We have all become more cynical in the past year. I mean, I certainly have.
There was a time when I thought the Clinton’s marriage must be a pillar of strength, because if it could survive the Lewinsky scandal, there must truly be real love there. I’m not sure if I think that any more. If I see a wife steadfastly standing by her man – à la Camille Cosby – my knee-jerk response is disgust, rather than respect. As far as I can tell, if you’re a woman married to a serial sexual predator, you are either incredibly naive to not know what was going on or astonishingly callous for knowing and turning the other cheek. "You shared a bed, a house, a life with this man," I think. "You were the canary down that mine. Why didn’t you sing?"
And yet, reading Georgina Chapman’s interview with US Vogue this week, I was astonished by how affecting Harvey Weinstein’s now-ex wife’s testimony is. She was married to Hollywood’s most ferocious sexual predator and truly appears to have had no clue.
“I was so humiliated and so broken . . . that . . . I, I, I . . . didn’t think it was respectful to go out,” says the 42-year-old British designer. “I thought, Who am I to be parading around with all of this going on? It’s still so very, very raw. I was walking up the stairs the other day and I stopped; it was like all the air had been punched out of my lungs.”
Oddly, Chapman seems to be taking more responsibility for her ex-husband’s behaviour than her own ex-husband. “At first I couldn’t, because I was too shocked. And I somehow felt that I didn’t deserve it. And then I realised: This has happened. I have to own it. I have to move forward.
“There was a part of me that was terribly naive – clearly, so naive. I have moments of rage, I have moments of confusion, I have moments of disbelief! And I have moments when I just cry for my children. What are their lives going to be?”
Marchesa, the fashion label Georgina Chapman founded with friend and fellow Chelsea College of Arts grad Keren Craig, was obviously pushed by Weinstein (who allegedly bullied actresses into wearing her gowns), so there are questions. Did she profit from her husband’s huge, bullying influence? Of course. Should she be thrown on the pyre with him, because of that? The world can’t seem to decide. It comes down to this: should the wife of a scandal-heavy man be blamed for his crimes?
The neatest, trimmest, most feminist answer is simple: women should not be held accountable for men’s action
It’s a confusing role, the life of the wife in the public eye. Camille Cosby has repeatedly defended her now-convicted rapist husband in public – cue boos and hisses from the media – but Camille is also 74 years old, a woman from a time when you stood by your husband no matter what. Anthony Weiner’s wife, the brilliant Huma Abedin, was once hailed as part of a "new generation of civic leaders", and now you hardly hear her name without the suffix “that poor woman”. Abedin’s long-suffering mentor, Hillary Clinton, has been both praised for her choice to stay married to Bill, and criticised for claiming to empower women while tolerating her husband’s predilection for having sex with interns.
Then there’s Melania: a model who thought she was marrying an eccentric millionaire and wound up the First Lady of the United States. Every day, the pass notes change on Melania: she is a prisoner we need to save; she is a legendary shade queen who refuses to hold her husband’s hand; she is a cold, menacing presence, as tuned in to Trump’s hateful regime as he is; she’s just a woman who looks well in a hat.
The neatest, trimmest, most feminist answer is simple: women should not be held accountable for men’s actions. It’s definitely the answer I want to believe in, because, God knows, women are blamed for simply knowing dangerous men every day. Amy Schumer was attacked for simply employing a man who made a rape joke. Lena Dunham made the woeful decision to defend Girls staffer Murray Miller after he was accused of sexual assault, but she still received more public criticism than Miller – the one who was actually accused – did. And this isn’t just a celebrity thing, either. When women are killed by their partners, you don’t have to wait long for the inevitable: “Well, she did know he was violent. She should have left.”
But this isn’t a neat, trim, tidily feminist issue. I’m starting to think nothing is. I’m reminded of the Edmund Burke quote: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. Do we need a revised quote – all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good wives do nothing?
Or – much more likely – would evil still triumph regardless of what the wife does? Because, let’s face it, for every wife who refuses to tolerate her powerful husband’s behaviour, there’s someone else willing to jump into her place. Perhaps it’s a question of being careful of who we give power to in the first place, and how much of it.