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Palin and parenting

| 16 Comments

I'm shocked to discover that, probably for the first time ever, I agree with Ann Coulter.

An ABC News article about Sarah Palin and parenting quotes Coulter as having said:

Having young children didn't prevent JFK, whom I hear is America's most beloved president, from being president[....]

If Palin can't do that, then you're saying that no woman with children can ever be equal to a man in politics and can certainly never be a president or vice president[....]

As there are no fisheries and no oil rigs in D.C., Mr. Palin ought to be able to spend more time on child rearing.

I wouldn't have included the snarkiness, but other than that, I agree. (Which shocks me; I'm normally so distressed by Coulter that I go out of my way to avoid reading or hearing anything she's said.) We liberals and feminists generally want men to bear more of the burden of raising children, don't we?

There are people, many of them Democrats and liberals, who've been hinting that it's too hard for a woman to raise children while being V.P. Do they feel that Palin should resign from being governor of Alaska because she has kids? Or perhaps that she should have been disqualified from running for governor in the first place?

The article goes on to talk about Jane Swift, who had three kids when she dropped out of the Massachusetts gubernatorial race in 2002, yielding to Mitt Romney; she dropped out because she didn't have as much money as Romney, but the press billed it as a case of her not being able to handle the combination of parenting and politics. Swift points out that Romney had five kids, but nobody said that that was too hard. (And presumably if Romney had been the one to drop out of the race, nobody would've said it was because of the stress of parenting.)

Swift also notes that Obama has two children, and nobody's saying that he's not fit to run for President because of them.

To be clear: I totally disagree with every one of Palin's politics viewpoints that I'm aware of, and I come across new things to disagree with her about every day. I don't want her to be Vice President, because I don't want someone with her politics to be Vice President.

But attacking her for being a mom is out of line.

Of course I would like the jobs of President and Vice President, and all other jobs, to become more parent-friendly. I want CEOs and politicians and everyone else to have time and energy to be a parent as well as to do their jobs.

There's room to disagree about that; some people may feel that some jobs are so high-stress and/or important that they shouldn't be filled by parents.

But if you're going to object to a woman trying to do those jobs because she has kids, then you'd better object to a man in the same position.

(I'm pretty sure that I'm going to get arguments to this entry. Note that there are a huge number of issues and areas that I'm not touching on here. I'm disagreeing with one particular specific argument, one that I'm unhappy to be seeing from liberals, to the effect that Palin should not be running for VP because she can't do that and still be a good mother. I'm not making any other argument about Palin here.)

16 Comments

Thank you for saying this. This has been getting on my last nerve. The media coverage of Palin has been so sexist, coming from a lot of people who ought to know better. There are so many other issues the media could raise with her, if they so chose.

But if you're going to object to a woman trying to do those jobs because she has kids, then you'd better object to a man in the same position.

What you said. If it sounds ridiculous when you say it about a man, it's equally ridiculous when you say it about a woman.


You find yourself in the curious position of agreeing with Coulter because she, and other anti-feminist conservatives, have cynically co-opted feminist arguments to win an election. They think they see daylight between Obama supporters and traditional feminists in the wake of the primary battles, and are taking a break from driving women's rights back to the 19th century to make the "O noes teh sexisms!" face at the press. I saw a McCain shill on CNN tell James Carville — James Carville, who relentlessly (some might say annoyingly) fought to put a woman into the White House this year — that he was being sexist for criticizing Palin's lack of experience. He hadn't mentioned her gender, or implied anything about it, but she trotted out the talking point, because they think it's a good way to get liberals attacking each other.

This doesn't diminish your argument, with which I happen to agree, but don't start thinking Coulter's heart grew three sizes this day. (Or Rove's, or McCain's, or any of the other anti-feminist conservatives who've been waving the feminist banner this week.) This is about winning, and they will pivot on their deeply-held beliefs and lie to the cameras with a smile in order to do it.


I also find it interesting that Sarah Donaldson James begins the article by saying that "longtime liberals are finding themselves critical of a woman's choice to raise children and earn a living, calling it 'bad parenting.'" She doesn't actually quote any longtime liberals as saying that it is "bad parenting". I read a bunch of lefty blogs, and I haven't seen anyone state that she is a bad parent because she works. I have seen a bunch of cheap shots at her, but not for being a working mother.

If anybody says that they think anybody is disqualified from high office because they have many children or small children or disabled children, those people should be either mocked or persuaded. But if someone writes an article about people who are saying that, they should, you know, quote some and name them.

Thanks,
-V.


Varibidian, sadly, there are actually a *lot* of mom bloggers saying exactly that. Idiots. :-(


Can you give me some references on the whole "liberals arguing it's too hard to be a mom and VP" thing here? Because I haven't seen that.

The only thing I have seen is people commenting on the hypocrisy of the Right in attacking Michelle Obama for joining her husband on the campaign trail when she has kids, and then turning around and supporting Palin in hitting the campaign trail when she has (even younger) kids. Those arguments aren't agreeing with the statement that you can't campaign and still be a good mother, they're just expressing frustration at how people change their tune when it's their candidate verses another.

There's a good bit on the daily show about commenters doing an about-face on various points, if you haven't seen it yet.


Per the conversation happening over on your LiveJournal page (yup, four of us commented, sorry for the confusion):

Weell . . . the hypocrisy is rampant, particularly on the far-Right side of things. Pretty darn despicable, pre-school-age kind of name-calling and bickering, all around. As a person, mother, citizen and taxpayer, that's just not the example I want our highest-ranked civil servants to show our children ("look, kids, there's the Pres. and V.P. - they're calling the General names just like little Billy down the street does!"), or us - or the other nations of the world.

I would be concerned that there isn't adequate care for the Down's Syndrome/retarded/genetically-ill-equipped child - except my dad was the primary caregiver once my sister and I were school-age, and we did just fine, so why wouldn't these kids, even the extra-demand baby? Just because they're fringe-Xtians doesn't mean they'd let him cry himself to sleep in his crib, right, Dr. Spock? (Whoops, let me slip that bias back under my skirt. . . .)

Ah-hm.

No, I probably wouldn't agree with Coulter much either, except that you've hit the nail on the head with your points. They are much the same points my husband and I have discussed this past week, actually.

And in fact, since she's a pretty cut-throat character (Palin), I wouldn't be surprised if even her hubby does much of the care-giving for the child. I'd suspect it's more the elder girls, and paid staff of some sort (primarily some sort of nursemaid?).

Although, to throw a little biology in, a number of studies have been done regarding the sexual dimorphism of humans - and they've started to get solid data that women get "fuzzy" during pregnancy because their brains are ripping out the old wiring to re-wire with both more and newer connections. This effectively makes us smarter by the time the baby is born - and we're more effective in multi-tasking because our brains have cross-connected more areas than ever.

So with five babies carried to term (even if they have genetic defects), Gov. Palin is smarter than she used to be, and better at organizing, too. Lol. Maybe not nicer, but a slyer fox at manipulating things her way. ;-)

Oh, and a link (especially for all you librarians and bibliophiles out there) about Gov. Palin's career:

http://www.time.com/time/politics/article/0,8599,1837918,00.html


I thought the issue was the flip-flop--the conservative right always thinks that a mom should stay home and take care of the kids, and yet they are putting a mother of however many, and one of them a special needs kids, into the VP slot (which, while not an interesting job, is still demanding).

Definitely not a "practice what you preach" position.


Well, I think there is real media sexism out there, Jaipur — this particular criticism probably isn't something that would happen to a male candidate.

But, yeah, my outrage is blunted a bit because of the hypocrisy, and the fact that they're using feminism as a windbreak while they get about the business of undermining feminism. Palin herself, in March, was criticizing Senator Clinton for complaining about media bias — she said anything perceived as "whining" about sexism would set women back — and now that principled stand seems to have flown out the window.

I also think it's a legitimate point to bring up because they're trying to run her as an aw-shucks hockey mom. Sure, you can be a great mom and also have an intense career, but you can't be a hockey mom, picking the kids up from practice in your SUV and serving on the PTA, and simultaneously serve as Vice President of the United States. That's the stereoscopic image they're trying to sell America on, trying to get people to hold two conflicting images in their heads at once. If they're going to package her as simultaneously non-threatening and fierce, as a super-feminist while she "learns at the feet of the master" (that's a direct quote from a McCain advisor), calling them on it is not out of line.

That said, I don't think that's what the media is doing — I think they're thinking of moms as being innately more responsible for the kids than dads, and they wouldn't do the same for a man — but if Obama were trying to run as a combined President and stay-at-home dad I hope people would point out the contradiction.


Two main problems:

1: Hypocrisy: when liberals / Democrats / "hollywood elites" don't appear to be rearing their children properly, people just like Palin in terms of their politics come out and attack.

2: Who *is* raising the child? I don't care if it's her, or her husband, or her kids. And this isn't all that important to me. But I am curious. I'm hoping that a V.P. would have enough responsibilities that she couldn't personally be primarily responsible. And she has a 4-month-old with Downs Syndrome. This isn't just another child. It's not even a 3 or 4 year old. Unweaned. I expect that they do have a good answer to this, so this isn't something that concerns me directly, but I think it is an interesting question. And, c.f. hypocrisy on her being upset that people are concerned with her "family values".

Addendum: I just finished watching The Daily Show with clips of various people, Sarah Palin included, who attacked Hillary Clinton for complaining about sexist attacks against her. She should just suck it up and be strong. I also doubt that there's any large movement to attack Palin for her child rearing choices, but *claiming* that there is such a movement is politically useful.


Relevant to using feminism as a windbreak while ignoring women, does anyone else remember this GOP statement that was all over the news right after the announcement of Palin as running mate?

Juleanna R. Glover, a GOP strategist with ties to the McCain campaign [said,] "Hillary said she made 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling. Well, McCain [sic] just shattered it." [cite]

Even when it's a conservative woman talking about another woman's success using the language of feminism, the fundamental sexism (and willful disregard for facts -- surely a GOP strategist should know the name Geraldine Ferraro?) can't be hidden.


Thanks for all the comments!

renesears: Yup, agreed.

Jere7my: Yeah, fair enough. I just saw the lovely and entertaining Daily Show segment (thanks, Anne!) in which Jon Stewart shows various Republicans saying "Oh noes teh sexisms!" (great phrase!) and other similar things juxtaposed with clips of the same people saying the opposite a few months ago (like saying that Hillary Clinton should shut up about sexism already).

And yeah, I definitely have no illusions about Coulter. I've just never before seen her be anything less than hateful even in the service of winning an election. But I assume that the next thing I see from her will be just as loathesome as usual.

V: She doesn't actually quote any longtime liberals as saying that it is "bad parenting". Interesting; you're right that the one most extreme blogger she quotes turns out to be a registered Republican (I just found her blog). (It's not clear from the article whether the second woman quoted, at the top of p. 3, is a liberal or not.) But I have seen a bunch of people claiming to be liberals in the past few days who have said very similar things, to the effect that Palin can't possibly be a good mother if she runs for VP. My entry here wasn't in reaction to the article; I just linked to the article 'cause it was handy. I was already planning to write this before I saw the article, 'cause I had seen a bunch of people doing this.

So, yes, I agree that the article should have quoted some more clearly liberal people. But such people do exist.

Anne: I think the momblogs that Mary Anne mentioned are probably where I've seen most of this too, though I haven't been keeping track of specific instances. I'll add a note here if I come across any more.

crinklequirk, Jaipur, and Ethan: Yeah, there are lots of other arguments to be had about Palin and hypocrisy and family values and whatever else, and I have less-strong feelings about those so I didn't want to bring them up in this entry. I was just focusing on this one specific argument that I see people making. The people I'm talking about aren't making the hypocrisy argument; they're explicitly saying that Palin can't be a good mother while running for VP.

Good points about the elder girls and paid staff. And :) on her being smarter and better at organizing. And thanks for the link!


Splitting my responses into a couple of comments for readability and because of browser problems:

Jere7my: Good point about the hockey-mom-and-VP thing. Still, I think that's essentially the self-image that a lot of politicians try to convey: the aw-shucks just plain ordinary guy, who happens to also be a powerful government official. People occasionally complain about that kind of thing, but I think a lot of the time it passes without comment.

And yeah, the people I'm talking about in this entry do indeed appear to be thinking of moms as being innately more responsible for the kids than dads.

Ethan: I agree that they presumably have a good answer, but yeah, I also agree that it's an interesting question. But I imagine that the answer won't be all that different from what it's been for the past four months, when she's been continuing to govern Alaska while dealing with a Down syndrome infant. (The thing I find most surprising about that article is that it gives the impression that she was unaware of the increased risk of Down syndrome for mothers over 40. I would have expected most parents to know about that.)

Dan: Heh--good point. I think I'd seen that quote in passing at the time but hadn't really registered what she was saying.

...Btw, over in LJ (where I looked after crinklequirk mentioned it), Debbie posted a link to her and Laurie's excellent entry about criticisms of Palin centered on her being a woman. Good stuff.

(And Nao, thanks much for reminding people to comment here instead of in LJ!)


Just happened across an article in SFGate that discusses, among other things, letters to the editor from Bay Area locals about Palin. It notes:

Hundreds of letters to the editor poured in last week. Not surprisingly, considering the partisan composition of the Bay Area, the overwhelming majority opposed her nomination. What was striking was that at least half of the submissions were from women, who tend to be underrepresented in letters to the editor.

...

Many writers openly questioned whether a mother of a special-needs children - and a pregnant teen daughter - could balance such daunting personal and professional demands.

Of course, it's possible that all of those many writers were conservatives. But given the context (Bay Area letters-to-the-editor writers opposing Palin's nomination), that seems unlikely to me.

I'm now speculating that perhaps the reason some of you haven't seen these sorts of comment is that they're showing up in places like momblogs and letters to the editor, rather than in Left Blogovia per se. But that's just speculation; I don't really know.


I meant to mention the other day that there's a related, but less clearly problematic, idea that I've seen perhaps even more than the explicit "Palin can't do this" argument: people, especially mothers, saying things like "All I know is that I couldn't do it."

It's hard to know, in a print medium, what the tone of such comments really is. Fwiw (which may not be much), my reading of them has varied: some of them seem to be sincerely saying "it's entirely possible that Palin can pull it off, and I have a lot of respect for that," while others seem to be saying "I'm a mom, and since I can't imagine adding being Vice President to my mom duties, I don't believe that anyone else could handle both jobs either."

The latter, if I'm interpreting it right, seems to me to be a problematic and kind of insidious argument; it neglects the fact that different people's circumstances are different, the fact that Palin's already a state governor (so the transition to VP is a rather different matter than the transition from SAHM to VP would be), and the likelihood that Palin will have rather more financial resources at her disposal than most parents do. Oh, and the fact that most people couldn't handle being VP even if they weren't parents. By the "I couldn't do it, so I'm sure nobody else can either" argument, nobody would ever be qualified for major political office.


Jed,

Thanks for following that up. I still haven't been seeing that attack on the lefty blogs I frequent, but then (a) those writers tend to be politically sophisticated, and (2) those writers tend to be, um, male. So although I still gripe about the particular writers who don't name and quote from such attacks, I accept that they are happening.

And let me just add another take on the stupidity of the criticism: I don't care whether Gov. Palin is a good mother. I don't care whether Barack Obama is a good father. I don't care whether Charles de Gaulle was a good father; I don't care whether Margaret Thatcher was a good mother. I don't care whether Golda Meir was a good mother; I don't care whether Peter the Great was a good father. I mean, I might care about their biographies as a sort of prurient curiosity, but it seems to me that declining to vote for a candidate because he might be a bad parent is along the lines of choosing the candidate you want to have a beer with. I think taking on the vice-presidency and all the difficulties that entails for her and her family shows if anything a certain selflessness.

As it happens, there is plenty to attack Sarah Palin with, fairly and unfairly, without that kind of sexism.

Thanks,
-V.


We're talking about a lot of these issues with Gov. Jane Swift on The Takeaway, and anyone can send questions about Sarah Palin, sexism, and motherhood while serving in office via our website -- thetakeaway.org.


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