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Giving Elizabeth Edwards a Break

January 18, 2010

Postbourgie has its inaugural podcast up, and it’s a really good discussion on a few things that grabbed my attention last week.

The second segment of the show is all about Elizabeth Edward’s now famous fall from pedestal-hood.  I have to admit I was totally fascinated by Heilemann and Halperin’s (H and H) chapter on the Edwards. It was a really good read, which is why I was pretty surprised by the general lack of discussion about it. Reid’s comments took over, instead.

Postbourgie folks (hence-forth PB) had some solid critiques about the chapter on Edwards that I found really convincing. Somewhere buried under my riveted reading of the chapter, I was also … (not angry exactly, I loved reading it too much)… but “ignor-ably” bothered (?) at the descriptions of Elizabeth and Reille. They weren’t very flattering to John Edwards either, but we end up feeling sorry about his pathetic self-destruction. Unlike Elizabeth, who is a relentless bitch throughout.

PB makes the extremely valid and obvious point that she was elevated to sainthood because she seemed to “persevere”  despite the death of son/ dying of cancer/ cheating husband – type shit in her life.  And the Heilemann and Halperin essentially say, well she apparently got angry as she was dying and suffering in her life. And they are critical of her for doing so.

In retrospect, H and H’s vilification of Elizabeth Edwards is deeply unfair and a pretty good analogy for what is wrong with our culture. She acted like a human being, and that really was not okay. Elizabeth was considered great or strong or whatever because she was understood as someone who hid her grief well. It reminds me of Joan Didion’s excellent The Year of Magical Thinking where she critiques this exact same thing. It’s a different context, but she talks about how in our culture we value people who do not seem to show distress under extreme stress.

And I think as women, we are judged especially favorably for not having emotions (since we are feelings-controlled maniacs).  On the other hand, our world is extremely sympathetic to men who show emotions.  (It’s good to remember the feminist lessons I learned ten years ago).

Update: Jennifer Palmieri (former Edwards campaign staff) shares her views about Elizabeth Edwards. As an aside, can we stop using the ‘She is a Survivor!, not a Saint! (But sometimes she is also saint-like because of the surviving)” headlines?

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