Jackie Kennedy used a glamorous mask to cover up John's countless other women. Image Credit: Flickr

Remember the way it use to be? Shamed politician stands at podium, admitting affair, acknowledging homosexuality, while his disgraced wife stands loyally by his side. Anyone who didn’t know what the word humiliation really meant needed only to see pictures of Eliot Spitzer’s wife standing by her husband’s side as he confessed his involvement with a prostitution ring last year. A little piece of that woman died with each word her husband uttered.

Is it not ironic that the wife of a politician plays such a huge role in making her husband’s public image a moral one? But if he does anything to damage how people perceive him, does he take his wife down, too? Eliot Spitzer made his wife the pity of the world, a sorry and tragic character. It was painful just to watch that press conference.

But Spitzer’s wife was not the one paying to traffick prostitutes across state lines. The wife of a politician must always put protecting her husband’s image over everything else. But no one is giving her that same security.

Well that is no longer the case. Today’s politician’s wives are no longer playing the part of victim in their husband’s charades. If anything, wives are ‘outing’ their husbands before even they get the chance to, sparing themselves of the looming humiliation by exposing their husbands for who they really are. They are providing themselves with security and protecting their own futures.

Look at Veronica Lario, Silvio Berlusconi’s wife. Earlier this year, she bluntly announced to the press that she could no longer put up with her husband’s “infatuation with young women,” and wanted a divorce. Berlusconi, Italy’s current Prime Minister and one of the richest men in the world, is now entangled in a sex scandal with a cocaine dealing businessman accused of supplying Berlusconi with girls at his private residences in Rome and Sardegna.

Many Italian women credit Lario with igniting a new “feminist” fervor in Italy where women are culturally encouraged to guard their men and their family’s honor. No public hanging of dirty, private family matters, per favore. But Veronica Lario opted for telling the world what being married to Silvio Berlusconi was really like- and the $65 million a year in alimony she is currently seeking.

Women have had enough of society’s rules which allow and condone men to be promiscuous while they are supposed to act oblivious to their husband’s cavorting. Women are forced to be responsible for men, especially men who are public figures. The most important role a politician’s wife plays is that of loving, fiercely loyal spouse, and it is a role that has to be played very convincingly. After all, if the wife has seemingly forgiven her husband, the public will eventually follow her lead, right?

But while Lario is getting her revenge on Berlusconi financially, the political wife who is really coming into her own is Jenny Sanford.

When it came to light that South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford was actually having an affair with an Argentinean woman in Buenos Aires, and not hiking in the Appalachian Mountains, his wife Jenny Sanford opted out of standing by him at the press conference.

Now it turns out that Mark Sanford has run up 37 counts of ethic charges for his “improper use of campaign contributions,” and “unreported use” of friends’ private planes. He even openly referred to the other woman, Maria Belen Chapur, as his soul mate.

Jenny Sanford, a Georgetown University graduate and former investment banker,  is having none of this. As her husband’s political future falls to pieces, his wife is building a brand.

The Sanfords in better days. Image Credit: Flickr

I recently read this article in the New York Times that says Jenny Sanford is writing a book (of course!) on her experience dealing with her husband’s infidelity. She also trademarked her name to sell clothing and other merchandise. Sanford even has her own website with press releases and pictures. To top it all off, Jenny Sanford endorsed State Representative Nikki Haley to succeed her husband as South Carolina’s Governor. The NY Times labels Mrs. Sanford as, “the reluctant poster woman for not standing by her man.”

More like poster woman for not standing by her man and coming into her own! Jenny Sanford is becoming Jenny Sanford INC. Sources cited in the article say that Sanford “has moved from promoting him [Mark Sanford] as a loyal spouse to using those same talents on behalf of herself.”

What would Jackie Kennedy have said?

Who cares? It is about time women stop doing their politician husbands the favor of abetting them in their illicit affairs, covering up their homosexuality, etc. What we learn from women like Veronica Lario and in particular Jenny Sanford is that you do not have to pay the price for your husband destroying his political ambitions. Politician’s wives have already sacrificed enough dignity by pretending to play dumb in the first place, for even a second let alone years.

Women like Sanford show us what it means to be a political wife in this day and age. More importantly, they remind us to be our own person when playing the “committed till death” role of wife comes to a close. They remind us that when your husband ruins his career, instead of falling with him, build your own empire instead.

That is the best revenge.

*This post of mine was also published on The Huffington Post.

10 comments

  1. Even if I were not related to you, this is a fantastic piece. While many women are out the door even before her man has had the chance to rise or fall, you just dont need a “man-made” reason to “build your own empire” — do it, for you.

    1. That’s a valid point. I can certainly agree that a person should take an active role in their success for their own reasons. However, marketing an autobiography, clothing line, and merchandise is kinda tough if no one’s ever heard of you. Case in point, exhibit A:

      http://bit.ly/6PZpme

      June 21 – Who’s Jenny Sanford?
      June 25 – Her popularity spikes, the day after her husband reappears -in 24 hrs

      This woman figured out a way to climb out of relative obscurity and capitalize (as well as get a bit of revenge) on her husband’s adulterous affair. I suppose congrats are in order.

      At least she didn’t go Bobbitt on him. He would’ve deserved it. Not for cheating on his wife with a hotter woman, but for voting for Clinton’s impeachment back in 98. That’s a serious violation of the Bro Code: very uncool.

  2. Nicely put, Anushay. Why should the aggrieved party take any part in the the media-flogging-parade-of-shame? Here’s to the guilty one standing at the podium by themselves!

  3. You have made a great point, and I am in complete agreement here. Wives of politicians were always the virtuous mothers, and the symbol of prudence. However, they suffered the greatest pain and shame when these politicians, who are husbands and fathers before public figures, had to admit that they were “sorry for their transgressions.” For those who have read Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz, these wives or First Ladies were similar to Amina in that they were always expected to be quiet, subordinate, and uphold the reputation and pride of their husbands. They were never to complain (at least in public) about their husbands’ scandals that both humiliated the family and the people the politicians represent. In the case of Bill Clinton or Berlusconi, that would mean the entire country.
    Now, however, times have changed, and First Ladies are no longer “the smiling puppets.” My question is: what caused this sudden feminist movement among these wives? I believe the answer to the question lies in education. I think we can agree that discrimination based on gender in education is the thing of the past. Males and females receive the same education, and women are rising in academic status. As more women enter professional areas, they are able to become more independent from their husbands. In recent years, we have seen wives become politicians as well, most notably Hilary Clinton. They do not need the “brand name” or the title of their husbands to survive.
    The blog post mentioned that Jenny Sanford graduated from Georgetown (more specifically, she graduated magna cum laude). From the New York Times article, I was also able to find out that Jenny worked as Vice President for an investment firm before she met Mark. Since she is an educated woman, she is able to say what is wrong and right and clearly express her feelings. Furthermore, I read from an article that Silda Wall Spitzer became a worker at an investment firm after Eliot resigned. If women were not as highly educated as they are now, then people like Jenny and Hilary would not have been able to become independent and so influential. Silda would not be able to earn her own salary, and rather be dependent on her husband. Therefore, the way the society has changed over the years greatly influenced the attitudes of women. This also shows the significance of education in our lives, and how education can make us more confident as a human being and an individual.

  4. It is very interesting to see how women all have very different views on the concept of making a decision between family and career. It is hard for me to judge because I have neither a child nor a job. However, I think one’s viewpoints strongly depend on what she values the most: a loving happy family or passion and finance. I wonder if it is really impossible for a woman to obtain both and is curious if there is anyone one who is doing so successfully. Seeing how a woman who used to be very passionate about her writing career actually gave up her job and became a stay-at-home mother for her family in a magazine article was very touching. Even though she had to give up her career, I was impressed by how she was actually glad to have made that decision and was very happy to be able to spend time with her two daughters.
    I found another point raised by Anushay very thought provoking. She talks about the men and society’s general expectations toward women and how they believe that women are able to do-it-all and be perfect all the time. I agree with Anushay in that people do have high expectations for women in society. Especially in Korea, women are naturally the ones that are obligated to perform household chores, raise the children, and even support their husbands with his careers. I hope people understand that not all females are superwomen. The idea of women at home is strong in the traditional Korean culture, while in America, the views on women are expanding and are lessening the stereotypes of gender. Korea’s perception is gradually opening up to become more like America’s, but there is still a long way to go while other underdeveloped countries still struggle with this stereotype of women.

  5. The title first caught my attention because I always thought that the wife should support the husband no matter what. When I read this blog, it changed my view. While reading this, it reminded me of Bill Clinton because he had an affair which ruined his reputation and his wife’s reputation. This somehow connected with Hillary Clinton because she published a book about her life and how she dealt with the scandals. This inspired many feminists and other people who supported her as a candidate for president. This is similar to Jenny Sanford because she also wrote a book dealing with her husband’s scandals. In addition, her name became a trademark and she was successful. It takes a lot of determination and courage for women to speak up. I do agree that women should stand up for themselves and voice their opinion about the reality behind their politician spouses. Public figures depend on their wives to cover up the flaws and reputation. In addition, it shows the importance of education because it was education that helped these women to achieve. In order to be successful, it is beneficial to have a good education to lead people to the right direction and decision. These women made tough decision which made them successful in the end.
    I agree with Anushay’s last five words, because for a woman to climb their way up to success shows that she deserves it more than her husband. The post is nicely written with voice and rhetorical questions that make the reader think. Every female would agree to this post because they’ve seen this around the news. Today, women are becoming more independent and bold. This can inspire many wives who face the same issue because now women are protecting their own future.

  6. Since such events as the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, where activists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott actively championed women’s rights, women have been involved in a seemingly never-ending struggle to achieve equality. While women certainly overcame a major hurdle with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, suffrage did little to shed the image of the domestic wife, which persisted well into the latter half of the 20th century. In the 21st century, women have surely taken leaps and bounds from their 19th and 20th century counterparts, but wide and conspicuous disparities still do exist between the genders, particularly with wages. It can hardly be disputed that society has not progressed whatsoever toward a greater sense of gender equality, but do you believe that the rate of improvement is too slow? Is there a true way to establish such equality in a more immediate fashion?
    Also, you brought up the issue of violence against women when you stated, “It [violence against women] is an interesting social aspect which we find often goes hand in hand with women’s economic progress.” What exactly is the link between these Scandinavian countries, which demonstrate the highest levels of gender equality, and domestic violence rates that are “off the charts?” Do you believe that this trend will apply globally as women achieve greater levels of equality across the board?
    An article that has also piqued my interest is Arrah Nielsen’s “Gender Wage Gap is Feminist Fiction,” which argues that the gender wage gap is based on a misleading, absolute comparison between all full-time employed men and women. Analysts have argued that “when controlled for experience, education, and number of years on the job,” the wage gap ceases to exist. The article goes on to explain that the male versus female wage battle is often wrongfully seen in the black and white of social equality and that in many cases, women earn more than men (investment bankers and dieticians). Nielsen’s greatest argument is that men often earn higher pay because hazardous and unpleasant careers are often more rewarding than safe jobs. Warren Farrell, a board of directors member of the National Organization for Women, has stated “jobs that expose you to the sleet and the heat pay more than those that are indoors and neat.” Do you believe that an absolute perspective is fair in judging the discrepancies between male and female wages? How valid do you think Nielsen’s argument against the gender wage gap is? Do you believe that he has omitted any factors in his analysis?

  7. It is not atypical to see the political “greats”, the representatives through whom we project our voices, standing at a podium, flustered, not knowing what to do or what to say. Beside these men, (not that I am saying that women are incapable of committing such sins) we often see their wives, bottling up their feelings, to an extent so bottomless and bewildering, that it is absolutely agonizing to witness these female figures acting completely oblivious to what their spouse has done or what they might have done. Consider Bill Clinton, for example. Twice, accusations were made towards Clinton, stating that he had affairs with both Gennifer Flowers and White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Although Clinton temporarily got what he deserved by hearing the words “you have been impeached”, Hilary Clinton, not once doubted her husband. As mentioned in the blog, “Who cares?” Not only should political figures’ wives be pursuing Jenny Sanford’s method of explicitly condemning her husband, but so should all women. Women have been bonded in chains to the societal norms that have dictated the amount of independence a woman could obtain. Even as a male, I am completely capable of pinpointing right and wrong. The patriarchal society, which has been dominating civilization for countless numbers of years, is coming to an end. The outlying principles of society have changed so much that women are exponentially augmenting their frontiers of individuality: increasing their numbers of employment and other endeavors. This might come off as some sort of political or gender statement and the concept of domestic duties and ties are dissolving. Women should not feel obligated to stand by men. The 21st century cries out for stand-alone wives: women who can become CEO’s, excellent scholars, or even political figures like Sarah Palin, not for women who believe it is their duty to stay home and watch the kids. Although the blog talks about the cover up of political figures, I believe it applies to all women in general. The last words of the blog are“…build your own empire instead.” Likewise, all women could create their own sense of boundaries in order to reach beyond their own frontiers.

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