Sunday, February 14, 2010



Sanforization is a process of treatment used for cotton fabrics mainly and most textiles made from natural or chemical fibres, patented by Sanford Lockwood Cluett (1874-1968) in 1930.[1] It is a method of stretching, shrinking and fixing the woven cloth in both length and width, before cutting and producing to reduce the shrinkage which would otherwise occur after washing.

Jenny Sanford has written a book Staying True about her now-dead marriage to Mark Sanford, the philandering governor of South Carolina, and all I could think when reading the reviews was that above definition of "Sanforized", because that's what is missing from all the juicy, outrageous and very curiosity-satisfying reviews of the book. Some fun snippets:

The idea that Jenny Sanford wrote her memoir Staying True to mollify her sons, as she told the New York Times, is quite comical if you've actually read the book. There is no child who needs to know precisely when and how his father lied to his mother about the mistress in Argentina and how she watched him disintegrate into a pleading, heartsick fool. Sanford's tone is studiously not vengeful, and yet this book is an act of revenge. As well it should be, since the poor woman was married to the most doltish specimen of a husband this side of John Edwards—a fact she elaborates on in exquisite detail for future generations of Sanford men to chew on.

What puts Sanford in a cad class of his own, however, is his complete misunderstanding of the companionate marriage...


On the morning of his wife's birthday, he faxed clues so she could have "a treasure hunt." She was overjoyed when she found the necklace and wore it to dinner when he returned home. "That is what I spent all that money on?" he said. "I hope you kept the box."

According to Sanford's account, "He returned the necklace the next day, thinking it was not worth the money he had spent. He could see I was disappointed. ... In truth, once I knew he thought he had overspent, I also knew it would pain him to see me wear the necklace had I insisted on keeping it. I wouldn't have felt comfortable wearing it in his presence, so what was the point?"

The unintentional point, of course, has to do with the power of martyrdom. As Sanford informs us elsewhere in the book, "Women were made for sacrifice."

And boy, does she sacrifice. What's never clear from her extended exercise in score-settling is why? The man she describes is driven, self-absorbed, pathologically cheap and 360-degrees weird. She runs his political campaigns, puts up with his habitual absences and bears him four sons.

Let's repeat the important question:

And boy, does she sacrifice. What's never clear from her extended exercise in score-settling is why?

My simplest answer to that (and there are others) that Jenny Sanford had been Sanforized before she ever got married. She had been stretched, shrunk and fixed in both emotional and mental length and width so as not to get that shrinking once she got married to an asshole. The technical name for such Sanforization is Christian Lady Upbringing, and it seems to even work on women who have money and education, if this case is taken as an example. Christian Ladies are all about sacrifice.

But that training includes even more: The very idea of a non-companionate marriage, one in which the woman is the support of the man and he the provider of diamond necklaces in return:

For another, Jenny has consciously chosen to avoid the path of feminist heroine. Unlike Hillary Clinton, she was not dragged out of her big city life into a southern America kicking and screaming. Despite her success at the investment bank Lazard Frères before her marriage, she had no interest in putting in 18-hour days and couldn't wait to get to Charleston as a stay-at-home wife (at least, when she wasn't playing campaign manager). She imagined her life just as she thought it was—staying home in a big house, raising a brood of boys with the help of a successful husband who made it home for dinner sometimes. She did not bristle when he hinted he wanted boys and wouldn't know what to do with a girl.

When reviewers ask why Jenny Sanford endured her bad marriage for so very long, especially given that all the alarm bells should have started ringing early on (his refusal to promise fidelity in the marriage vows, his jokes about him being the more intelligent gender and only wanting her to give birth to sons, his use of presents or their withholding as a form of power over her) they fail to understand this particular Christian type of marriage. Sanford only broke its rules when he exposed his wife to public ridicule, and now she has the right to respond.

That's my take on it. Note that I'm not arguing that Jenny Sanford had no choices or that she was a hapless victim of Mark Sanford or of the culture in general. She obviously could have chosen differently. But it helps to understand that different sub-cultures have different ideas about what marriage is all about and about what "reasonable compromises" might entail. The fundamentalist Christian view of the man as the head of the couple makes it difficult to know where a graciously subjugating woman is supposed to stop her subjugation, if anywhere.