A sad profile of Ruth Madoff in New York Magazine.
It portrays a woman separated, forever, from the love of her life; completely shunned by her children; who has lost her status in society; who is struggling to come to terms, psychologically, with her downfall; and most of all, who is almost universally reviled by the general public.
Friends seem to be divided as to whether she knew about her husband's illegal activities. Some contend that she was a close partner of Madoff's and must have known the true source of their fabulous wealth, while others say that she had little knowledge of his business and grew up in a generation where women did not ask too much about their husband's financial affairs. She has not been charged with any wrongdoing, and it is possible we may never know the truth.
So - given the uncertainty - why is she hated so much, by so many? Why has she not been given the benefit of the doubt?
Bernie may be behind bars, but his crime is still very much an unsolved mystery, a tangled money trail that may take years to sort out. Fairly or not, as long as there are loose ends, and until every last penny of the $170 billion prosecutors say flowed through his fraudulent enterprise is accounted for, Ruth will be a target of suspicion.
In the public eye, Ruth has come to represent the spoils of her husband’s criminal activity: The lifestyle, the furs and jewelry, the fancy hair salon, the clinking glasses at parties, the trips around the world—they all seemed like they were her domain, orchestrated and enjoyed more by her than by the stone-faced, withdrawn Bernie.
It didn’t matter that Ruth came from modest beginnings; something about the way she carried herself—her highlighted hair, the upturned collar and petite physique—played into the stereotype of the pampered, free-spending wife.
Ruth’s problem seems to be a particularly female one.
“It’s the gender politics of the culture,” says Gloria Steinem. “It’s easier to blame the person with less power.”
And, she adds, why aren’t people blaming her sons? “They would be much more likely to be in cahoots, because they were in the same professional field. And the answer is, they’re men, that’s why.”
While there is an element of truth to both explanations, to me, the money explanation seems stronger than the gender one.
Compare Mrs Madoff with Frau Fritzl - wife of Joseph Fritzl, who imprisoned his daughter in an underground prison for 24 years and raped her thousands of times (a far more heinous crime than Madoff's).
The question of how much she knew seem much more pertinent in her case - after all, three children appearing from nowhere on her doorstep is much more suspicious than a never-ending flow of money from a successful businessman, a former chair of the Nasdaq, to boot.
Yet, despite the loud whispers that 'she must have known', Mrs Fritzl was constantly given the benefit of the doubt, and excuses were constantly made on her behalf. She was in denial; afraid of Fritzl; his lies were plausible etc. No one has bothered making parallel excuses for Mrs Madoff.
Why the difference? It seems to come down, mostly, to envy of the rich.