A New York magazine blog post calls Jenny Sanford and Elin Nordegren’s choices to leave their philandering husbands “practically groundbreaking” and adds that “their decisions could begin to repair the damage done to women over these past couple of years.” The theory behind this assertion (though writer Sheela Kohlatkar is careful to say they’re “not exactly” feminist heroes) is at base problematic, because it opens up the door for judgement of women’s romantic choices to be a feminist litmus test.
Even established feminists have always been criticized for their choice in lovers: Simone de Beauvior’s relationship with Sartre, though ostensibly an “open marriage,” was deeply uneven . “It was he who engaged in countless affairs, to which she responded on only a few occasions with longer-lasting passions of her own,” Lisa Appignanesi notes in the Guardian . Does it make her any less of a foremother to the movement because she was dependent upon a cad?
These days it seems impossible to pass every feminist test when it comes to love. Gloria Steinem and Jessica Valenti have been criticized for getting married at all. Instead of applauding Nordegren and Sanford, whose choices are dubiously feminist at best, let’s not bring the f-word into romantic choices to begin with.