The XX Factor

What Are Cookies Good For? Absolutely Nothing.

This weekend, both the Times and the Post published complimentary yet enormously frustrating profiles of Mark Sanford ‘s wife Jenny . They portray her as a tough, sharp domestic goddess, without ever questioning what such a tough, smart woman is doing playing domestic goddess in the first place. Both pieces make clear that Sanford is a very intelligent, hard working, focused, ” Old Testament woman with a 170 IQ ,” who has been indispensable to her husband’s rise. A magna cum laude Georgetown graduate and a former vice president at the enormously reputable Lazard Freres & Co., Sanford walked away from her career to have a family and help her husband realize his political ambitions. Junk trade?

A typical Jenny Sanford anecdote goes like this: Mark Sanford apparently told his wife he wanted to run for Congress while she was still in the hospital, just having delivered their second child. Despite the fact that this news came out of nowhere, on a very busy day, she took it in stride. This-supportive and game, but never at the expense of her family-seems to be her M.O. “The Sanford house was in a perpetual state of constructive chaos, friends said. Jenny Sanford would be folding laundry and cooking dinner while on the telephone with campaign advisers about what the next television advertisement would say,” writes the Post . “She oversaw his staff, drafted speeches, set policy and raised money. She even baked oatmeal chocolate chip cookies for reporters and other guests.”

Guys, she bakes cookies ! “So often when a woman is business minded, they’re not good at being a cookie baking soccer mom, but that’s the thing about Jenny,” a friend of Sanford’s told the Times . “You cannot stereotype her that way. She can be either one of those things and do it effortlessly.”

As these two pieces tell it, if Mrs. Sanford is not a woman who had it all, she was a woman who did it all. She did the thinking, and she did the babies. She managed the campaign, and she made snacks. “She was the bulldozer that cleared the path and got [Mark Sanford] there,” and she was the woman who would “choose one of her son’s class plays over a presidential dinner anytime.”

Now, it’s not that this set of characteristics doesn’t have a certain appeal (and, not to cast too many partisan stones, a particularly Republican one at that), but in light of last week’s events, they also have a stark downside. Because she did the thinking and the babies, now she’s a very tough, very smart woman with a killer oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe who is best known, personally and professionally, for having a husband who likes to ” spark ” on women other than her. Turns out doing it all amounted to doing everything for everyone but herself. And that may be admirable, but, in light of her husband’s behavior and Mrs. Sanford’s seemingly real and impressive talents, it’s some seriously misdirected energy.