Thursday, September 04, 2008

Annie get your gun

I don't discuss politics here, nor am I going to start today. But I do want to talk about what I am learning about myself within the context of the new vice-presidential candidate of the Republican party - Ms. Sarah Palin.

I find myself wondering if I am more of a sexist than I thought I was.

I have no problem with a woman in the White House - in either job, president or vice-president. I have no problem with a woman having any job - not even in combat on the battlefield. (I've always felt that women as well as men should have to sign up for the draft - ever since I did when I turned 18. Israel, for instance, has mandatory military service, women included.)

My problem with Sarah Palin originates with the fact that she has a baby with down's syndrome and I can't understand why she would want a job that will take virtually all of her time - away from her baby. That's where the sexist part comes in, because I wouldn't have had a thought about her husband pursuing such a demanding job as governor or vice-president.

I've always prided myself that I consider women as equals. I remember having an essay I wrote arguing for equal rights when I was a junior in high school printed in the local newspaper. I always tried to instill in my daughter as she grew up the attitude that she can do anything she set her mind to. I have never subscribed to the clap-trap that women are the weaker sex and are fundamentally incapable of performing certain jobs. It upsets me that to this day women don't earn the same pay for the same work as men - and therefore have to work harder to get promoted when competing with men for a job.

But I am having a hard time understanding why a mother of a down's syndrome child would choose to work if she didn't have to. I don't know what their finances are, but the Palins don't appear to be poor. Mayors of small towns usually don't draw a large salary but have the same duties as large-town mayors. Nor does Ms. Palin appear to be a career woman who was checking off the "have a child experience" on her life's list - after all, she has 5 children and didn't run for office until after she had had several children. I have no reason to think that her husband can't take care of the baby, and I don't actually know if he isn't already taking full-time care of the child. I don't know anything about who takes care of their baby when she is governing or campaigning for vice-president, which is another reason why I'm uncomfortable with my feelings toward her and her decision to run for vice-president.

I just can't help thinking that her political career is more important to her than being the primary care-giver of that child. This is where I guess my buried sexism is coming out. I am disappointed in myself.

I don't know if she should have given up her governorship to take care of their baby. But I've always had the belief that children should be raised by their parent. In today's economy I realize that is extremely difficult - it usually takes two incomes to survive. Laura and I were lucky in that we were able to afford for her to stay at home until the kids were in school. We certainly couldn't afford to do that now, though. I have always felt that women deserve the same opportunity as men to pursue a career. I have always thought that men were as capable as women to care for infants, so no - I don't think that it is a woman's place to raise the babies while the men work. I just think that the best person to raise a child is its parents. When possible.

So, maybe Mr. Palin (I assume that's his name) is a full-time dad to their down's syndrome baby, freeing Ms. Palin to pursue her political ambitions. Or maybe Ms. Palin feels that she has a unique contribution to make to politics and has therefore a higher calling to answer.

Or maybe I am just failing to truly understand equality for the sexes and that mothers everywhere are proud to see her as their potential vice-president, that she is raising the ceiling for mothers everywhere. All I really do know is that I have a lot of thinking and learning ahead of me in order to not see her as someone who is putting her interests ahead of her baby's. Of all of the discussion I've seen in the media with regard to her being on the Republican ticket, no one has mentioned this in particular.

Please understand that I don't have a problem with working mothers. My problem is with a working mother of a special needs child who appears to have the choice of staying home if she wanted.

I am seriously wanting the unvarnished opinion of everyone who reads this blog. Have I lost my feminist credentials here? (Or maybe had I never had them?)

22 deeply creased, dogeared comment(s):

meno said...

Either mom or dad needs to take care of that baby, and all the other babies they have.

Who will it be?

The only correct choices for me are mom or dad.

Glamourpuss said...

Interesting - I had this very discussion with a colleague yesterday - although not about Palin.

For all our talk of equality, the cultural notion of what a mother is has changed very little, despite the feminist movement. Our ideas about what is means to be a woman have shifted significantly, but our ideas about what it means to be a mother have remained stable.

In the UK, it is still usually the woman who takes time out of her career to be the primary child carer, usually because she earns less than her male partner, and of course, that perpetuates the problem - women are seen as not serious about their careers, liable to leave if they get pregnant, and so less likely to be remunerated and promoted.

Personally, I don't think you can have it all, regardless of what Cosmo says, and I do think more people should really consider the responsibility of having children - frankly, what's the point of doing so if you're not prepared to raise them? And if that means one or both parents re-setting their priorities, then that's what it means. Like you, I think both parents should consider that, and it is a sad fact that economic need forces parents to work long hours and leave their offspring in childcare.

In Palin's case, there is a tension between her choices and her politics, but she's not the first - or last - politician to be a hypocrite.

Puss

Sober Briquette said...

this brings me to one of the problems I have with socialized care as it works in Scandinavia: everyone (well, say 90%) sticks their child or their elderly parent in care and then goes off to work ... caring for someone else's child or parent. That's not even close to ideal, in my opinion.

Our society no longer really values "family values," despite the frequency with which we bat the term around. Otherwise, women would not be so conflicted about their choices. The capacity "homemaker" is the role of a very powerful consumer. It takes intelligence and creativity to do it efficiently, and if it were more widely recognized as such, our country would be in better shape.

Suppose this child did not have special needs, would you feel as strongly? Lots of families don't have the resources (emotionally as well as financially) and fall apart anyway without a lot of external support.

Clearly, Sarah Palin is putting her ambition ahead of her family. I think it takes a very special individual to be capable of staying on track and not losing sight of what they truly believe and value when the blinding light of fame hits. It sometimes seems impossible to find an individual with the right combination of vision, ethics, and extroversion.

Mir said...

I don't think you've lost your cred, no. That said, I don't have a problem with her working if the dad is staying home, but I'm not clear that THAT's what's happening, either.

My problem is more with her desire to legislate my uterus and my kid's uterus when the results of abstinence-only education have worked out so fanfuckingtastically in her own family. Just sayin'.

Bob said...

meno - me too. I hate it that my immediate reaction wasn't to assume her husband was doing it since she wasn't.

puss - I guess part of what I'm admitting to here is that my first assumption would be that her being a mother should make her want to forsake her career for her handicapped child. That doesn't have to be - as long as dad is doing the job instead.

de - no, the strength of my reaction was based on her baby having down's syndrome. But overall I still feel that one of the two parents should be taking care of their kids - absent the financial imperative of two incomes. Somehow I don't think that is the case. I think we shall be finding out, now that she's a candidate she will have to disclose her financial worth.

mir - the same thing occurred to me, how can she maintain her positions on abstinence-only sex ed when it so plainly didn't work in her own family. As for her stance on abortion, until the day when all children are conceived on-purpose I can't see an outright ban on abortion - especially in cases of rape or medical necessity. I just don't understand anyone who denies this option and also thinks that sex education amounts to "just say no".

ms chica said...

I have heard of few pundits and strategists discuss the impact her family situation will have on her electability. Your having a single misgiving about about a specific situation, hardly makes you a candidate for having your feminist card revoked.

Your concerns about her family's ability to devote the time necessary to raise a special needs child point to the lacking resources available for special children below school age....the resources available require a roadmap or an advocate to navigate.

I admit, I haven't give much consideration to her personal life, because frankly her policy decisions scare the crap out of me.

Jocelyn said...

For me, so long as one parent is largely devoting his/her time to the kid(s), I'm okay with it...assuming the other parent is quite present, as well. I can only draw from my family's choice to have my husband be our stay-at-home parent these last eight years.

But for infancy? I have to admit: even though I worked, I was still the dominant parent. There is something evolutionary or biological about The Mother. I certainly had a leg (or breast) up on my husband since I breastfed; that gave me ultimate power with the baby. But still, with our kids being 8 and 5, there is still a really remarkable longing in them for Mommy First and Best. My husband is a better parent than I; he's around more, but they often prefer me.

It's biological.

So hmmm... You're not anti-feminist but perhaps realistic.

PEACE said...

My thoughts exactly, being a mom is the number one top priority job in the universe, or at least should be, downs syndrome baby or not. I'm a working mom, but not when my kids were little, not until junior high school did I go back to work and then was still home when they got home from school. Was it the highest paying job, no, but it allowed me the maximum time with my kids. I am also and have always been a political activist and was pretty much offered a seat on our state senate when my kids were very young--pre-school age--I said no. I knew that opportunity wouldn't probably come around again, but I knew without a doubt my kids would always come first, that there would be time later to seek office. No that it has been 20 years later, I am considering running after I retire from the job I have now.

My point, is you don't have to give up your dreams and aspirations just because you are a mom, but sometimes you do need to put them on hold to do right by your family.

Bob said...

ms. chica - her policy stances scare the crap out of me too - God wants us to put in a gas pipeline?

jocelyn - I don't know if babies are wired to prefer mom over dad, but with the breastfeeding you sealed the deal with yours. Are moms wired to be better care givers than dads to babies - maybe. I do think our society allows women to be more emotionally available than men - which is all important in caring for babies - so there's that. In that context, then, the baby would probably prefer mom over dad - but that isn't how it has to be, and not how it always is. So - realistic - yeah, I guess, but I hope for gender equality in child rearing too, I just have more to learn to really own that.

Peace - like I said above to Jocelyn, I would hope that men can be equal to the task of being the primary caregiver for an infant but I acknowledge that there's a good bit going against us. That being said, if Pa Palin is home taking care of baby while Ma Palin is busy being vice-president, then in theory all should be okay. Unfortunately it probably isn't.

I admit my feelings in the matter pretty much mirror yours, taking care of kids IS a career and no other career should conflict with that until the kids are old enough. I admire your choice, I know it had to be difficult to turn down a seat in the legislature in a society that values politicians over parenthood.

But it doesn't always have to be mom that makes childraising their career.

Kat said...

Well I don't know about your feminist "cred", Bob, but I do think we're seeing a lot of sexist backlash against Sarah Palin for her choices. It's just sexist, plain and simple.

I don't buy that being a mother is my number one priority in the universe. If all women bought into that, we wouldn't see women in positions to change the world. And I don't appreciate people who have that attitude...if all you want to do in life is be a mother good for you but don't put your biases off on the rest of us. Women have come too far and fought too hard to have choices for this to be acceptable to me. CHOICES. Not, "well we all have choices but if yours don't agree with mine then you're not a good mother". I call bullshit on that.

Todd Palin has clearly stated that now that his wife is the VP candidate, he's going to be a full time parent. Sarah Palin is breastfeeding so it's pretty apparent to me that her baby is a priority, it would be so easy to just put him on a bottle when she's so busy. I see a lot of people ignoring facts that have been stated in favor of their own biases and the rumor mill.

Motherhood is important. But some of us are also meant to change the world, not just birth and raise children. Some of us are meant to be captains of industry, own companies, do missionary work, all kinds of things besides mothering. Nobody gets to say "Well then you shouldn't have had children" just because they don't make the same choices. To me, those people are sexist.

I have no idea who I'm going to vote for, but all of the talk about Sarah Palin not being a good mother is really infuriating to me. I know a woman who has eight children, who also went to medical school while birthing and raising them. She's a doctor now. Her kids adore her. I think she's one of the most amazing women on the planet. Not a lesser mom because she didn't stay at home with them.

Good post, Bob, sorry to run on and on!

Kat said...

One other thing...mothers who work RAISE their children. To imply they don't is ridiculous, sexist rhetoric.

Bob said...

kat - I have to agree that sexism is still alive, and I won't pretend that I am completely free of it - in as much as I would like to. I work at it, though. I have learned something from this.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I think you are expressing an honest quandary and trying to figure out how you really feel about the issue of mothers who are not the primary caregivers.

I would not have had a nanny even if I'd been able to afford one. I deeply believe that parents should raise their own children or not have them. As it was, I was a single parent and had to work, which was often emotionally painful.

But politicians are not like other people. Male or female, it takes a special kind of ego and drive to run for public office, and to attempt to apply the normal standards to them is unrealistic.

I disagree with Sarah Palin about a woman's right to choose whether to give birth to a child so it would be inconsistent for me to criticize her (or any working mom) for putting her career first once she has chosen to give birth.

Every family has its own priorities. I won't base my objections to her on this particular issue when there are so many I consider more important.

Gwen said...

I really appreciated the honesty of your post, Bob, and the comments have been instructive and thought provoking, too.

Personally, I have no objection to Sarah Palin's decision to work when she has a special needs child. I just don't like her political beliefs, as much as I can even figure out what they are between all the smoke and mirrors from both sides.

What I resent is being told that my disagreements with her are the result of my unacknowledged sexism. (This is in the context of the greater national debate, not what's going on in this blog, btw.)

Bob said...

Hearts - I don't object to her based on this either, I think she has more than enough other qualities that make me dislike her for this particular issue to take a back seat to.

gwen - I too disagree with her political views. As for all opposition to her being called sexism - standard dirty campaign tactic by the right. like calling the law taking away our civil rights "The Patriot Act" - so anyone apposing it is automatically unamerican.

Franki said...

I consider myself an independent left-leaning woman and when I chose to have children, I knew I wanted to be the one to raise them. Palin strikes fear in my heart. She is an oily combination of misogyny and feminist that I find disgusting. She wants to break the glass ceiling for women, yet also make sure that we don't have rights over our own bodies or education.

She is gross and the support of women around the country for her makes me want to leave the USA.

Bob said...

franki - I'm hearing more and more of the same.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

So true. So very true. Pick a card, any card.

She seems to make an exception only for herself when it comes to normal human rights for women.

Mary-LUE said...

Newbie here... I think, going back to the original question in your post, is whether or not you think any of the male candidates should not be running if he had a special needs child.

Even if this unease about her decision to work when she could stay home with her baby were an anti-feminist feeling, I'm not sure that not being 100% perfect on some sort of feminist-checklist means you aren't for equality for women.

Does that make sense?

There is no Feminist Creed that says every person has to believe points 1 through 30 or they're not a feminist. At least, that's what I think.

Bob said...

hearts - it is disheartening that she (and others like her) want to impose their choices as mandates on the rest of us.

Mary-LOU - I understand, and thanks. But I am still a bit disappointed in myself, while I haven't fallen off of the feminist wagon, I could be sitting a bit higher on it.

Thanks for coming by, come again soon!

Rachel said...

bob, great post!

Let me first say that I despise Palin. I detest her politics and her personality. But that won't preclude me from attempting the role of devil's advocate.

And let me add, before I begin, that you haven't lost an ounce of fem-cred in my eyes!

:)

Now then, I think one of your first assumptions is deeply flawed. You seem to assume that Palin's work as mayor, Governor, VP canidate, and potentially as Vice President operates just like a "normal" 9-to-5 career, that it completely removes her from her family life and caregiving responsibilities during "working hours". I do not believe that such is necessarily the case. As a political executive, she is technically "on the job" 24/7--there are no set schedules, no times in which is is required to be in the office, not must she "clock in". Moreover, her office is wherever she is--her Office is a formal room in which business is sometimes conducted, but is not always so. She can do her business anywhere at anytime.

What I'm getting at here, is that spending time with her family does not necessarily take her away from her job, nor does her job necessarily take her away from her family. She can take care of her baby while doing work. In fact I have seen pictures of her nursing that child while in meetings with campaign staff.

And she has a husband and possibily even a nanny or babysitter to take the child in hand at any time she must step away. And in the "normal" world, do not even full-time moms and dads surrender care for short periods of time when things must be done?

Perhaps, considering all that, Palin is in exactly the right job for her family, and all those other normal families are doing it wrong.

Bob said...

rachel - you make a good point about no fixed hours. I can see where she could make time - after all, she would be setting the agenda being the 2nd highest official in the land.