Gisele Fetterman said a barrage of hateful right-wing attacks against her “exploded” after her husband, Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), checked himself into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for clinical depression last month, where he has remained for inpatient treatment.
“From the moment John shared his news, vicious attacks started pouring in,” Gisele Fetterman wrote in an op-ed for Elle magazine Thursday. “But I’ll admit, I was surprised to find that this time the vast majority of the harassment wasn’t directed toward John – but at me.”
She wrote she had already been familiar with “how cruel people could be” about judging and weaponizing someone’s health after John Fetterman, 53, suffered a stroke last May, days before he overwhelmingly won the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania’s Senate race.
But this time, she said, people began casting her as an “ambitious, power hungry wife” who was plotting to take over her husband’s Senate seat, and accused her of kidnapping her children when she took them to Niagara Falls after John Fetterman was hospitalized.
The road trip to Canada had been an effort to remove her family from the media scrutiny that came after her husband’s hospitalization, Gisele Fetterman wrote in Elle. She said, it only fueled the right-wing maelstrom and attacks – including harmful threats – against her.
“To hear my critics tell it, it’s my fault that John ran for Senate,” Gisele Fetterman wrote. “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.”
Though she tries to block out the attacks, she described them as “exhausting.” She also worries about other women who hear or see these attacks and internalize them in their own lives.
“Hate is a lot like fire. If you don’t control it, it spreads,” she wrote. “For every baseless allegation, there are millions of young women being taught to internalize blame for everything – even in the worst moments of their lives. This misogyny affects everything they do. It spreads in the classroom, at the dinner table, and of course, on social media.”
John Fetterman is expected to return to the Senate the week of April 17, nearly two months after he checked himself into Walter Reed.
“John is doing well, working with the wonderful doctors, and remains on a path to recovery,” Fetterman spokesman Joe Calvello said in a statement earlier this month. “He is visiting with staff and family daily, and his staff are keeping him updated on Senate business and news.”
After his stroke last May, John Fetterman spent primary Election Day in surgery having a defibrillator installed. His campaign later disclosed that he had been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy years before and had not followed the recommended medical advice for his condition.
Fetterman’s stroke sidelined him from the campaign trail for about two months and left him with an auditory processing disorder that inhibited his ability to hear, especially when there is competing background noise. In mid-August, Fetterman resumed public campaign events, where he spoke openly about his health setback and recovery.
Last month, Fetterman was hospitalized at George Washington University Hospital for lightheadedness during a retreat for Democratic senators. His doctors ruled out a second stroke. He had just returned to Congress from that hospitalization when he was evaluated by the attending physician of Congress, Brian P. Monahan, who suggested inpatient care for depression that had become “severe in recent weeks,” his chief of staff said.