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Sarah Palin is not just another working mom

Reported by Chrish - September 4, 2008 -

Editorial

"The media" is being accused of sexism for asking questions about Sarah Palin that are not asked of a man, but is that fair? Mrs. Palin is the mother of a four-month old baby; it is reported that she returned to work just three days after his premature birth at a small Alaska hospital with no NICU, after flying eight hours and driving another even though her water had broken. Put aside the far-reaching suspicions raised by such a dramatic birth story, and focus on the facts - would it be reasonable to ask a male candidate the same questions? Of course not.

What the right-wing talking points (media bias! sexism!) miss is the specifics. Questions are not being raised about her family because she is a working mother - there are literally millions of working moms who juggle both career and family successfully, and no one is suggestiong they shouldn't or are somehow inferior mothers for it. The interest is piqued because she is a working mother of 1.) a teenaged girl in crisis and 2.) an infant with special needs, both of whom require considerable time and attention from their parents, campaigning for high office that will likewise take much of her time and attention. The "hands off" cries going out from McCain surrogates seem to be an over-reaction to a natural curiosity - how will she manage?

Todd Palin has been called a "stay-home dad," (which McCain supporter John Hagee called "worse than an infidel") but the New York Times reports that last year Todd worked as a fisherman to supplement the family income; the Governor's salary of $125,000 was not enough. The VP salary is, coincidentally, the exact same as the Palin's combined income last year, $218,000. So perhaps Todd will be Mr. Mom - why not just say so?

There are all sorts of parenting and every family makes decisions based on their values, financial situation, personalities, extenuating circumstances, communities, and beliefs.

Some women take their mothering very, very seriously. They deliver at home, they breastfeed for extended periods (usually defined as past two years of age), they simultaneously breastfeed sequential children, and they practice "attachment parenting." These women rarely work outside the home, and many choose to homeschool their kids. "Mother" is a verb for them.

Other women are financially able to stay home while their kids are young and enjoy the bonding and participation in the rapid development. Yet others face financial strains but choose to stay home nonetheless, for what they see as the good of their children and family.

Some women return to work as soon as their paid maternity leave is up. The reasons for doing so vary, some because of financial necessity and others because of professional ambition. Other moms stay home as long as possible but ultimately return to work (for financial or professional reasons) when the kids reach school age.

There are mothers who stay home to homeschool, not because of radical religious or anti-social reasons but because they simply want to be part of their kids lives, steering and participating and enjoying. For some this is a financial strain, although that too is part of the educational process, lessons rarely learned in school settings. Others see it as a privilege, still others see it as their duty - those latter more likely to follow a more conservative and often religious lifestyle.

Some mothers aren't comfortable in their roles at home and escape to work, where they are in control and there are lesser demands. They want to leave the child-rearing to the professionals and are satisfied with regular rituals and "quality time" with their children.

Some families opt for "fathering," with dad being the primary caregiver. Sometimes it's because the mom has a higher paying job or is more involved in her career, sometimes the dad is artistic or freelancing and can work from home; there are any number of circumstances that can lead to that choice, but it's still rare. These families usually believe that at least one parent should be "full-time" and decide accordingly.

Now just listing these types of women and mothers and families is not passing judgment. I know women (and men) who fit each of these categories. Most struggle with their choices and work mightily, no matter the situation, to make their lives and families work the best they can.

The thing is, people everywhere have opinions on which is best for children, families, and society. If we're honest we can see that it all depends on the individual family and situation - extended family, finances, locale, climate, time, distance, career choices, ambition - all these factors vary and matter. We try not to judge others choices and lives because we know we would not satisfy everyone scrutinizing us if the roles were reversed.

But that said, we have a right to know what choices a public figure makes and to make our own personal judgments about that person's character. I'd think Sarah Palin would want to defend her choices and present her case, as it were, to the American public. This is not sexism to apply these standards to her as a woman - men cannot be mothers so the questions will never be pertinent. A father returning to work three days after the birth of his child does not raise the same issues - can we be adults and state that? It's not the same. As a mother and a woman she has every right to go back to work three days after giving birth, but some of us would like to hear her reasoning. It's unusual, to say the least.

Pregnant daughters are nothing to be ashamed of, but pushing an abstinence only agenda, which clearly failed for her family, on the nation at large is a public policy issue for which her unfortunate daughter has just become the poster child. That's not sexism; the facts would still warrant discussion if Palin was a man with the same radical "pro-life" anti-education views .

Sarah Palin, like all American women, is free to live her life as she sees fit and to make decisions for her family. But as a public figure seeking election to the number two spot, she does have to answer to the American people she would lead. Her life should be an open book, and her public persona should be born out by her private practices.

I disagree with her politcally on everything but even if I didn't, I would have second thoughts about her candidacy on a personal level. Voters who agree with her politics might feel the same way - that she should wait and tend to her family for a few years before jumping into such a responsible national role. Am I sexist? No. But I have a great deal of respect for mothers and understand their importance, especially at critical stages of a child's development. With two other daughters coming up she might want to stick close to home, continue as Governor, and see that their needs are being met and that they stay on the "right" track, walking the walk, if you will. That is only my opinion, which I'll defend, but it is not the media's job to squash dialogues that are of national interest and importance because (oh the irony) the right is screaming that it is "Politically Incorrect!"

I have always held that women can have it all - just maybe not all at the same time. Sometimes it's too much, no matter how talented or capable. It seems to me Sarah Palin's plate is already full.

I'm putting this out there because it seems there's an overwhelming desire to discuss this issue. It's tough - no one wants to be accused of sexism or a double standard, but in this case I think a lot of people see extenuating circumstances that would simply not apply to a man running - who would presumably have a wife who was dealing with these family issues. If it were a man running, the family issues probably would remain more private because of that societal assumption, that unspoken myth running through our culture, that puts the woman in the role of primary caretaker. I would think it would be especially important to the "family values" crowd who is so enthusiastically backing Palin, but we have come to expect hypocrisy from that contingent.


Guest mods - please use the delete button freely. I'd love to see an intelligent discussion about this issue and hear what others have to say on how to seperate "sexism" from the culture.