Anthony Weiner’s Twitter account is no more, and neither is his marriage. Huma Abedin announced on Monday that she’s leaving her husband of six years, after The New York Post revealed on Sunday night that the “disgraced ex-congressman has been sexting with a busty brunette out West—and even sent her a lurid crotch shot with his toddler son in the picture.” Her private grief is now headline fodder.
“Frankly, Weiner should never have been given so many chances when he publicly humiliated his wife and her boss,” wrote Jaclyn Cashman of the Boston Herald.
And the National Enquirer has affixed the adjective to Abedin’s name as if it were an honorific: “Humiliated Huma Abedin has finally pulled the plug on her marriage...”
American and British dictionaries are clear about the definition of “humiliate”: “Make (someone) feel ashamed and foolish by injuring their dignity and self-respect, especially publicly.” So when the press refers to Abedin as humiliated, they’re saying Weiner has made her feel ashamed and foolish—and that her dignity and self-respect has been injured in public view.
Only one part of that definition is conclusively true here: Weiner’s betrayals have been public. But does Abedin feel ashamed or foolish? Has her dignity and self-respect suffered? We can imagine how we might feel in her situation, but we don’t have any confirmation. And to assume she feels humiliated is to subscribe to the notion that she’s a perpetual victim. It robs her of agency.
Indeed, “humiliated” has long been used to describe Abedin—ever since Weiner tweeted that first crotch shot five years ago. The word surfaced again earlier this year with the release of Weiner. “Huma is humiliated again in new ‘Weiner’ doc,” the Post’s Barbara Hoffman declared in her review, which began, “Maybe it was prophetic that her parents named her Huma—close as it is to “humiliated.”
Hoffman, like so many others, only sees in Abedin what she wants to see. “Though she never raises her voice...her body language speaks volumes,” she writes, and later describes “no joy in her eyes, no hint of a smile.” This is a stunning act of confirmation bias. Hoffman casually dismisses Abedin’s composure—which more rationally suggests she’s not humiliated—and ignores the many references in the film to Abedin’s discomfort with being anywhere near a camera or microphone. (She’s notably more at ease in private scenes in the film.)
The conviction that Abedin feels humiliated isn’t just subtly sexist; it’s often Islamophobic, too. Hoffman, for instance, noted that Abedin, a Muslim, “spent her Wonder Bread years in Saudi Arabia, hardly a haven of women’s rights.” In 2013, when Weiner’s second sexting scandal broke and Abedin announced she would stay in the marriage, many pundits attributed her decision to her faith.
“It’s relevant to point out here by the way...Huma is a Muslim. In that regard, Weiner ought to be able to get away with anything,” Rush Limbaugh said.
“When you puzzle over why the elegant Huma Abedin is propping up the eel-like Anthony Weiner, you must remember one thing: Huma was raised in Saudi Arabia, where women are treated worse by men than anywhere else on the planet,” wrote Maureen Dowd in The New York Times.
And in the National Review, Andrew McCarthy accused Abedin of staying with Weiner only to distract attention from her own alleged ties to “Islamic supremacists.”
Whatever you think motivated Abedin to stay with Weiner as long as she did, it would be a mistake to underestimate her professional savvy. She may be loyal, as the Clintons attest, but she’s no one’s patsy. She has carefully established a political career that will likely take her to White House, an accomplishment that argues persuasively against the depiction of her as a meek, submissive woman.
No one but Abedin, and perhaps her close friends and family, know why she stayed with Weiner until now. Maybe she did it for love, or because she wanted to keep her son’s home intact. Maybe she really believed her husband had changed, or could still change. But we do know that her career—and her reputation—will survive him.
The real story of Huma Abedin isn’t about victimhood, then, but quite the opposite: power and independence. She stayed with Weiner when the entire country, it seemed, wanted her to leave him—after he gave up his congressional seat, and after he was demolished in the New York mayoral race. Now she is leaving him when he has nothing left to lose—nothing to lose except his wife, that is. So who’s humiliated now?