02 September 2008

Let the Mommy Wars Begin

I was watching Meet the Press on Sunday and I was struck by how much emphasis that certain journalists were putting on Palin's role as a mother. Specifically, DAvid Gregory, NBC's chief White House correspondent told the panel, "This is a woman who's got five children and is the governor of Alaska. I think she's figured out the work-life balance that a lot of women struggle with....She went into labor and got on an airplane to go back to Alaska. That's pretty cool. "

I did one of those double takes you see in cartoons.

First-- not "pretty cool." That's what I would call extremely, extremely stupid. What person in their right mind who thinks they're in labor and has a hospital nearby chooses to board a plane for a long flight to Alaska? Especially if this is your 5th child. Not cool-- stupid. Very, very stupid. It shows a complete lack of judgment about the safety of herself and her child--a child she already knew had medical complications. You're not supposed to fly your third trimester-- airlines won't let you on the plane without a doctor's note. You're definitely not supposed to get on a plane when you are in LABOR.

Her lack of judgment aside, though, Gregory's analysis is a lot like much of the statements I'm hearing about Palin right now. The one woman on The View this morning actually said that her being a mother of 5 was the only preparation she needed to run the country. It's very, very surreal to me.

Because here are the facts--in this country, at this moment, having a child--in most occupations--does not mean you get a promotion. It means that you are seen as a liability. I know this personally. I know that I need to keep any pictures or mentions of my little guy off of my web pages and out of interviews because, at least in my line of work, having a kid might cost me a job. In my line of work, where jobs are hard to come by, having a kid might send the wrong message--that I'm not serious about my work, that I won't be a productive part of the department, that I'll want to someday stop the tenure clock, that there are a lot of other candidates out there with similar qualifications who are more "stable" in terms of productivity.

It's not just my occupation that puts mothers at risk. The statistics don't lie. Women with children make even less than men than women without children do.

So I'm torn. Because part of me loves that finally the general consensus is that a working mother can be better suited for a job-- smarter, tougher, harder working. That her ability to balance work and family can be an asset rather than a liability. But I also know that rhetoric can be very, very empty.

News services can't exactly question her ability to perform her duties because she's a mommy. It's not PC. Sexism is bad.

But just because the media seems to be portraying working moms as the country's answer to everything doesn't mean that it changes the reality of working mothers.

Enter the mommy wars. It's already starting, as evidenced by this NY Times Article about mothers' reactions to Palin's candidacy. On one hand, mothers identify with her and admire her. On the other, mothers are speaking up and out about her decisions and the way she balances work and family.

I had many of the same reactions. Because the truth is that balancing work and family means making sacrifices. It has to. There are not enough hours in the day to be the kind of full-time mothers that women could be in the 1950s and the kind of full-time careerists that men have always been able to be. Maybe there is a superwoman out there that can do it all and never flinch. From my own experience, I doubt it.

I do good work-- I know I do. But I also know I could have graduated a year ago if I hadn't had my son. I also know that I don't--not can't, but won't--work as much as some of my peers because 3:30-8:30 every day and all weekend is family time. Period. I also know that I'm missing something by bundling my little guy off to daycare everyday. That someone else has a knowledge of his secret life that I do not. I only see the evidence of it later--things he says and does that I know I didn't teach him.

I'm not saying that Palin can't do it. I'm not saying that I don't want her to be able to do it (balance work and family, that is, not get into the White House). I'll be honest- I have serious, serious doubts. At only 4 months after delivery, she's still at risk for post pardum. With a child with special needs and a teenage daughter who is also expecting, one would thing that she'd want to be there for them first. Those are her choices- fine. But it disturbs me that one woman's political rise has suddenly made millions of other women's daily struggles seem eviscerated. As though they don't even exist.

I think that's the real reason the mommy wars are beginning. This Cinderella story is just that--a story. It may be Palin's reality, but the reality for women across this country is that it does matter if you have a child, but not in the way that journalists and the political analysts are spinning it.

Trust me on this one. Not a single person is going to be impressed if I tell them that my dissertation was completed with a two-year-old in the background. It's not a job qualification for anything else--why should it be for the Vice-Presidency?

Or maybe it should be a qualification, but I don't think that a single woman's rise is going to do a single thing for the rest of us.


Anonymous said...

Great post. Too bad, Palin won't support equal pay legislation (she should have double checked Cheney's paystub before she accepted the offer).

Audrey said...

Yes, stupid is the word to describe Palin. I feel bad for her children, especially her 17 y.o. daughter who is now under a microscope. And unfortunately there is a double standard in my mind, a mother should protect her kids, especially one that is such a die hard pro lifer. When your baby girl is pregnant, and you have an infant with downs they should be your priority.