lunes, 17 de marzo de 2008

Cheating in Spanish and American Politics

Over at Susie Bright's blog there's a great post which illustrates some of the difference between Spain and America in the public's perception of their politicians' private lives, cheating, in particular. Bright swaps a few emails with a correspondent from El Periodico, who is baffled by the wives standing next to their teary politician husbands when it's time to apologize for a sex scandal.

I highly recommend this entry to anyone trying to understand Spanish politics, Spanish marriage or even dirtier subjects, like domestic violence in Spain.

Quoting the journalist:

It's hard for me to imagine a political wife in Spain standing by her man in a press conference.

First of all, our politicians' private lives are not as important as in the US. For instance, the presence of the wife in the election campaign is not as common as here.

I'd go even further and state that using a politician's wife "a la US" in a campaign, would quickly backfire. People would be wondering what exactly she was doing speaking at a meeting when she doesn't have a high political position. It'd be seen as opportunistic and cheesy. Our current wife-of-President looks great on cam, and yet they still keep her out of the limelight and use her only on very specific occasions. The wife of the loosing candidate in the last election was a complete unknown (to me) until she appeared in the tribune with her husband when he conceded the election--sparking rumours that maybe she was going into politics. If you're on the tribune, you're there for a reason, and the only reason Spanish journalists could think of was that she might be running for something. Because who in their right mind would subject themselves to public scrutiny just to have the man look good?

Some years ago, an important member of the conservative government left, and eventually divorced, his wife. He married a twenty-something he met in a party convention. He cheated on his wife before leaving her. Later, he left this second wife and married a third woman. It was a gossip story for the gossip press, not a political story for the serious press. He did not resign at all, and nobody asked him to. Both cheated wives gave interviews, to be sure, but to the gossip media.

We care so little about people's private lives that I don't even recognize the politician in question. Oh, I could look it up, of course. But I'm not going to. Because I don't care.

It is not that Spain is not sexist. It is indeed (at the end of the day, we invented the words 'macho' and 'machismo').

Sadly, yes.

But, as you said, in our ancestral Catholic culture, the woman may "belong" to the man, but the man must fulfill his duties with her; she has "some rights." One of his duties is to protect her. It is already enough of a burden for her to have been cheated on. She does not need to appear in front the whole country as the humiliated wife.

It's more than that. In Spain we have a strong "what will people think?" attitude to morals. Ie: cheating on your wife is bad, but cheating on your wife and then having everyone know about it along with sordid details is unforgivable. A Spanish wife might let him come back home after he cheated , but not if he was stupid enough to be caught on T.V. But then again, he'd never be caught on T.V. because nobody would care enough to make a scandal out of it (except the gossip rags, but I doubt they could keep things going for more than a day or so--it'd blow over fast).

One last point: as an ancestral machista society, Spain thinks that whatever happens at home stays at home, even if we are talking about a politician.

This means that politicians are seen only in their political roles, and not necessarily as role models for good husbands/lovers/etc.

On the other hand, the fact that whatever "happens at home stays at home" means that issues like abuse and domestic violence are hidden. It's taken a lot of time to have laws that consider domestic abuse as a crime. Above all, it was hard (and sometimes it is still) to consider this abuse as something that must be rejected, and dealt with in the public sphere, not only at home.

I couldn't have put it better.

The key to Spanish politics:

Politician's here aren't demi-gods
Respectable people keep their private lives' private. You're not expected to drag out your family even when you have one and it's to your advantage. Politician's kids never appear on T.V. Period. I guess there's a deal with the press involved and so far it's worked well.

That's the reason why nobody pities the celebs' who end up on the gossip pages. True or not, there's a strong sense of they were asking for it that keeps people from empathising.

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