It’s been a bad week for political wives.
In Northern Ireland, Mrs. Robinson jokes are enjoying a comeback following the revelations about the First Minister’s spouse Iris and her affair with a teenager.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, former presidential candidate John Edwards’ wife Elizabeth has been outed in a new book on the 2008 campaign as “an abusive, intrusive, paranoid, condescending crazywoman.”
Today in the Times though, Melanie Reid struck up a defence for Iris Robinson, calling on us to “be celebrating Iris for her modernity, her spirit, her black lacy underwear and her sheer chutzpah in breaking centuries of convention.”
Reid said she is “a feminist icon” for breaking the mould, and went as far as to say ‘Atta girl”.
Excuse me? Let’s just refresh. Leaving aside the alleged political misconduct, this is Reid’s description of a woman in her mid sixties who has had three affairs, one with someone young enough to be her grandson. The two apparently got close after the boy’s father died.
Reid’s stance – that Iris is some 2010 incarnation of girl power – is appalling. Feminism is many things, but it is not this.
If Iris was a man, we would, quite rightly, be railing against a pervy middle-aged politician for sleazy antics with a teen.
That she is a middle aged woman makes her behaviour no less disgraceful, and certainly not more commendable. Reid seems to think Robinson has made some powerful statement against the shackles of patriarchal; Christianity, that by doing the unthinkable she has asserted her own power as a woman.
But when you look through the coverage of the woman, she doesn’t come across as any kind of feminist champion, fighting, say, for abortion rights or against the sex trade.
I may not be any particular fan of Harriet Harman, but when it comes to female politicians fighting for women’s rights, it is someone like Harman who comes to mind, not a woman who exerts her autonomy by sleeping with a young boy.
Iris Robinson is no feminist role-model. Rather, she has set back the image of the female politician, indeed that of any woman in public life, back a long way.
She has made the political wife a caricature, not a heroine. And in her widely reported comment that ‘homosexuality is an abomination’, Iris comes across as bigoted and hypocritical, certainly not someone young girls should aspire to be.
Tom Watson, writing in Huff Post on Elizabeth Edwards, said: “You can’t help but feel that the “crazy woman” character is so easily applied to females on the political stage” .
Given the recent coverage of Sarah Palin, not to mention that of Hillary Clinton, he’s absolutely right.
Celebrating the actions of someone like Iris Robinson simply encourages this.