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Elizabeth Edwards

December 9, 2010

While reading the Wall Street Journal recently, I stumbled upon the article “Feisty Campaigner Drew Sympathy Amid Tragedy.”  This title caught my attention, and I continued to read the article.  The article was about the life of Elizabeth Edwards.  For being the wife of a Southern politician she received much more media attention than other women of her stature.   Her public life was marked with tragedy, and she experienced it accompanied by the critical eye of the entire country.  Elizabeth was diagnosed with breast cancer at the height of her political significance on Election Day 2004.   Then, through which I can assume was opposition research, it was discovered that her first-born son died accidentally at a very young age.  In 2008, more bad news was leaked into the media, and therefore leaked to Elizabeth herself.  Her husband had been having an affair and fathered a child out of wedlock.

This series of events brought only mass amounts of sympathy to Elizabeth.  Beginning in 2004, she battled cancer with strength, and stayed by her husband’s side the whole time through his campaign.  After the 2004 campaign as the vice presidential candidate, Elizabeth was seen as one of her husband’s closest advisors and biggest advocates.   She was “lionized” by many and some even referred to her as “St. Elizabeth.”  While Elizabeth was extremely loyal to her husband, and stood by his side for what many would consider to be too long, she was not always as good as her “squeaky-clean image” made her out to be.

This description of what seems to me to be a very strong woman, allowed me to compare her to what people see as a strong woman today, and the characteristics of such a woman.  In the time of many of the philosophers and theorists we have been studying, women served one main purpose, to be there for the man, whatever he may need.  Rousseau believed that a woman existed to satisfy a man.  She was completely dependent on him.  In today’s world, a woman is admired the more independent she can be and the more power she can hold, at least by some.  I admire a strong woman who can compete in what many consider to be a “man’s world,” for example.  This could be a place like Wall Street, or maybe even any large financial center.

Elizabeth was strong in her ability to fight the cancer and stand by her husband through his campaigning, which had been there for her through her sickness, and supported her back to healthiest state.  Even during the first rumors of the affair, she stayed with him.  But does that still make her strong and admirable?  Shouldn’t a strong woman be sticking up for herself and realize what she does and does not deserve.  She even said, “I am imperfect in a million ways, but I always thought I was the kind of wife to whom a husband would be faithful.”  Some time after she found out about the affair, Elizabeth separated from her husband, John.  During her lifetime she wrote two memoirs about her struggles and pain.  She grew to be greatly respected by the political community and Americans in general.  Recently, Elizabeth announced that she would no longer be receiving treatment for her cancer.  Elizabeth died Tuesday, December 7, 2010.

She was a remarkable woman, but I must admit that I question her strength and independence.  She continued to be an advocate of John’s political career, even once she had learned of the affair and his other son.  Does that display tact or a lack of self respect?  Should her duty to stand up for herself to her husband affect every part of her public life?  From the surface, Elizabeth played the role of a wife, who lived in the shadows of her husband, there to support him.  One could say, from this aspect, she fit the role of Rousseau’s ideal woman, or maybe even a housewife from the 1950s.  What many did not know was the way she treated the staffers on his campaign, and even some of the snide comments she was known to say about him.  But again, were those comments and remarks deserved?  And whether or not they were, does that matter?  What should be a wife’s role to a politician husband in this day and age?  Family is always supposed to support one another, but how far does that go when a public mockery was made of the marriage?

One Comment
  1. Shauna Sitarek permalink
    December 10, 2010 12:01 PM

    So I’m just going to dive in and try to answer some of the questions you asked in your post.

    First to address wheather or not Elizabeth should be concidered stron and admirable even after she stayed with her husband after she found out he has had an afair and a child out fo wedlock.

    This is a hard question, I think that her choice of trying to stay with him (even thought it was just at first) took a lot more strength, effort and compassion than leaving him would have. I mean, she could have just left him on the spot and been done with it (other than going thought the divorce process), yet she tried to fix the marriage, which probably took quite a toll on her. I think that her patience, and ability to keep her composure and stay with him even after, may prove that she was a strong and admirable woman.

    As to the part where you ask, “shouldn’t a strong woman be sticking up for herself and realize what she does and does not deserve” I think that we all agree she probably deserved better, but I do not think that trying to fix her marriage makes her weak. I think that since she tried to fix her marriage, realized it was beyond repair, and then left shows that she was a smart, strong and independent woman.

    You ask a few more questions in your last paragraph like “What should be a wife’s role to a politician husband in this day and age?” and “Family is always supposed to support one another, but how far does that go when a public mockery was made of the marriage?”

    So for the first question, I think that a wife’s role to a politician husband probably requires a lot more strength. I mean just like any famous couple, there are always people out there just to cause problems (paparazzi, old wives or girlfriends, other family members, ect.) I mean “normal” husbands and wives fight every now and then and they make up when they are ready. However when you and your husband are constantly put in the spotlight, there is no “little” fight. It is blown up all over the media and rumors start flying, which I think would make the fight much more complicated because you are hearing a million other peoples thoughts, not just your husband and yours. So being a politicians wife in this day in age, probably requires a lot more work that a normal wifes roll would be. I’m not trying to say being a normal wife is easy, but having your marriage constantly watch would require a lot of self control form both the husband and wife, and a lot of trust, which clearly Elizabeths husband did not deserve.

    To answer your last question about whether family should always support each other, I think that families should always respect what choices other members of the family are making, however they do not need to agree with the choice, nor should they have to support it. If my brother wanted to drop out of school, there is no way I would support his decision. I would do everything I could to try to make him reconsider his choice. However, if he id drop out, yes I would be disappointed, but in the end I would respect his choice and continue being his big sister.

    There is no doubt in my mind that Elizabeth was a strong and independent woman. I think that she did what she could for her marriage, and even though she may have made snide remarks about her husband, what wife doesn’t? I mean yes she probably should have thought about how her words could have leaked to the press, but like she said, she was no where near perfect.

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