John Edwards's trial over alleged campaign finance law violations continues, and there are the expected twists and turns with which to keep us both horrified and entertained. But let's take a step back. What does this trial, and its lead-up, say about women? Let's look, first, at the women involved.
Bunny Mellon. Bunny Mellon is 101 years old, an heiress who apparently saw something in the shiny-fancy boy politician Edwards, not knowing there was a snakier side beneath the veneer. Or maybe she did. We really don't know, only that she wanted to help him in his campaign, but also, nearly blind, was likely not the one actually writing those checks. Given her age and health, she is unable to attend the trial, and so we may never know. But given her age and health, it's impossible (and unseemly) to consider her much other than a victim, even if she was at all complicit in giving Edwards more money than is legally allowable for his campaign. And maybe she was: We do know she was a staunch supporter, even at the micro levels. From the New York Post: "Mellon said she was 'furious' about press reports mocking the well-coiffed candidate’s $400 barber bills. 'I see jealousies coming from somewhere in this news report,' she wrote. 'But it inspired me. From now on all haircuts, etc. that are necessary important part of campaigns, please send the bills to me' via an intermediary in New York, Mellon wrote."
Elizabeth Edwards. Elizabeth Edwards is, of course, the good wife. She's the one who stood by her man during all this, or most of it, and she's the one who ended up dying of cancer in 2010, and the one who will always be thought of as the long-suffering political wife who should have ditched the jerk post-haste (they did eventually separate, but never legally divorced), or never have married him in the first place. But even after her death, Edwards is still using Elizabeth—perhaps it's easier that way. Via The New York Times, as Abbe Lowell, Edwards's lawyer, told the court, his client's elaborate plan to hide his affair with Hunter was all for Elizabeth, to protect his family, and "especially his wife, Elizabeth, who was battling cancer at the time." He did this for her.
Rielle Hunter. Hunter is the bad girl. She's (allegedly) the one who ruined Edwards's relationship with his wife; she's the one who put this all in motion. She's also charged with another female crime: Edwards called her a "crazy slut." She was apparently conniving, even gold-digging, demanding so much in finery that Mellon had to keep writing the checks. This (allegedly) because the men involved were so scared she'd reveal the truth about the affair, they were powerless to do anything else. With Hunter, we get a woman who represents inherent complications: She's powerful yet damned, immoral, a sex object, essentially a prostitute who had to be paid to be kept in the lavish accommodations she felt she deserved. But people did what she wanted! Blame the mistress, as Abbe Lowell did: "John Edwards had a volatile mistress. He had to figure out a way to get funds to her.” Of course, there are two sides to every relationship, especially the ones that end badly. Hunter is also the mother of Edwards's daughter, and has stated that the affair was not just sex, but a mutual, committed love relationship—or so she says Edwards made her think. Meanwhile, according to recent testimony, it's possible that Andrew Young, who has been granted immunity for testifying at the trial, was the opportunist here, who just wanted to extract more money for Mellon so he could take a bigger cut—and maybe Hunter wasn't making particularly realistic threats to go public at all. Despite all the talk of "bromance," however, Young has not been called a gold-digger, exactly. Hunter, who may not have been the only female companion of Edwards, is one who gets the majority of the ire. She's on the witness list for defense and prosecution, but "it is unclear whether she will testify."