Our Era of Dirty Laundry
Baird, Julia, Newsweek
Byline: Julia Baird
Do tell-all memoirs really help heal?
There are many ways to wreak revenge on cheating spouses aside from simply divorcing them: humiliation, destruction of property, public shaming. One Australian woman tried to auction a pair of "humongous" black lacy underpants--found at the bottom of the bed she shared with her husband--on eBay. The pants, she wrote in her listing, were so big she thought they "may make someone a nice shawl or, even better, something for Halloween." Included was a "tiny," empty condom wrapper found under her husband's pillow. An eBay spokeswoman said going through the public-auction process was "obviously very therapeutic" for this woman.
Or was it? We often assume that public anger, spite, or exposure is a healthy form of self-healing, despite the fact that there is little evidence for this. We are not shocked when someone reveals intimate details of former relationships when walking away from the ruins--we have come to expect it. When we joke that Elin Nordegren attacked her husband Tiger Woods with a golf club, when Elizabeth Edwards writes books about resilience, or when Jenny Sanford publishes a memoir confirming that her husband is indeed a self-involved cad (and tightwad), we cheer and roar. No more little woman on the sidelines! No more sniffles and silent suffering. No more being treated like rubbish by men who think they can escape punishment by virtue of status or wealth.
In our narrative of the feisty, spurned woman, the private, silent stance of wives like Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Silda Spitzer seems archaic. The advice these women would once have been given--"Don't air your dirty laundry in public"--now seems quaint, a relic of an era when people thought pain was a private emotion. It seems retro to suggest that it might not be dignified to share personal problems with the world, with people who might be embarrassed or who would gossip and dissect, point fingers and judge.
Part of the movement toward self-revelation was a necessary corrective provided by feminists who argued, persuasively, that the personal is political. After all, wasn't the whole idea of hiding dirty laundry meant to protect powerful, appallingly behaved men from any sense of shame? In most households, it has not been the men who have scurried away with piles of grimy washing to scrub, soak, bleach, and wring until linens could be presented to the world again. …