Its a narrative as old as time.
Young, naive woman meets succesful, prominent and married older man and is mesmerised by his charismatic persona that she decides to pursue him. They inevitably get caught and get caught up in a scandal. He asks for forgiveness from the public and his wife.
The wife has to put her game face on and forgive him; she stands by him and his career and puts the mantle of ‘wronged but strong woman on’ and she gets lauded for this behaviour. Its the ONLY thing that gets her through the days when she wants to scream and shout from rage at the shame and humiliation of it all.
The other woman becomes a social pariah; an internet joke; a cautionary tale to young girls everywhere; a shining example of everything that feminism isn’t.
He gets away with a metaphorical slap on the wrist and continues to serve his office for at least one more term.
If all that sounds familiar, that’s because sometimes truth is stranger than fiction and we all had to bear witness as this political sex scandal was gleefully covered by the media almost two decades ago. I think I must have been 9 or 10 when the whole Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton scandal broke out. Although I was too young to understand the intricacies of that affair, the basics were pretty clear: he cheated on his wife with a young intern under his employ.
This book was based largely on that true-to-life story but its gives a different perspective and a decidely feminist stance. Aviva Grossman is ‘Florida’s Answer to Monica Lewinsky’ and despite the fact that I abhor the idea of mistresses, the author managed to make even me sympathise and relate to her. All she really wanted is to move on from the repurcussions of that youthful indiscretion and start a new life for herself. In the grand scheme of things, and considering all that she went through, that shouldn’t be too much to ask.
But the world can be unforgiving. Aviva drew several parallels from ‘The Scarlet Letter’ when reflecting on her experiences and its true. She may not have been asked to wear a big red A in front of the town, true. But all anyone had to do was google her name and they’d find every detail of the affair (she stupidly kept an anonymous blog that everyone eventually figured out was hers). She had a permanent infamous presence on the internet.
‘Slut-shaming’ is a term I hear quite often. I don’t specifically know what it means to slut-shame anyone but I guess its when one or more person makes a judgment about another person’s private life and makes her feel ashamed for her choices. Its anything that paints a woman as this character because she appears to be…forward. This book is meant to be a commentary on slut-shaming and it hits more than it misses.
Its certainly made me feel uncomfortable. It made me think about how often we probably do this unconsciously. There may have been instances where we’ve judged another woman too quickly on her choices and labelled them well, a slut, where they may not have deserved it. You never really know what a person is going through and cliche as it may sound there are always two sides to every story. Who are we to judge other people’s choices? F. Scott Fitzgerald had it right when he said:
Whenever you feel like criticising anyone, remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.
It all comes down to choice. This is the kind of feminism that books like these fight for: a woman’s right to make and not be judged for the choices she makes. Its not even about the affair and the scandal really. It doesn’t even go into the details of the affair; rather it focuses on the internal struggle between knowing something is wrong and doing it anyway, as well as the long-term effects on Aviva or Jane Young after she had her name legallly changed.
Its absolutely inspiring to read the little snippets of feminism that was injected into this book. Its subtle but its there, and it makes you think about how wonderful it is to be human and a woman in 2017, that we’ve come so far in terms of achieving gender equality. I highly recommend this book.