Entry from January 15, 2010

There sounds to my ear a note of relief and even triumph in Ruth Marcus’s announcement in today’s Washington Post that “the tables-turned, she-cheated-on-him political sex scandal we’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived.” We’ve all been waiting for? Well, I suppose that those of us who are either voyeurs or feminists — or both — will have been waiting for it. Particularly the latter. Ten years ago the preposterous Hollywood film The Contender  positively salivated over its anticipation of the embroilment of a female politician, played by Joan Allen, in a sex scandal. Now, after Bill Clinton and John Edwards and Elliot Spitzer and David Vitter and Larry Craig and Mark Sanford — but who can remember them all? — we may all be supposed to be as eager as Ms Marcus clearly is to read about a political woman caught cheating on her spouse.

Admittedly, the one she has found isn’t in this country but in Northern Ireland, and the naughty woman, 60-year-old Iris Robinson, was only a minor local politician. Her cuckolded husband Peter, however, was what they call there the “First Minister” of the province, and that has raised the profile of the affair considerably, as has the fact that both the Robinsons are members of the Democratic Unionist party, founded by the Rev. Ian Paisley, and therefore Christian fundamentalists whose politics involve frequent invocations of the deity and the laws they say He has laid down for mankind in the Bible — including, presumably, the commandment against adultery. In addition, Mrs Robinson seems to have had more than one lover and at least one of them may have involved her in some pecuniary chicanery.

You might suppose that the detail that most excites Ruth Marcus’s close attention to the Robinson family’s embarrassment — which, by the way, included news of Mrs Robinson’s suicide attempt last March — was that this particular affair was with a 19-year-old. Or, as Ms Marcus puts it in the climactic position of her opening paragraph, “a teenage boy.” She is hardly the first to remark on the significance of the offender’s sharing a name with Anne Bancroft’s character in The Graduate — “here’s to you, etc.” — and she appears to be as eager figuratively to leap up and down with joy at what she calls “the (super)cougar aspect” of the story as her fellow-Posties, Hank Stuever, Monica Hesse and Ellen McCarthy were a few months ago at the premiere of ABC’s “Cougar Town.”

But if naughty Mrs Robinson is a sign that women in politics have arrived at least one of the benchmarks of equality with men, she also offers an object lesson in hypocrisy, and that is even more titillating to the liberal than misbehaving sexagenarian females. On this score, Ms Marcus looks positively namby-pamby next to Melanie Reid in The Times of London who celebrates Mrs Robinson, hypocrisy, moralism, blue-nosed priggishness and all, as a heroine:

Everyone has missed the point about Iris Robinson. The woman is a feminist icon. Were it not for the fact that she’s an arch-Protestant, she should be sanctified as St Iris, the patron saint of middle-aged women brave enough to rebel and stick it to the God-fearing men of Ulster. Why, instead of regarding her as a sinner, we should be celebrating Iris for her modernity, her spirit, her black lacy underwear and her sheer chutzpah in breaking centuries of convention. At its fundamentalist worst, Northern Irish Presbyterianism is up there with the Taleban when it comes to the suppression of women, although the Taleban might even have the edge when it comes to enlightenment.. . . Somewhere along the line, thankfully, Iris realised that that there was more to life than Leviticus, and became a woman behaving badly. Metaphorically, she shrugged off the burka to uncover a face that deserves to be made famous. Here is a heroine for a deeply flawed middle-aged rebellion. She got glamorous. She smouldered. She took lovers — at least three, it is rumoured, and one of them was, at 19, young enough to be her grandson. What can we say? To a woman hellbent (to coin a good Presbyterian phrase) on self- fulfilment, pleasure, escape, vanity, money, silk, satin and all things non- puritanical, having spent her best years being stifled, subordinate and holy, I’m inclined only to say: “Atta girl.”

And so on and so forth in the same vein. She even trashes the wronged husband for forgiving his wife and so, as she imagines, putting himself in the place of God. Nor is she inclined to be censorious about any little acts of peculation that may have been committed by Mrs R. along the way:

And no, not one word of this column is to excuse that Iris Robinson is probably fairly ghastly in her own right. But she’s ghastly in that thrilling, outrageous Sarah Palinesque way. She believes homosexuality is an abomination; and she has been less than transparent over £5,000 of start-up cash she took back from her 19-year- old lover. In the fight for freedom, let’s face it, all girls make a few mistakes. Iris Robinson is both courageous and pitiable. She was an unhappy prisoner of fundamentalist Christianity who woke up to the fact that there is, after all, only one life to enjoy. And who knows, maybe she needed the £5,000 for new shoes. After 40 years, I think she deserves them.

To a non-liberationist like me, women like Ruth Marcus and Melanie Reid are bewildering in the violence of their hatred for anything tainted, as they see it, by association with traditional sexual morality. Even if they don’t believe in it themselves, as most people don’t these days, you’d think they’d at least be able to respect the ideals of chastity and fidelity as cherished by others. Apparently not. There is something oppressive — hence the invocation of The Times’s idiosyncratically spelled “Taleban”; hence the imagery of “prison” and the invocation of Sarah Palin — even about those who adopt these ideals for themselves, independently of whether or not they try to impose them on others. Say what you will about the hell-fire preaching of the Irish Presbyterians, there’s no hatred so fierce as liberal hatred.

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