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Huma Abedin’s Problem: Nice Jewish Boy Derangement Syndrome

As a public figure, Anthony Weiner’s loyal spouse is sending the noxious message that men should be defended at any cost

Rachel Shukert
August 02, 2013
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

“It’s because we’re all so sick of him.”

That’s been my working theory for why the full force of the media’s curiosity and outrage has moved from Anthony Weiner—he of the militarily erect gray boxer briefs and uncontrollable health-care rage—to his wife, the glamorous/brilliant/elegant/mysterious/add your own relevant, slightly exoticized adjective here Huma Abedin. Namely, what the hell is she thinking?

Abedin is a much-admired woman, stratospherically successful and important in her own right. She’s a figure of almost terrifying competence, a protégée and surrogate daughter to Hillary Clinton who also had her wedding dress featured in Vogue. That such a dazzling chupacabra of a human would choose as her life’s partner an abrasive little dweeb like Weiner was less puzzling when he was a young, headline-grabbing congressman on the rise; now, when he seems genuinely baffled by the way the time-stamping on the Internet works and defiant as to how New York’s far-from-prudish populace might, on the basis of continued poor decision-making, have serious questions regarding his fitness for the office he hopes to attain, it seems inconceivable.

Various pundits and public figures have put forth theories as to just why divine Huma appears, for now, to be standing by her grainy dick pic of a husband. Maureen Dowd decided it has something to do with Huma being raised in Saudi Arabia, but since Maureen Dowd has long proved herself to be a blithering idiot, smugly nihilistic about everything except her own condescending self-importance, I think we can probably disregard that theory. Sally Quinn felt bad for her, until she didn’t. Ann Friedman, writing in New York magazine, wondered if Huma’s loyalty might be borrowing a belated page from her mentor’s playbook, assuming (incorrectly) that her “wronged woman” status might smooth the way for her own eventual ascent to power. Feminist lion Gloria Steinem even jumped in, suggesting that Huma was suffering from some form of Stockholm Syndrome.

That’s a little more on the money, but I’d go ahead and posit a sickness a little less … ah … Nordic. It is the opinion of this column that Huma Abedin is suffering from what I like to call “Nice Jewish Boy Derangement Syndrome.”

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve experienced what I’m talking about. Nice Jewish Boy Derangement Syndrome, or NJBDS, is what makes mothers call up teachers to explain their son’s disruptive behavior as merely “sensitivity,” and besides, it was probably the other kid’s fault. It is why parents become outraged their son didn’t get into Harvard Medical School with a 3.2 GPA, or furious at the woman who is leaving him, even though he’s a serial cheater who got his secretary pregnant. Because he should have everything he wants, just by virtue of it being there and him wanting it. Because deep down, he’s such a nice boy, can’t you see that? Can’t everybody see that? And if you can’t, why can’t you take our word for it?

It’s an attitude that comes out virtually every time an NJB, past present or future, does something creepy or gets into trouble. First, the disbelief that someone like this would do something like that, and then, of course, the excuse-making. Woody Allen has his defenders; so does Eliot Spitzer. It is not, however, generally afforded to the NJB’s counterpart, the NJG, or Nice Jewish Girl. Sure, a Nice Jewish Girl might feel entitled to get snippy with a college professor or have a mother who will happily yell at her boss for her, but if she gets caught doing anything sexually questionable, she’s officially out of the club of young women who will be asked if they’re single and if so—or even if not—would you like to meet Mrs. Mandelbaum’s grandson, who isn’t fat, just big-boned. Just look at another Clinton-tinged sex scandal: the Curious Case of Monica Lewinsky. The years may have softened the public attitudes toward her somewhat, but at the time, she was utterly disavowed. As she said herself, more or less, at the time, “What guy is going to want to bring me home to his mother now?” The message couldn’t be clearer: Men are there to be brilliant, pampered little boys, and women are there to defend them, basking in their reflected light, as though when push comes to shove, the men think their achievements have anything to do with anyone except themselves.

Abedin certainly isn’t the first woman to act out this particularly noxious tradition, and certainly she has her own motivations—whatever they may be. And she has every right to them. That, after all, is what feminism was really about, or somesuch.

But there is also another truth, one perhaps less comfortable for some of us to admit: Abedin has made herself into a public figure and, whether she intends to or not—and whether she or we like it or not—she is sending the message that certain strong women have sent to their misbehaving menfolk from time immemorial: “Screw up, and we will cover for you. It’s never your fault, because you’re such a good boy. And don’t worry about me looking like an idiot and being ridiculed in the public eye, because you’re the one who really matters.”

Time will tell if Anthony Weiner will be ultimately vindicated in the public eye, or remains an eternal punch line, an odd early casualty to the vast new world of Internet perversity. But if he, as now appears inevitable, slinks away into the world of affluent Manhattan house-husbandry, perhaps his entitlement and subsequent immolation can be a reminder to NJBs and those who love them everywhere that being a Jewish boy of a certain socio-economic class doesn’t automatically make you appealing, any more than being a boy born into a certain family in Great Britain makes you fit to rule a people. No matter how many times your mother is willing to call your principal or how many press conferences your wife is willing to stand beside you, the only way to be a mensch is to do it yourself.


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Rachel Shukert, a Tablet Magazine columnist on pop culture, is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great. Starstruck, the first in a series of three novels, is new from Random House. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.

Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.