June 30, 2009 / 5:22 AM / 10 years ago

In U.S. scandals, wives don't stand by their men

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Standing by your man suddenly seems to be going out of fashion for some American women in the public eye.

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford arrives with his wife Jenny at a White House dinner held by U.S. President Barack Obama for the National Governors Association in Washington, in this file photo taken February 22, 2009. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

This month, the wives of at least two famous men caught cheating — sexually and financially — very openly declared that their spouses’ behavior was actually quite scandalous.

Ruth Madoff, reacting to her husband Bernard being sentenced to 150 years in prison for bilking investors with a massive Ponzi scheme, said she felt “embarrassed,” “ashamed” and “betrayed” by a man she had known for half a century.

“The man who committed this horrible fraud is not the man whom I have known for all these years,” she said in a statement shortly after her husband’s sentencing on Monday.

Last week, after South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford tearfully admitted to an affair with a woman in Argentina, his wife Jenny — who was not by his side at his public confession — left little doubt about her feelings.

“His career is not a concern of mine,” she told reporters at a vacation home. “He’s going to have to worry about that. I’m worried about my family and the character of my children.”

Political analysts said the new attitude reflects generational and social change — at least for some women in the United States.

“The old model didn’t work,” said Karlyn Bowman, an analyst of U.S. public opinion at the American Enterprise Institute.

The image of the tearful wife, hiding behind sunglasses, next to her husband while he unloaded his sins to the world, was “intensely embarrassing” and some women are deciding they do not have to follow that path, she said.

“It may be that women just feel that they can do whatever they want,” Bowman said.

Of course, the quiet, supportive wife remains a public pillar for many scandal-hit men — just look at former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s wife Silda, whose wordless turn at his side last year when he admitted visiting prostitutes drew some sharp commentary.

And it wasn’t that long ago when Hillary Clinton, then first lady, weathered the storm beside her husband, President Bill Clinton, over his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky in the White House in the late 1990s.

More recently, Elizabeth Edwards, whose husband John Edwards ran for president as a Democrat last year, publicly spoke out about his infidelity while promoting her memoir “Resilience.”

Edwards, who is battling cancer, told talk show host Oprah Winfrey of her shock at hearing from her husband that he had continued an affair with campaign worker Rielle Hunter after telling her in December 2006 he had slept with another woman.

“All the work we’d done, all the trust we had tried to build in the past year-plus, all thrown out the window,” she said.

Editing by John O'Callaghan

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