(The Hill) – Gisele Barreto Fetterman is speaking out against critics who’ve dubbed her a “power hungry wife,” saying she’s faced the “vast majority” of “harassment” after her husband, Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), was hospitalized for treatment of clinical depression.
“As soon as John’s political profile began to grow, I started receiving hate mail — ten times more than John ever got himself,” Barreto Fetterman wrote in an op-ed published in Elle on Thursday.
“I hadn’t sought an office of any kind, and I had never wanted to be in the public eye; in fact, that’s the last thing I’d want,” the 41-year-old founder of Free Store 15104, an organization in Pennsylvania that distributes donated goods at no cost, wrote.
“I’ve always preferred serving others as a private citizen and have no interest in the politicking of policy.”
Nonetheless, Barreto Fetterman said, she was on the receiving end of “politically-motivated attacks” that continue to “flood” her life.
“I’ve been called a ‘mail-order bride,’ and some have even asked John: ‘Where did you buy her?’ They told me to go back to my country and criticized my immigration journey from Brazil, even after receiving my green card in 2004 and official U.S. citizenship in 2009,” Barreto Fetterman said.
“They have even criticized my appearance, often going after my eyebrows and hair.”
“They’re the same attacks leveled at Meghan Markle, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Jill Biden — my apparent competitors for ‘worst wife in America,’” Barreto Fetterman said, referencing a Twitter poll last month from conservative writer Matt Walsh. “They echo the dehumanizing bullying that women like Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama have faced for decades.”
“And they leave women shouldering a heavier side of the blame, no matter what we do,” Barreto Fetterman wrote in the magazine.
Fetterman is poised to return to the Senate on April 17, after checking himself into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in February to be treated for clinical depression. The 53-year-old lawmaker had suffered a stroke last May, shortly before the Senate Democratic primary.
In her Elle piece, Barreto Fetterman said that political opponents cast blame on her for virtually anything involving her husband.
“To hear my critics tell it, it’s my fault that John ran for Senate. It’s my fault that he won. It’s my fault that he had a stroke, and it’s my fault that he’s depressed. And somehow, at the same time, I’m just a wife who should stay at home and out of the public eye,” she said.
“On social media, people accused me of kidnapping the kids and running away to Canada. They promoted conspiracy theories claiming I was an ambitious, power hungry wife, secretly plotting to fill his Senate seat,” she added. “It was all so wildly preposterous.”
“I am not my husband’s career,” Barreto Fetterman said.
“A healthy, loving relationship is about supporting your partner’s dreams, not controlling them,” the mom of three said.
Calling attacks against her “exhausting,” Barreto Fetterman said she worries “about the millions of women who hear these attacks on TV and social media and then internalize these myths in their own lives.”
“When we demand that women steel themselves in the face of unending attacks, we teach the next generation to normalize and accept harassment. In the end, it only puts the blame on women once again; telling us to toughen up or ignore it reasserts the idea that we need to accept when we’re treated poorly, instead of questioning why society permits abusive behavior,” she said.
“It makes us feel like we’re the problem for feeling pain when we’re held over a live fire.”
But rather than “fight fire with fire,” Barreto Fetterman said, she’s chosen to “continue to live with love every day.”
“To reject their venom wholesale, and be wholly, independently who we’re meant to and want to be.”