The partners of past vice-presidents barely ever get this much attention. Has anyone heard about Mike Pence’s wife?
Poppy Noor – The Guardian
California Senator Kamala Harris and her husband Douglas Emhoff. Photograph: Noah Berger/AFP/Getty Images
In recent days you’ve probably read a lot about Doug Emhoff – or, as he is more commonly known, Kamala Harris’s husband.
Many a breathless piece has been written about the Democratic vice-presidential candidate’s partner doing very cute, but nonetheless bare minimum acts (he retweets his wife!; he loves his children!; he has a job!). Granted, to see two married people being so nice to each other is a brief moment of joy in an otherwise depressing news landscape. But surely, the headlines dedicated to him have some deeper meaning, outside of the fact that we love to obsess over the relationships of the rich and the powerful?
Maybe it is feminist to obsess over him. Emhoff does, after all, give off the opposite of toxic masculine energy. While it is commonplace in some quarters to pejoratively refer to men who like women too much as “simps”; here is a man who’s proudly a fan of his wife on Instagram! Who unashamedly refers to himself as “Kamala’s hubby” in his social media straplines and is here for all of her photo opportunities. Normally women are expected to be the cheerleaders for their powerful partners while their male partners take the front seat – but here is a man firmly in the back.
We can laugh off describing Emhoff as a “zaddy” (a capable, sexy dad) ; calling him our “hot Jewish dad crush”; or referring to him as the “first second gentleman”, because it is tongue-in-cheek: ha ha, look at us subjecting a man to the same treatment that the women in powerful men’s lives get. Of course, there aren’t any tabloid clippings about how inappropriately dressed he is yet; but it feels like redistribution – isn’t it fun to objectify a man, for once?
But while we might all be convincing ourselves that this fawning is feminist, radical, or even normal, it’s not. The partners of past vice-presidents (let alone potential vice-presidents) barely ever get this much attention. Has anyone heard about Mike Pence’s wife? Joe Biden’s wife Jill was barely written about during his tenure, although she did recently win the limelight when she literally strong-armed protesters off the stage when they tried to interrupt one of Biden’s speeches. Lynne Cheney was subject to a rather harsh representation in the blockbuster Vice, for her apparently close and controlling relationship to her husband during the Bush vice-presidency – but only years after the event.
So perhaps we should give up the act and accept that this new obsession with Emhoff gives us a high-brow excuse for engaging in one of the internet’s most guilty pleasures: relationship voyeurism. We love to pore over the relationships of people we don’t know; to read about how they met in a “surprisingly relatable way” (she made him cookies and he told her upfront, by email, that he liked her – which is basically the plot to the popular 1990s movie You’ve Got Mail); what they did on their first date; and whether there is any animosity between their ex-partners.
Like the world’s biggest open secret, we love to look into the lives of others. Stalking people’s relationships was essentially the premise of Facebook; the raison d’etre of most of Taylor Swift’s career; and the reason why any of us still reads tabloid papers. Harris and Emhoff are the Brad and Jen 2020 reboot – but make it political.