October 24, 2016
The Trainwreck Files: Huma Abedin
by Sady Doyle
It’s time for another installment of The Trainwreck Files, in which we ask Sady Doyle, author of Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear… And Why, to pull a name from the headlines, and definitively tell us: are they a trainwreck, and why? Today’s file: Clinton campaign vice chair and former Clinton deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin.
Huma Abedin is America’s most accomplished side character. She’s spent most of her adult life in the upper echelons of power—she is the wife of former Congressman Anthony Weiner, and has been Hillary Clinton’s most trusted staffer since 1996; Vogue’s Nathan Heller referred to them as “a single entity joined by complementary strengths”—and many of us know her by name, or could point her out in a photograph. Yet, despite all of this, she’s somehow continually framed as a feature of someone else’s story, rather than the main character in her own.
Her husband’s story, obviously, seems like the worse one to be caught in. They’re currently separated, hopefully to be divorced soon. To be stuck in a viral story about “the Congressman who Tweets his dick at people” is humiliation enough; how much worse must it be when his last name is actually Weiner? For years, Abedin was cast in the thankless role of Saddened Political Wife; standing by her husband’s side as he apologized to demonstrate her loyalty and his family values, looking just downcast enough that we know she loves him, but not so downcast that we suspected she would murder him with the kitchen implements once they got home. It was an agonizing performance that she had to pull off every time he publicly fucked up or tried to rope her into a “comeback,” and he did both those things often.
Not that pulling off the performance helped her any; even when Weiner committed his final sin, sexting a Trump supporter a photo of himself in briefs with their infant son in the background—a photo that, naturally, wound up on the cover of the New York Post—Abedin was blamed for it, and more or less called a bad mother, with the Washington Post’s Amber Phillips claiming that the incident “[raised] questions about her decision to leave their son alone with her husband while she’s on the campaign trail.”
Which brings us to Hillary. This, you would think, is safe ground: Being the most trusted employee of the most powerful woman in America is, at least, an accomplishment anyone can recognize and validate. But no: Abedin’s service to Clinton has routinely dragged her through yet more insinuations about her sex life. Allegations that Abedin was hired to provide a cover for her sexual relationship with Clinton go back at least as far as 2007. And, when she’s not engaging with Hillary in forbidden carnal pleasures, she’s overthrowing the government from within: Abedin is Muslim, and regarded as an expert on Middle East politics, the result being that Rush Limbaugh has gone on lengthy rants about how she is clearly a double agent for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
There is a woman in the center of all this — smart, quiet, cultured, with a talent for handling pressure and enough drive to become one of the most powerful women in the world by age forty despite the pressure of raising a child and holding together a bad marriage while she tried to succeed at work. That woman is fascinating, and incredibly sympathetic. But no matter how close we get to her, Huma Abedin is obscured by other people’s stories: Reduced to her sexuality, her looks, her ethnic background, and specifically reduced to how those qualities reflect on the other people around her. Her own narrative is lost, as she’s repeatedly reduced to a tool we use to craft someone else’s story.
Sady Doyle founded the blog Tiger Beatdown in 2008. Her work has appeared in In These Times, The Guardian, Elle.com, The Atlantic, Slate, Buzzfeed, Rookie, and lots of other places around the Internet. Her first book, Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear... And Why is out now from Melville House.