In the fallout of the Mark Sanford affair (stemming from Mark Sanford’s affair) there has been some discussion about the behavior of his wife, Jenny. There have been so many instances in the past when wives of male politicians have stood next to their husbands at the press conferences in which they confess their adultery, but Mrs. Sanford clearly did not feel the need to play that role. She’s handling the whole thing with dignity and her absence at Governor Sanford’s press conference speaks louder than any statement she could put out. So the question of the day is: does all this make Jenny Sanford a model of feminism?
That’s the opinion of one op-ed writer for The State, the leading newspaper in Sanford’s state of South Carolina. Andrew Davis wrote a column earlier this week that points to Sanford as a feminist paragon while simultaneously saying she trumps Hillary Clinton in that arena. Color me confused.
Davis’ theory is that, because Clinton did not leave her husband following either the Gennifer Flowers or the Monica Lewinsky affairs, she is less worthy of the title “feminist” than Jenny Sanford is.
Comparing between the first lady of South Carolina and former First Lady Hillary Clinton shows a stark contrast of two women snared in similar situations, who reacted in remarkably different ways. Clinton stood by her husband throughout the entire scandal, and even went so far as to defend him as a victim of a “vast, right-wing conspiracy.” Jenny offered no excuses or defense for Mark’s behavior.
Can I just point out one thing here? It’s been about a week since this story broke. I have no clue what Jenny Sanford will or will not say in the future, but Clinton’s notorious “vast, right-wing conspiracy” statement did not come a week after the Lewinsky scandal broke. There is also something awkward about comparing how couples deal with private matters of infidelity. I know couples who have split up over affairs, and I know couples who have stayed together after divulging that there has been cheating. I’m not really sure what is to be gained by saying that one way of reacting to this situation is superior.
Clinton’s great success as a woman in politics has overshadowed shortcomings in her personal life, and turned her into a symbol of feminist power and prestige. However, feminists would do well to look at Jenny as an unsung role model for women in the movement.
Wait, what shortcomings are those? I began to get queasy when I read that. Are we blaming Hillary for Bill’s affairs? Are we saying she’s unworthy of the admiration of feminists because she didn’t divorce her husband? See, that’s not how I think it’s supposed to go. And then Davis pulls out that famous straw (wo)man argument:
Jenny’s conservative credentials may put her at odds with many feminists, but there are few other women who demonstrate an ability to achieve in every area of life while handling themselves with grace and elegance at all times, both good and bad.
I am sick and tired of people saying that conservatives are excluded from being feminists. There is nothing about feminism that has political party motivations. I had a similar reaction to what Mary Matalin said about how conservatives don’t feel they fit into feminism because it’s purportedly a liberal movement. Actions speak louder than party affiliations. I’m certainly not going to deny that a given woman is a feminist just because she holds GOP membership if she believes in feminism. It’s not as if everyone who considers themselves liberal is supremely enlightened about feminism or even give two shits about women’s rights. So let’s leave party affiliation out of this, okay Mr. Davis?
One last thing to rankle me: the kudos for Sanford’s “grace and elegance”. What does “elegance” even mean? That she’s being perfectly ladylike in her silence? If that is what Davis interprets as being a main tenet of feminism, then he definitely has everything all wrong.