Railing against good wives

When the New York Times Magazine put former congressman Anthony Weiner and his wife Huma Abedin on the cover a few weeks ago, the intention was to provoke. In the introduction to “the post scandal playbook,” a portrait of life after Weiner's torrid trainwreck tweet, a plaintive announcement about his potential mayoral run. And in the denouement, a treacly appeal for forgiveness.

But among the obvious reasons for feeling a little awkward about the piece, strangest of all was the following letter that the Times snagged from Cosmopolitan.com and ran in print:

Although Huma Abedin appears to be the hero of this piece, not Weiner (who comes off overly emotional and uses therapy-speak), we continue to focus primarily on her role as, well, “the good wife.” It’s totally reductive to put Abedin on a pedestal as Weiner’s forgiving, “graceful” spouse. Doing this saddles her with a stereotype that’s entirely based on her husband and his transgressions, and undermines her own professional accomplishments. We should let her stand on her own. Yes, she should totally be the one running for mayor. But on her own merit, which is obvious enough. Not for being a forgiving, “ideal” wife. ANNA BRESLAW on cosmopolitan.com

At first, you might appreciate the comment for its astute and angular view. For in the piece, it’s true that Abedin figures as a supporting role in her husband's sordid story — her character only really matters precisely because she’s his wife (and not because she also happens to be one of Hillary Clinton's top aides). In this, Breslaw was right to note the limited portrayal of a real-life prodigy.

But we cannot ask a story that is about one thing to be a story about something else; if this were a piece about Abedin's political eligibility and ambition, it would be another story entirely. But in this story about a marital trial, why is it wrong to depict the wife as a good one? Breslaw’s comment suggests distaste for “good wives” (as if a wife should aspire to anything else) and makes it sound insulting. Would Breslaw prefer Abedin to be a bitter wife? A vengeful wife? An unforgiving wife?

That Human Abedin is, quite clearly, a Good Wife, is another line on her long list of merits that makes her more than this specific piece allows her to be, but that in any event should ever add to her heroism and not distort it. Because of all the roles one plays in life, how many are of greater import than being someone's steadfast partner?

Imagine the alternative to Anthony Weiner's fate had he performed better as the Good Husband.