Amy B. Smoyer, PhD

Prison Food, Incarcerated Lives, Health & Social Work

State of our Unions

Who is keeping secrets?
I really like President Obama.  I think he's a nice guy.  I think he's smart and funny.  If he lived in New Haven, I'm sure he'd be a Hooker dad and come to Lisa & Rich's Winter Solstice Party.  I admire his wife, with her dedication to healthy food and pretty clothes.  It's fun to watch his girls growing up, tall and bright, hope personified.  If they are selling the idea that he's a monogamous, respectful, caring family guy, rushing home to eat dinner with his wife and kids each night, well, I'm buying.  


But that's not the reason why I voted for him.  In the never-ending debate about "Who is the real Family Values man?", sometimes I lose sight of this. But watching the State of the Union address this morning, I was reminded of why Obama's got my vote. We're picking our nation's leader, not Homecoming King. He ended the war in Iraq, he wants to stop bashing public school teachers and keep kids in school, he advocates for comprehensive immigration reform, supports gay rights.  (Did I miss his plans for health care reform?  Hopefully, he hasn't given up on that.)


A shout out to the 2 million people who are incarcerated in our country would have been nice.  But, I guess we can't all have our pet issue included in the address.  I have a sinking feeling that the charge he is leading up the staircase into the darkness of our country's social and economic problems may not include prisoners. But maybe once he gets the lights on up there, he'll come back around and get them. 


So I support Barack because his politics align with my own.  Along the same vein, I would never vote for Newt Gingrich because he still thinks trickle-down economics will work and he blames the nation's problems on people receiving food stamps. Wrong. Jerk. My decision to not vote for Newt, however, has nothing to do with his personal relationships.  In fact, I embrace the opportunity provided by recent "revelations" about his married life to renew conversation about the sexual behavior of people in committed relationships.  


Last November, I wrote about a book called The Secret:  Love, Marriage and HIV, that explores the social structures of society that encourage men to engage in extramartial sex and women to keep quiet about it. The book also outlines the dangers incurred by keeping this Secret: namely, the transmission of HIV from married men to their wives. Newt's marriages capture all the book's themes: the protection afforded by homosocial spaces (i.e. Congressional dining room), the social value of performances of masculinity and the perils of revealing the Secret.  Newt might have saved his Presidential bid if he had just read this book! Who says sociology is useless? He didn't play by the rules and now he's in trouble.  


So, if you want to talk about The Secret, and what we risk by simultaneously promoting the Myth of Monogamy and encouraging men to have multiple partners, let's do that. But don't ask me to be shocked or surprised that Newt had/has extramarital affairs. The Secret is out.  JFK. MLK. Clinton. Edwards. Ashton. Marc Anthony. The prisoner's husband. Your cousin. The neighbor. You-know-who. Please!  Until we start talking about it, we're all keeping The Secret, baby. Newt is only able to have extramaritial affairs because we let him. Because remaining silent serves our interest more than speaking out. The fact that Newt suggested to his wife that they be open and honest about what everyone already knew, is actually refreshing.  Afterall, didn't President Washington teach us to tell the truth? If you're gonna chop down the cherry tree, admit to it, learn how to chop without cutting off your fingers and deal with the consequences.