the sanfords, spiritual leadership, and submission

Image via the Washington Post
Image via the Washington Post

I’m with PunditMom: I LIKE Jenny Sanford. Reading this Washington Post piece on Jenny, after her eloquent and, I believe, genuine press statement about her husband’s oh-so-public failing, I get the feeling that she is smart, strong, and looking out for herself and her family. I also get the feeling she’s a genuine Christian, and her example stands in stark contrast to the hypocrisies of men like her husband, particularly this, from The American Prospect’s Tapped blog:

Sanford advised spending more time with one’s family (ahem) and praying together. “I don’t want to be old-fashioned here,” he added, “but I think the father has the responsibility of being the spiritual leader of the house, and there are some lessons on a daily, nightly, morning basis that need to go from the father to the little ones in talking about how shall we then live. And I think that particular responsibility is on the backs of fathers.”

Seems to me that Jenny Sanford is the true spiritual leader in that household.  And that her husband abdicated this role when he disappeared to be with another woman ON FATHER’S DAY.

And here’s the part that I’m really thinking about, pondering, and questioning: doesn’t this traditional gender role, male-as-spiritual-leader system really set a marriage up for failure?

Here’s where I’m going with this.  So the Sanfords believe that, despite having an equal education and career experience, despite an equal role in running her husband’s campaigns and PR strategies, despite keeping the home fires burning in such a way that Mark was even able to sustain his political ambitions, Jenny is spiritually inferior to her husband, in need of his leadership, headship, and “covering.”  She is the one expected (I’m fine if it’s just her freely-made choice, as someone who hopes to be a SAHM someday) to give up her Wall Street VP job to raise kids and bake oatmeal chocolate chip cookies for staffers and reporters.  She’s the one who disappears into home life, to the extent that I’m willing to bet that she wasn’t even the same person Mark Sanford fell in love with in the first place.  And then we act surprised when Mark Sanford, bored with this rigid assignment of roles, perhaps even with his no-longer high-powered wife, decides that a fling with an Argentinian is more exciting?  The entire system is unfair to both Mark AND Jenny.

I’m not excusing Mark Sanford’s actions.  I believe that there is no excuse for cheating on a spouse, and at the VERY least, he should have gotten a divorce before pursuing another woman, preferably not one who is also married (his mistress was apparently “separated” at the time that they met).  However, what I am saying is, this religiously-motivated gender-based spiritual hierarchy that its adherents believe protects marriage and ensures spiritual order actually creates a system in which both spouses are doomed to failure. The woman is left at home with the kids, deferring to her husband constantly, trying not to question him and his spiritual “headship,” and is expected all the same to remain attractive and attracted to her husband.  It’s like asking her to fight with one hand behind her back– how can she still be interesting and challenging and compelling to her husband if, after getting married and having kids, she’s no longer allowed to be the hard-working, high-powered, highly-intelligent person who first attracted him?

And the man is put on a spiritual pedestal, where, instead of answering to his wife, conversing with his wife, being challenged spiritually “as iron sharpens iron” by his wife, he meets with groups of men like C-Street or this Cubby character Mark Sanford seemed to be more broken up about disappointing than he was about disappointing his wife and kids.  And these men, I believe, often feed the very beast they are supposedly trying to tame.

This is why I don’t go in for this “headship” stuff.  I wasn’t looking for a leader, I was looking for a partner.  I wanted someone who can call me on my BS, and who I can call on his.  I wanted someone who would be just as devastated as I would be if I had kids and suddenly lost myself, my biggest fear about parenthood.  And that’s what I have in my marriage.  We see it as “iron sharpening iron,” not one of us inferior to the other.  When I talk about my desire to stay home with our children, my husband asks me if I would really be happy in such a role.  He knows me well enough to know I need challenges and mental stimulation, that I need to feel like I’m being productive and contributing to the world in a meaningful way, using my mind and my talents.  We will raise our children the same way we currently go through life– holding hands and picking up each other’s slack and doing the best we can.  But we’re certainly not going to handicap ourselves with outdated ideas of patriarchal leadership and one-sided submission that set us both up for failure and disappointment.

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