Sandra Lee, Feminist Icon

Sandra Lee, host of the Food Networks’s Semi-Home Cooking, is sort of history’s greatest monster. But as Sarah Laskow says, she’s also in many ways a great feminist role model as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s significant other:

In the real world, women like Lee who have very, very successful careers of their own do not have to give them up when their husbands or partners happen to land an important job. In the political world, that’s not true.

Lee is the first partner of a high-profile politician to opt out of her assigned role altogether, that I know of. She can do this partially because she is legitimately more famous than Cuomo. She’s made multiple appearances on The Today Show and The View; her own show, according to The Food Network, has millions of viewers; her cookbooks have made The New York Times’ bestseller list. She gets more Google hits than Cuomo. Acting as New York’s official hostess would actually be a waste of her time (and probably a violation of some sort of in-kind gift law, given the price she would be able to charge to provide similar services to anyone else). But if everything was right with the world, anyone whose romantic partner was elected to political office would have the freedom to decide they’d rather spend their time in other ways.

I would add that part of what makes this work is that Lee is both super-successful and also has a kind of weird job. If she were hospital administrator like Michelle Obama or a lawyer like Hillary Clinton, then her career might be fraught with potential conflicts of interest. But as an entertainer and TV personality, what she does has nothing to do with New York State government, which is convenient. Ultimately, I think only the election of more high-profile women to office will really shift norms in this area. People don’t seem to expect that Joachim Sauer will act as national hostess for Germany, which should change expectations for the wife of the country’s next male Chancellor.