There’s a moment in John H. Richardson’s August 2010 Esquire profile of Newt Gingrich in which a former wife of the political comeback artist and serial adulterer is described as having “shockingly little bitterness.” Later, the author is more explicit: Marianne Gingrich is “not angry at all.”
Richardson, of course, is talking about the dramatic and humiliating end to Marianne’s marriage of 18 years, the details of which were resurrected during a brief media tour last week, just as her ex-husband was surging in the polls.
Anna Holmes is a contributing columnist for the Style section. She is the founder of Jezebel.com.
Marianne Gingrich’s media appearances seemed calculated to deliver a devastating, if not entirely fatal blow to her ex-husband. (They didn’t have much of an effect: The former House speaker went on to win the South Carolina primary and is, of this writing, hot on Mitt Romney’s tail in Florida.)
They also felt strange and dissonant, at odds with her professed equanimity toward her ex. I have a hard time believing that a woman who devoted herself to the care and feeding of an ambitious, raging megalomaniac for close to two decades only to be cast aside for a younger, blonder model— a few months after a devastating diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, no less — would not be “angry at all.”
No doubt Marianne Gingrich is a more forgiving, pious woman than I. But it’s also likely that she’s keenly aware that female anger simply doesn’t sell, that it is regularly used to discredit and dismiss serious and real frustrations by women. In the myriad of personal and professional ways females have achieved parity with men over the decades, freedom of expression is not one of them.
The issue of female anger, and the learned, delicate dance of communicating dissatisfaction while not coming off as a bitter complainer, has been on my mind ever since the Jan. 10 publication of “The Obamas.” Despite its title, New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor’s much-discussed and ultimately disappointing book is less a sweeping portrait of a high-profile modern marriage than a pixelated snapshot of one member of that marriage: first lady Michelle Obama.
Many, myself included, found Kantor’s characterization of the first lady frustrating. Michelle Obama is often presented as a reactive, not active, participant — in her marriage and in the White House. To be fair, the limitations of the office have a lot to do with this. (As columnist Kathleen Parker pointed out on Jan. 13, if the first lady gets frustrated from time to time, who can blame her?) But Kantor’s repetition of Obama’s alleged resentments gives one the sense that the first lady is in a state of perpetual annoyance. Salon’s Joan Walsh described the book as “problematizing” Michelle. CNN’s Soledad O’Brien charged Kantor with portraying Michelle’s stint as 45th FLOTUS as “akin to being stuck on a chain gang.” The day of the book’s publication, Michelle Obama was prompted to respond to its characterizations in an interview with “CBS This Morning’s” Gayle King, explaining that rumors of interpersonal dramas and dissatisfaction were greatly exaggerated, and that “people have tried to paint [a picture] of me since the day Barack announced, that I’m some angry black woman.”