex Levi Johnston is on CBS countering her message by pointing out the irony in it and I’m again wondering, “This could not have been Bristol’s idea, could it? Why do this to a teenager? Isn’t her life hard enough being the subject of rumor and gossip with her mother as a former vice presidential candidate, current governor and political social climber?” I’m only left to believe that her family’s ambition superseded her own protection and contentment. After all, when the wedding was off something had to be done to prove that all was right in Palin-town. She’s already been forced into the spotlight to combat what were essentially only internet rumors during the presidential campaign. Now she’s back out again, this time verbalizing an inherent mythology about teens and sex that is easy to say, but much harder to live up to.

As she’s proof of.

And why these groups can’t find an actual virgin, preferably an older, adult-like 20-something as their spokesperson, I’ll never know. Why is it always someone who’s already rang the bell or someone too young to really handle such a responsibility? I didn’t know Sex Ed was a “Scared Straight” program. It’s bad enough to see the media of past and present and fame-humping parents make much ballyhoo of their offsprings purity in the form of past Mouseketters Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, former pop tartlet Jessica Simpson and presently, Disney tween plantation workers Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers. To focus on them “not” doing it is basically the best way to set them up for failure if and when they act like horny teenagers and get caught acting less that Disney-meets-a-purity-ring-in-hell pure. What if they, dare I say it? Dry hump their girlfriends on tape or shoot pictures of their side-boobage to email their boyfriends. Wait? Did those things already happen?

But it’s much easier to push the mythology. If my husband cheats on me I would leave him without question. I won’t have sex until I’m married and people who do are fundamentally flawed … unless they do a repentance tour like Bristol Palin, scarlet letter in tow. Never has the phrase “it’s easier said that done” been more true in these interpersonal relationships where the truth only lies between the two people who know it and the bed they slept in.

No matter how much Edwards or Bristol Palin says, we’ll never really know. No matter how many times the media tries to explain it, we’ll never really understand.

17 thoughts on “It’s Complicated: Media, Players Attempt to Simplify the Grayest of Gray In Marriage, Family

  1. Great post. The Bristol Palin/ Levi Johnston media tour boggles my mind. Also…with the Edwardses…its not like no one has stayed with a cheaating politico husband before…even if they were having gay dalliances in the bathrooms of airports. Hell –even if your fiance might be a serial killer…(cough–Craigs List Killer) solidarity in relationships seems to trump any outside observers expectations that they will DTSMF (Dump The Stupid M&*$%rfu**er).

  2. I watched the Edwards interview yesterday. Did anyone else notice the similarities in Mrs. Edwards and Kim Porter when it came to the possible outside child? I remember when Kim and Sean Combs broke up after the twins’ birth, Essence magazine asked her about if the twins would get to meet their baby sister in Atlanta. I remember Kim Porter being quoted as saying something to the effect of "that’s his [Sean’s] situation over there. So, she was saying basically that the twins would not be meeting their sister. Yesterday, when Oprah asked Mrs. Edwards about the possible outside daughter, Mrs. Edwards said that the baby was John’s situation, and not hers. She said the same EXACT thing that Kim Porter said. The only difference is that KIm and Sean weren’t married and Edwards has yet to verify paternity. That being said, Kim and Sean were in what seemed to be a committed relationship, at least from Kim’s point of view. It’s interesting b/c many people make a point of women from different racial backgrounds being so different, but this is one of many examples of how similar people’s reactions and thought processes are across racial lines. The same thing EXACT was said in a different way. This was one of several KEY statements Mrs. Edwards made during the interview. If the baby is his daughter, if Edwards is going to take responsibility and be any kind of good father, this will mean that he will at some point need to spend time with his baby. There is also a good chance that the other lady will be in attendace. If the baby is Edward’s it is unfair to deny the child time with her father. The baby is a blameless, innocent party in this whole situation. At the end of the day, neither woman does their children or the outside children a favor by taking on these types of stances. The outside child is alienated by no fault of their own, and the mother inherently sets a dangerous precedent by treating the outside child like some type of virus. Both ladies need to take their men to task and stop trying to act out by keeping innocent children apart.

  3. I grew up in a similar situation. My father was married and separated when he impregnated my mother. He then proceeded to get back with his wife. I have a half sister who is 10 months older than me. My stepmother was always kind to me and never said anything bad about my mother in front of me. She even did my hair when I went on vacation with the family. My mother and stepmother never interacted. My father would drop pick me up so that I could spend time with him and my other siblings. I think that is the best you can expect under the circumstances. It is cruel to keep the siblings apart but it is the father’s responsibility to make sure his children know each other.

  4. I didn’t watch anything but the clips I saw on tv. Elizabeth Edwards is dying. She’s saying her peace before she dies. That’s the beginning, middle and end of the story for me. And, this is a sad story indeed.

  5. I think Mrs. Edward had it right when she said in the interview that she wasn’t prepared to throw away all the great things about her husband because of one affair. Many women still hold "The View" standard when it comes to infidelity. "Girl, if I found out that he cheated on me, I’ll cut his (blank) off and divorce him."

  6. No one can make your choices for you or live in your place. No one can say what they would do until they are in that situation. Being unhappy with does not always equate to happy without.I wish Elizabeth Edwards all the best.As for Bristol, I think Sarah and Todd aught to be charged with child abuse and cruelty for this repentance media blitz. The only thing they could hope to achieve would be to make preggersgate a moot point in 2012. It does them no good to try to counteract what Levi did on Tyra. There are few things that set me off in life like this particular family of rednecks.Just shut up and go away already!

  7. You said it best,"its complicated" She is terminally ill and he was a politician. What if she wasn’t loving him they way she should and this woman was giving him signals? I should know because I was a "the wife" and my DH decided that our marriage was over after a fight. He went on the internet and explore his options. He met her. He lied to me. He met with her. He constantly lied…To the point where I left my marriage, I wasted my time waiting on him, and I cried over knowing that he was a lying and cheating man. We divorced after 3 years of the same old bs. We were married for 8 years. He soon married her and began taking care of her two kids. He knows that he had it all with me. We are friendly to this day and if there was a chance to be together that doors was closed long ago. I have no respect for his second wife. She knew he was married after I told her but she still open her door and her legs to him.. But like Elizabeth said, " Women needs to respect other women" It is war out here. I know my mother raised me right to leave a married man alone, and get your own. I can careless if he is pursuing you…right is right. And if the baby is John Edwards, that is his problem. She will no longer be here to see this child grown up and remind her of his unfaithfulness. God bless her with a peaceful transition.As for Bristol Palin. It is funny that girls have been getting pregnant since I was in high school. I have never seen an ambassador for unwed mothers, teen fathers, or Parents with Pregnant Teens. Sex education should be taught in school and the consequence of the act. IF folks knew how many STD there are, you would make love wearing full rubber body suits. Right Wing People always surprise me. When it is them,: "She is saving an unborn life;such a crusader for the anti-abortion movement ". When it is us: "You can’t support a child, we are draining the welfare system, or give it up for adoption. Amazing, now we are suppose to listen to this girl who made a dumb decision to sleep with her best friend’s boyfriend. I don’t think so…I know that Solange and Ashley Lynn are feeling sour about this.

  8. Lola- It sounds like you were blessed with a good family. May you continue to be blessed.MSJNT- I am not a man. LOL I have not ever experienced any part of this situation- I have never been the other woman, & I have never been the wife. As a woman who has never been with anyone’s husband, boyfriend, man or fiancee, I made two key points:1. Women tend to react similarly to relationship situations regardless of race, they just may phrase the same point in different ways.2. If a man produces a child outside of his marriage, the outside child should at some point be cordially introduced to his/her siblings. The children can be friends and can be cordial even if the adults never reach the point of being cordial. Msjnt, I hope that you will be blessed also.

  9. While I have great sympathy for the Edwards family, I think that certain parts of Mrs. Edwards public performance rings a little hollow. Oprah, for all the good things that she does for a lot of people is a swine, just like the rest of the media, for allowing this woman to use her last moments on earth to, in effect, curse her husband and destroy any chance he may have to regain the respect of his children. Using her illness as a "prop" to get her "cheating" husband elected president was a far worse crime against humanity than any extra-marital affair they "both" had knowledge of before the primaries, and they "both", because of prior knowledge, participated in.I’m going to take a very unpopular position and say that John Edwards "MAY" have been overwhelmed by the REALITY of having a dying wife and was just trying to reconnect to LIFE. Yes, it was VERY SELFISH. Yes, it was LOW-DOWN. Yes, he is perhaps the preening egomaniac of political parody. But, as they say, before you criticize and abuse…WALK A MILE IN HIS SHOES.Like many humans before him, looking in the face of death…there comes a moment where CHARACTER comes to the surface. In the eyes of the prying public…he failed. And, it’s a lot better that he failed his wife and family than being allowed to FAIL the entire USA as president. Mrs. Edwards KNEW about his SERIOUS CHARACTER FLAWS and was willing to grab for the "brass ring" of fame and power and subject the rest of us to a "coin-toss" fate.I give to the American Cancer Society. I do so with the understanding that curing cancer will cure evil people as well as good people. Christianity demands forgivness. Perhaps Mrs. Edwards should use the precious time she has left on this planet resolving her family crisis in a way that won’t further destroy her children, or John’s. That might be a better legacy than revenge.Jus Sayin’,Domino49

  10. Maybe Mohammed was right..that.Men should have 4 wives….or Big Love…Joseph Smith,,The Mormons…,The new head of South Africa is a polygamist,,,maybe the myth is monagamy???Powerful men probably have powerful urges…Roosevelt had a babe….Mao had a babe,,,ghandi was surrounded by young girls…he slept with them,,,had sex????dont know…Eisenhower had Kay Summersby….why is it ok to have many wives and be the president of south africa???and Bill Clinton gets killed for Monica????whos right???(Bill coulda done better,,,lolll)

  11. Women are their own worst enemy. If I were the wife of one of these dudes, I’d leave his ass. But see, they are codependents. They are whores for the fame and attention just as their men. That;s why I don’t understand the "politics" of this. If the average women who say f you and leave, or at least move out (or kick the man out) for a time, why do people think they’ll give props to someone who "stands by their man?" As for men, I don’t buy this powerful men had powerful urges thing. Men with self control and pride don’t cheat. Yeah there;s temptation but I don’t buy this crap that we are all just poon hunting animals, ruled by our dicks. If that’s the case then we as men (and specifically black men) don’t deserve the respect we demand. We can’t pick and choose. We can’t be respected as men then let off the hook for being dogs. Fuck Bill Clinton, Fuck Edwards, Fuck Ike, and the all the others.

  12. I agree with the female panel on the Jane Velez-Mitchell show last Friday, saying the cover-up was worse than the crime. Lying to me is the worst thing. We’re all human and can fail miserably sometimes. It’s estimated that half of the infidelities are committed by wives now. If Edwards had come clean and admitted to his wife that he had cheated, it would have been much better. I think the public can forgive a man who–let’s be honest–is tempted by a lot of women. This is no excuse, but people can understand the physical weaknesses that we all share. Mrs. Edwards added to the error in judgment by going along with the lie. "Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive."

  13. To "me" : Mrs. Edwards is smart. She’s trying to make Edward’s mistress mad so she’ll get a paternity test to prove the baby is his. Women are clever, they know how to play the game.

  14. It’s a situation she has to decide. It will be hard to heal the relationship because if the baby is really his, then there will be a constant reminder of his infidelity. If she chooses to stay with him there will always be a third person in the marriage. She has to decide if she can live with that or if she would rather move on and sever the ties of their marriage but not his parental rights. No one can make the decision of what she can live with except her. She has quite decision to make and my heart goes out to her.

  15. "Chronic poon hound" and "plantation workers Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers"=hilarious. To the commenter who mentioned the girlfriend of the Craigslist killer: Every time I think of her the song Stand by Your Man comes to mind. It was crazy to me when the news broke and she was quoted as saying that she was sure he had not done anything wrong and that they would still be getting married in August. Really? Hmm…

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