March 15, 2008
The Canberra Times

Silda stands by her man in a betrayal of herself

It’s a hell of a shame that women talk too much when we shouldn’t and don’t speak up when we should. And right now the stupefying silence of Silda Wall Spitzer is sending me crazy. I want to slap her.

As for the prostitute who rendezvoused with Silda’s husband Eliot – the now former governor of New York – I just hope she got paid. After all, someone has got to get something out of this grubby affair. And it may as well be the woman most scorned and least considered, as this tacky American soap opera plays out across the airwaves.

Like sucking juice out of a bone, the media is lapping up this made- for-the-movies story. It starts with sex and ends with scandal, with a God-fearing moralist in the middle, and a hopelessly loving and loyal wife. In case you missed a bit, here it is in a nutshell: Eliot, beloved husband of Silda and devoted father to his three daughters, rose to prominence as a fierce enforcer of morality, ethics and good old ”family values”. His image was that of a squeaky clean zealot, largely thanks to his crusading action against prostitution, sex-tourism and the trafficking of women for sex, which he called ”modern-day slavery”.

Prior to becoming governor, Spitzer was New York’s attorney- general and a hero to the prominent advocacy group Equality Now, which campaigned for the promotion of sex-tourism to be made a criminal offence along with greater penalties for the men caught patronising a prostitute: because, as the group’s executive director put it, ”demand is a critical factor” in the exploitation of women as sex workers. And apparently Spitzer was one of the few law-enforcement officials or politicians who ”understood that” and ”got it”. Accordingly, when he became governor he put greater legislative muscle behind prostitution laws.

But this week we learned just how well Spitzer ”got it” and why he really ”understood” the demand driving prostitution rings and rackets. It turns out the very same demand was driving him. So much so that he was prepared to shell out close to $5000 for a two-hour session with a prostitute.

Now, the act of soliciting the services of a prostitute is really neither here nor there. Nor is the fact that a bloke is prepared to pay that much (which for a New York ”high class” escort is apparently at the lower range). Additional reports that Spitzer has spent around $US85,000 on prostitutes over recent years is not the issue either. The primary crime in the Eliot Spitzer sex scandal is the filthy hypocrisy.

And the secondary crime is Silda. Silly, silent Silda. Her name may mean ”Teutonic war maiden”, as she likes to put it, but this week Silda proved she was no warrior woman – just a fool. She stood by her husband’s side during his ”I have violated my obligations” speech on Monday, then again during his resignation speech on Wednesday. Her stoic, sullen silence was shocking to witness. What dank, dark air was blowing through that pretty head, Silda?

Her mere presence on the stage of her husband’s confessed infidelity and unforgivable hypocrisy was a statement of pathetic defeat. She looked like a battered wife, standing naked with all her bruises and welts on display for the world’s cameras. She could barely lift her eyes. And why would she. What shame.

Her crime is not her husband’s fall from grace. It is her own. She alone is responsible for her complicity in his hypocrisy, and his public shaming of her. Because, let’s face it, we’re all listening to him but we’re staring at her. What woman would be so willing to stand silently still and publicly support a man like Spitzer in this situation? You would think only a very, very stupid one who is either brain dead, or so utterly oppressed and dependent that she has no other option.

But Silda is neither. Like her husband she was a graduate of Harvard, and she rose to become one of the highest billing corporate lawyers in New York. But then her husband’s giddy ego and burning political ambitions convinced her to chuck it all in and to be a full-time, ”traditional” mum. In forfeiting such a lucrative and successful career Silda Wall Spitzer became a poster- girl for the ”opt-out” movement those high-powered executives who give up their careers for home, hearth and husband. Silly, silent Silda.

But it gets worse. The New York Times, which first sniffed the Spitzer scandal, has reported that Silda, along with Eliot’s close advisers, counselled ”hanging tough”. She didn’t want him to resign, but to tough it out. There are reports of a discussion in which the atmosphere was ”alternately charged and funereal”, but no one is suggesting Silda kneed her husband in the groin, or tried to gouge his eyes out, for causing her such painful public humiliation.

And let’s not be coy about this. It is Silda who is the most humiliated party here. Her husband’s repeated expenditure on expensive prostitutes speaks volumes about their marriage and their unfulfilling sex life as a couple. The fact that Spitzer was prepared to lie to and deceive Silda also says a lot about how little he valued her. Her diminished worth has now been even further stripped bare – if that is possible – by the whole world knowing the details.

Perhaps that’s why Silda stood by her man and urged him not to resign. Perhaps in her diminished, careerless and dependent state, being the humiliated wife of the sex- sullied governor is better than being just single Silda – or what is left of her. Silly, sad Silda.

Virginia Haussegger is a Canberra journalist and director of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation at the University of Canberra.

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