Pryce has been chastised, why isn't the adulterous Chris Huhne being blamed for his family's misery?

There are sexist double standards still apparent in the treatment of Vicky Pryce and other wronged wives. The ‘hell hath no fury’ vision is misogyny's worst nightmare


Today Vicky Pryce and her ex-husband Chris Huhne will be sentenced. She is likely to go down for agreeing to take his speeding points and he for getting her to do so, then denying the offence for months. In court, before the case was heard, he finally pleaded guilty. Pryce claimed marital coercion but failed to convince the jury, which convicted her.

And so it ends, a marriage between two brilliant and ambitious people who once loved and respected each other, had children, and probably never anticipated this seismic family convulsion and aftershock, the sorry tale of betrayal and rage, felony and vengeance.

Much has been written about the couple, most of it hideously sexist and finding a thousand ways to blame, chastise, further hurt and debase Pryce, the abandoned wife. She is Greek, and so has been further damned as a modern Clytemnestra. Clytemnestra is the wicked queen in the ancient Greek legend who took another lover, killed her husband Agamemnon and destroyed her family. ( No, I can’t see the comparison either.)

For male writers, Pryce is a woman scorned and hellish. A handful of female columnists have felt for her, but the rest have been marauding hyenas, biting and ripping at her flesh. The most brutal was Carol Sarler, a woman who can be relied on to bring down other women with her sharp teeth. Huhne, meanwhile, is slated, but only for being full of himself and breaking the law. Not for breaking the hearts of his ex-wife and children.

I have to declare an interest here, or two. I know and like Pryce and feel for her. Of course she made some dreadful mistakes and should have been more chary, but I recognise her pain because long ago I felt it too, when my ex-husband walked out on me and our son. Like Pryce, I deeply loved the man, believed in my marriage and felt my entire inner-self collapsing into a heap of rubble when he said he was leaving me for a younger woman. I was buried in, demented with grief for many months, perhaps years. What made it worse was the expectation in this society that men do such things and that it falls upon the wife to be “dignified”, to keep the family going, not to express the rage and sorrow she feels.

One of the most moving and authentic responses to the Pryce/Huhne breakup has come from Margaret Cook. She herself was dumped by the Labour politician Robin Cook and then relentlessly accused of being a vengeful wife because she didn’t quietly, dutifully disappear from public view but spoke up again and again about what Cook had done. She writes: “Pryce has not done herself any favours by being explicit in seeking revenge... This is the misogynist male world’s worst nightmare, the ‘hell hath no fury’ vision. It is a terrible label to apply to a deserted, grieving wife, and yet goes along with the brutal tendency to demonise such women and imply that being deserted was their own fault”.

What such political wives must do is smile, pretend to be OK, not make a fuss, tell the kids their dad is a great guy who just needs other women to find himself. Does anyone remember Judith, the first wife of David Mellor, chucked as if she was worthless trash? And Helen, forgiving wife of the late Piers Merchant, the flamboyant womaniser? Or Diane, married to Tim Yeo and her stoicism when she discovered his mistress had a child by her husband? Even worse is the guilt-tripping of the wives. For the sake of their children, they have to suffer in silence and not make life hard for the men who had shattered their dreams.

Rarely, if ever, do commentators ask men not to stray for the sake of their children. Who hurt the children first, Huhne or Pryce? It is a given that many husbands cannot but follow the impulses stirring in their underpants, that male lust is an entitlement. Such men want it all and must have it all – the second or third more exciting partner, ex-wives who remain their friends and handmaidens, the complete love of their first lot of children, societal respect and even sneaking admiration for, yes, getting it all.

If they don’t get their way, the ex-wife is invariably blamed. The most shameless even boast about how they are better husbands and fathers the second time around without ever considering how this must wound their first wives and children. And they are never castigated for any of this.

In his newly published heartbreaking and truthful memoir, I Know You’re Going To Be Happy, the journalist Rupert Christiansen describes his father, ex-editor of the Daily Mirror, who took up with another woman and quickly forgot his first family. Every day, everywhere, this story is repeated and the men get away with it.

I discussed these monstrous double standards at an event celebrating women at the Royal Festival Hall and the audience totally and loudly agreed that it’s still a man’s world. Even the modern man, who changes nappies and cooks, reverts to old expectations as soon as he moves on to the new model lover. Wives have to bear the burden and the blame and never act up. Pryce couldn’t accept that and nor could I.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron has reiterated his pre-election promise to radically improve the NHS  

How can we save the NHS? Rediscover the stiff upper lip

Jeremy Laurance

Thanks to Harriet Harman, Labour is holding its own against the Tory legislative assault

Isabel Hardman
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor