Blindauer ’10 Examines Perceptions of Political Adultery for Brace Fellows Presentations

Political infidelities are often the stuff of tabloids, but Ellen Blindauer ’10 chose to take an academic approach in analyzing social expectations of political wives whose husbands have committed high-profile cases of adultery. In “Stand by Your Man: Media Reaction and Public Perception of Cases of Adultery in High-Profile Politicians,” Blindauer researched four case studies of the wives of politicians who had been involved in affairs during their political career. Blindauer presented her findings to an audience on Tuesday as part of the Student Fellows program from the Brace Center for Gender Studies. A March 2009 Vogue article profiling Silda Spitzer, wife of former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, as a survivor after her husband’s affair spurred the topic of Ellen’s presentation. “It made me really skeptical of the media,” Blindauer said. “I felt a little scorn because I had seen the woman at her lowest point.” Blindauer examined four high-profile cases of infidelity: Eliot and Silda Spitzer, Bill and Hillary Clinton, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and Jenny Sanford, and former Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards and his wife Elizabeth. The idea for Blindauer’s research was to use “these case studies to explore gender roles and morals in the U.S,” she said. Blindauer’s research looked into the characteristics that Americans look for in their political wives, how those women are treated in a scandal, and how they are a product of the nation’s history and current values. Blindauer learned that “our values really are stuck in a more traditional way of life from many years ago and that the reason why that hasn’t changed is economic.” Blindauer’s research came from news articles from the New York Times, the Boston Globe and other major newspapers and magazines. “I had an idea on what I would find in terms of characteristics, but what I learned in terms of theory and history was completely new,” Blindauer said. “As I saw more cases, I realized that you can’t find a case in general, that it all depends on the situation, and that made it more human to me.” By the end of the project, Ellen said that she realized that “the media and the public judge so much and so much of it is so superficial, don’t take what the media says at face value and, second, just try to be more compassionate because there’s always a story that you don’t know about.” The topic of the presentation, the public’s opinion of how American politicians’ wives handle infidelity scandals, was the most alluring aspect to those who attended. “I always wondered why Americans take politicians’ personal lives into consideration because to me all those aspects of life are separate,” said Pew Wutilertcharoenwong ’10. “I learned about what American’s value and what they expect in general, not only in politics.” Micere Johnson ’10, Co-Head of Women’s Forum, said, “Ellen did a great job, her research was thorough and well presented, and I was really glad I had the opportunity to attend.” Johnson added that she connected with “Ellen’s insight that the average woman is working just to put food on the table, and so women still want to see women who don’t need to work stay at home and fulfill their role as mothers.” Tony Rotundo, Co-Director of the Brace Center and Instructor in History and Social Science, said that it was a pleasant surprise that the turnout of people was much greater than expected. “This was one of the best years we’ve ever had, both for the quality of the papers and the presentations,” he said. The dinner and presentation took place in the School Room of Abbot Hall last Tuesday evening and was co-sponsored by the Brace Center for Gender Studies and Women’s Forum.