I firmly believe that former First Lady Dianne Bentley is Alabama’s feminist icon. Bear with me, you may be thinking to yourself, what is feminist about her? When news of the divorce of Governor Robert Bentley and First Lady Dianne Bentley dropped, it was the gunshot heard around Alabama. My social media blew up with all kinds of theories. In Alabama, and in the South, people get married young. In Alabama, for that generation, the only way out of a marriage is to die. You want out of this marriage? You’re going to need to die.
When news hit of the divorce, what followed was an affair, a very awkward and cringe worthy affair between the 70-year-old Governor Bentley and his 40 something year old Communications Director, who was and still is married.
According to AL.com, Mrs. Bentley and her aides recorded audio on her cell phone that led to the infamous tape. Mrs. Bentley reportedly released the tape to the press, which began the investigation into Governor Bentley’s alleged use of state funds to hide the affair.
About a year’s worth of investigative journalism led to the uncovering of Governor Bentley’s affair and misuse of state funds, which ultimately led to Governor Bentley pleading guilty to campaign finance ethics violations and paying fines, restitution, and 100 hours of community service.However, the quiet life of Mrs. Bentley continued. After the divorce, she got a garden house in Tuscaloosa, AL and chose to live a life with her children and grandchildren away from the spotlight. No one has really heard much from her.
In the era of stand by your man, Mrs. Bentley did not. Mrs. Bentley spent fifty years with Governor Bentley, only to have him commit adultery. While Hillary Clinton stood by Bill Clinton after his affair, it was the Southerner, Alabamian, who became the feminist icon. She did not stand by her man.
Across Alabama, I envisioned Evangelical women pointed to Governor Bentley and said to their husbands, “You ever do that to me; your lake house is mine. Your beach house is mine.” In the era of political spouses sticking with those who have committed adultery, Mrs. Bentley, a conservative Christian, decided to leave her man.
As alumni, I’ve gone to many events here in Birmingham. In one case, I met a woman who worked for Mrs. Bentley. She explained it was a bit like House of Cards. But, in revered tones and a deep Southern accent, she said, “I love Mrs. Bentley.”
Many people from other places demean Alabama, talk bad about this state, and yes, there is much to talk bad about it. In an era where America wanted to make Hillary Clinton a feminist icon, there is Mrs. Bentley, who probably didn’t want to be a feminist icon, being the feminist icon of our community.
I’m not an expert on Mrs. Bentley, but I predict she will never write about her experience, nor get on television to give news audiences a soundbite. She is a proud conservative Christian who made a choice in the face of everything she went through to leave a cheating spouse. By all accounts, while the world is trying desperately to promote women, we have a feminist icon in our midst who was courageous, in a way only Southern women can be, quiet, demure, and will give you hell if need be.