Sunday, May 22, 2011

Woman Behaving Badly

The indictment of Dominique Strauss-Kahn has muddied the moral waters. Having been charged with rape, DSK has come to be the exemplar of men behaving badly.

As it happens, DSK did not just behave badly; he is alleged to have committed a criminal act.

What he did and what Arnold Schwarzenegger did are worlds apart, joined only by the fact that a male sexual organ was involved. It is always worthwhile to remind ourselves that extremes do not make the rule.

We seem to be suffering from selective moral outrage, where men, in particular, are called out and publicly shamed for their moral transgressions while women, essentially, get a pass.

Given that women have been defined as victims, their deviant behavior is often dismissed as having been caused by the abuse they have suffered at the hands of men.

Supposedly, it’s because we need to protect the children, but
it seems more likely that we are hellbent on stigmatizing men.

Consider the following, ripped from today’s headlines.

This morning Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana announced that he would not be running for the Republican nomination for president of the United States.

However much he loves his country, Daniels declared, he loves his wife and children more. And they seem not to want him to do it. One more potential candidate bites the dust.

Daniels made his announcement via email, in the dark of the night. Which would lead you to believe that he is hiding something, or protecting someone.

Now consider the following. Several years back Daniels’ wife, Cheri, abandoned her husband and four children to run off and marry another man. After a time she changed her mind, divorced her second husband, and remarried Mitch Daniels.

Let’s grant that she did not cheat, and that she did not commit adultery. Yet, she did not misbehave in private. Her moral failings were matters of public record.

How bad is it for a mother to abandon her children? How much more traumatic is it for a child to be abandoned by her mother than to discover that her father had an extramarital affair, or even that her father paid for the services of a prostitute?

The press has been reporting that Cheri Daniels did not want to have this sordid episode from her own past aired out in public. About that she was surely correct. I would assume that her daughters, the true victims of her misbehavior, would not want to be reminded of their mother's moral failings.

And yet, strangely, no one has really pointed out how bad it is for a mother to abandon her minor children.

Can you excuse it by saying that she was looking for true love?

Our moral faculties have been dulled into believing that women can do no wrong. We are willing to excuse whatever women do, regardless of its moral density or its effect on other people.

Some have wondered why Daniels took his ex-wife back. An excellent question. One supposes that he did it for the children, four girls who probably were suffering terribly from the abuse-- let’s call it by its name-- that their mother had visited on them.

I think it fair to say that Mitch Daniels acted nobly. He did not have to take his ex-wife back, but he seems to have swallowed his pride to do what was best for his daughters.

His wife has just rewarded him by vetoing his wish to run for the presidency. Doubtless, she is incapable of facing the truth about her own bad behavior.
As the old saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished.


Susan said...

Very interesting analysis.

And yet, does anyone really know why Cheri Daniels left her husband? You have to admit that Mitch Daniels has to take responsibility for marrying her in the first place. Faulty judgement, maybe?

Not that I blame him for their separation. However, I for one found his recent (political) statements and appearances incredibly strange to say the least (and his PBS newhours appearance a while back was outright appalling). Would he have made an electable presidential candidate? Not clear at all. The subtext of nearly every statement seemed to have be "Hey folks, you really don't want a fellow like me." There seemed to be far more at play than just his self-deprecating manner, but what exactly I don't know. More than just his family situation, surely? An "odd duck," a term that Jennifer Rubin used on her WAPO blog today to characterize him, seems apposite. Disappointing, of course, because he has such a sterling record as governor.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you, Susan.

Perhaps she left him because she found him boring. But I did not emphasize that point because I want to emphasize the point that everyone seems more than happy to ignore: Cheri Daniels also abandoned her four daughters.

I would not call that a profile in responsible behavior.

Susan said...

Abandoning ones children is indeed, the height of irresponsibility, a shameful act. I apologize for changing the subject. Had the public focused on this abandonment, though, as they surely would have sooner or later had Daniels declared his candidacy, I don't suspect it would have maintained its initial pass for Cheri Daniels either.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I think you're right about this, Susan. The media would have let the issue go at first but eventually the question of Cheri Daniels' behavior would have been everywhere.

Of course, if she had been a Dem, it would never have been mentioned at all. If anyone dared to say anything, he or she would have immediately been denounced as sexist.

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