Friday, November 24, 2006

Where Can We Hide the Husbands?

This is a serious question for women in politics, because politicians are supposed to be powerful but wives are not supposed to be powerful. If they are, the husbands are going to be henpecked, and that is a Very Bad Thing, worse than family violence and such. But if the husbands are not being henpecked, then, the horror of all horrors!, they must be the real power behind the throne. Another impossible situation for us ladies to figure out, isn't it?

So what do we do with the husband? The conventional wisdom is to hide him from sight. Just like powerful women in business are adviced to put up snapshots of their children as office decoration but none of their husbands. I always wondered if this would suggest that these women are single parents, but not according to experts. The experts say that a picture of the husband would remind the traditionalists visiting the powerful woman's office of the unpleasant possibility that her strings are pulled by an even more powerful husband somewhere in the background. Or the suggestive power of the photograph might be even more terrifying: the husband has been emasculated! Eek! Run for your lives and the safety of your testicles.

A piece in the Huffington Post some time ago mused on all these awkward aspects of our common heritage in more detail, and it also pointed out the only solution that works:

Probably the first time a woman succeeds in being elected to high office it will be at least partly because her husband excels somewhere in his own right. He would of course profusely and publicly admire his wife for her great desire to solve the problems of the day, while he continued on his own equally important quest to save the world from AIDS, or some such thing.

Or the first female president of the United States could always marry God. Now that would work, too.

None of this is new, of course, and the problem will not go away until we manage to see marriages as equal enterprises rather than as mini IBMs where the man is the leader. But until that miracle happens the best women politicians can do is probably what Margaret Thatcher did: She acted as if she had somehow forgotten to put Dennis in her handbag that morning, as if she might be married but then maybe not, as if marriage is some fuzzy cloudlike thing that doesn't have much anything to do with women in power. That way Dennis kept his balls and Margaret kept them, too.

Isn't it odd how a maternal connotation can work for women in politics but a marital one does not? A woman who is not married smells off to the voters and a woman who is married smells off to the voters, too. All this shows how far we are from a feminist world, I guess.