Sunday, June 28, 2009

Disparity in Marital Smarts

That new soap opera, "The Sanfords of South Carolina" revives interest in a subject that intrigued me over decades of editing women's magazines--the sexual politics of two-career marriages.

Working with ambitious women in their twenties and thirties, I was struck by how different their lives were from the Father-knows-best ethos of earlier generations. They weren't holding jobs, as most of their mothers did, only until they could start homemaking and procreating.

In those "dormitory marriages," there were fascinating variations of relationships between equals or, human nature being what it is, unequals on either side. In many cases, the wives were much smarter, sharper and more competent.

The Sanfords look like one of those couples. In a society that still gives power more easily to men (pace Todd Palin), however, a successful woman like Jenny Sanford has to morph from a New York investment banker to a helpmeet who "largely gave up her professional life and turned to helping her husband’s political career" even as she refused "to abandon her sense of identity, her direction, or her own opinions."

His wife successfully managed campaigns for Congress and the statehouse while rearing four sons, but for Mark Sanford, such a powerhouse performance may have been hard on the libido, leaving him vulnerable to "a dashing new version of himself," as Maureen Dowd puts it, in the eyes of an exotic stranger.

Sanford's downfall is a sad example of a society that is still struggling with the idea of powerful women (Hillary Clinton supporters had a lot to say about that last year and Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings may revive the subject next month).

Without making a Joan or Arc out of Jenny Sanford (her outward perfection may have been daunting to live with), however, it seems safe to assume that her husband's disappearance from the political scene won't deprive the nation of a strong, gifted leader. If and when she dumps him, Mrs. Sanford might think about running for something herself. When it comes to brains these days, Y chromosomes don't count.

1 comment:

A Woman On The Edge said...

Very nice comments, well-stated, too. My only objection is your quoting Maureen Dowd. She was once pithy and on point, but sadly, in recent years has morphed into a vindictive and bitchy idiot.

There's something to be said for growing old gracefully, and she doesn't seem able to manage it. She makes the rest of us look bad with her coquettishness. "Come-hither" doesn't work when you approach the half-century mark--it's brains that make it happen. She's terribly mean, often as not, in her commentary about other women, when she probably needs to spend a little more time looking at her self and wondering why she needs to be jealous of others now to make herself feel bigger or better.