The XX Factor

But Did She Vow To Obey?

My gossipy fascination with the Mark and Jenny Sanford debacle has been stimulated with this revelation from Jenny Sanford that Mark refused to pledge fidelity in his wedding vows. So much for the heroic image of Jenny Sanford as the woman who puts her foot down. Personally, I never bought that story, since the act of creating a traditional patriarchal marriage strikes hard against the strong, independent woman image. Now we’re getting a reminder of exactly what that means, but it’s not quite enough. It’s interesting that Mark felt above the vow of fidelity, but I want to know if Jenny was still required to vow obedience.

Jenny Sanford is coasting along on the soft bigotry of low expectations, as the rare political wife who walks out (though only after a humiliation that puts other humiliations suffered by long-suffering wives to shame). Good for her, I guess, but I will remain skeptical and unimpressed unless she starts actually rebelling against the cultural trend of religious conservatives openly demanding wifely submission.

The Sanfords are hard to place religiously. On one hand, they’re apparently Episcopalians, and there’s reason to believe Mark Sanford was reticient to Bible-thumping in the usual way. On the other hand, Mark Sanford also has associations with the notorious C Street Family, a fundamentalist religious cult for politicians, and he spoke fluent fundie-ese in the days after the big reveal about his affair. So what I want to know from Jenny Sanford are the answers to these questions: Were they members of the religious right in good standing? Did they build a marriage to be modern and egalitarian, or were they part of the fundamentalist throwback to male headship-style marriages? Or did they start off as the former and move to the latter as Mark Sanford engaged with fundamentalism? If she was ever in a fundamentalist marriage, does she repudiate that belief system?

If Jenny Sanford breaks out of the “woe is me” touring and moves into an actual critique of male-dominated marriage, then I’ll start finding her interesting. At present time, though, I have to point out that breaking up a marriage on the grounds of adultery hardly shakes things up for the Christian fundamentalists who have so much power in the Republican party. Adultery and abandonment are the only grounds for divorce in the standard fundamentalist dogma (but not domestic violence). You can leave an adulterous husband without striking back against the sexist model of marriage offered by religious conservatives. But Jenny Sanford has a chance here to say something interesting and different; let’s hope she takes it.