For this Chinese writer, Rupert Murdoch's ex-wife is a symbol of all that's wrong with the power women of the new century.
BEIJING — In its end-of-2013 review, British daily The Guardian awarded the “Divorce of the Year” prize to media tycoon Rupert Murdoch and his ex-wife Wendi Deng. Ah, but of course. For it is not just this year but throughout our new millennium that Madame Deng has commanded our attention.
Fourteen years ago, Murdoch divorced from his second wife, Anna. Just 17 days later he married Deng, a Chinese woman 38 years his junior whom he met after she rose from an intern position at Murdoch's media conglomerate News Corp. Everyone was taken by surprise. This tall and glamorous woman, hanging on the arm of the most powerful media mogul on the planet, appeared to the world as both alluring and puffed up with pride.
For the next decade, dazzling reports about this power couple produced a steady supply of headlines. First it was about the use of Murdoch’s frozen sperm, supposedly hidden from his second wife, that helped Deng become the mother of two Murdoch heirs. Deng would then become the chief strategy officer of News Corp’s website MySpace. (She famously blocked a “pie-throwing expand=1] attack” while her husband was at his lowest moment in recent years during a British Parliament investigation into his newspapers’ phone-hacking scandal.)
Still the couple’s two daughters did not obtain voting control over the family’s trust holding, as Deng had wished. By mid-2013, in fact, Rupert Murdoch filed for divorce, and the couple ended their marriage by year’s end in a New York court.
Spoils and youth
No outsider is going to know exactly what happened behind the scenes over the past 14 years. What we see, though, is the relaxed and happy face of the media tycoon, while Deng, once seen as so vibrant and cheerful, wears the sullen expression of the loser in the whole affair.
Wendi Deng and Ruper Murdoch in April 2012 — Photo: Ki Price/ZUMA
Most gossip involving Deng is about her spoils from the divorce, even as some snipe that what she’s lost in exchange is her youth. After all her earthshaking efforts to have a stake in the empire, all she has gained are two expensive properties.
Still, there are others who applaud Deng and praise her talent for knowing well how to maximize the utility of it, characterizing her with words like "assertive", "successful" and "glamorous'.
I have never met Wendi Deng. But I have met other tough women, ones who fly under a black cloud and attack by surprise in a dense mass. They set a goal, build the model, then advance like a bulldozer, exerting irresistible force over the lives and souls of others.
These women are the major thoroughfares of the world, not the quiet labyrinths. Their lives are an ode, majestic but impossible to calibrate to something softer. Their capacity for awareness is particularly strong, a kind of “sixth sense” to assess those around them. In their eyes, everybody is divided into two categories — useful or useless.
If you are the latter, your fate is simply to be ignored by her, but if she sees some utility, you are destined to be selected like a puzzle piece and assembled as one of the bricks and tiles of her life.
I often sigh to myself: Why is it that the more successful a man, the more popular he is, yet a woman’s success often has the opposite effect? I believe that is part because of the design of institutions and the weight of social prejudice. But it’s also related to our own limitations: Women tend to be fixed on pre-determined objectives, unable to extricate themselves along the way.
The degree of a person’s success often also reflects their absurdity. That’s because even a glamorous lifestyle will not withstand questioning. I have a luxurious mansion right next to the Forbidden City, and my upper East side New York apartment is worth more than $44 million. So what? I have become the world’s leading socialite with Tony Blair and Hugh Jackman as friends. So what? I had the chance to control the world’s largest media empire. So what?
Everybody, we can never forget, ultimately becomes but a handful of new soil.
So what does a lack of sensitivity do to a woman? Just look at Wendi Deng. It's nothing that cosmetic surgery can help. Vanity is ultimately the worst enemy of any woman. The contradiction of beauty and purpose are often thought to live side-by-side in so-called “successful women.” For some, facing the choice of being a nice person or a strong person, the latter seems more economicially viable.
So what will you choose to be — a nice person or a tough one? I’m fed up with talk of success. I dare you and everyone else to be someone nice.
* Hu Ziwei is a TV host and columnist for Caixin.