Perhaps it’s obvious that I might have some … feelings … about Sarah Palin. A couple of people were so sure of it that one of the search items in my stats page Monday was “griot girl on sarah palin.” Sorry to have disappointed you!
This morning I heard a bit of NPR’s uber-annoying “The Takeaway” (don’t get me started on all the reasons John and Adaora irk the crap out of me …). This morning John was talking ‘supermoms and super colliders.’ He wanted listeners to call in with their thoughts on whether a working mother (of five) could be a world leader. He’s not alone. The questions are all over the place. How’s Sarah Palin going to be Veep when she has all those kids? What could McCain be thinking? What kind of mother could she be? And on and on.
Meanwhile, Mr. My-Next-President has a couple of small children, yet no one looks at them and sees reasons why their father can’t hold higher public office. Joe Biden took office as a newly-widowed father of very young children. No problem. And doesn’t McCain practically have his own ball team? No one questions his ability to hold office.
Yes, I know no one thinks twice about Obama, Biden or McCain’s children because Obama, Biden and McCain are men. (Of course, if Mr. O had an unwed-and-pregnant 17-year-old, you know we’d be hearing plenty about his ability to parent and preside.) These men are fathers, and it’s socially- acceptable — even expected — for fathers to leave their children behind to pursue their careers. We don’t think twice about it. We assume ‘someone’ will be home taking care of the children. We assume the ‘someone’ will be willing and able to drop everything and be the primary caregiver for as long as the man is out of the house — the eight hours of his work day or the forty years of his political career.
(This isn’t just about watching — and having — the babies, though. Remember Dr. Judith Steinberg Dean? She decided against throwing aside her medical practice and home life for a seat on her husband Howard’s campaign bus. People were scandalized: didn’t she love her husband? How could she put her own career first? What kind of wife was she?)
What’s so super about supermoms? They work. They have kids. They do what needs to be done. This isn’t super. It’s life. There’s nothing unsuper or even less super about women whose primary job is parenting. They work. They have kids. They do what needs to be done. It isn’t that simple … but it is, too.
The condescension of ‘supermom’ pisses me off. Oh, isn’t she cute, out there working her little job? How clever she looks in her suit. How droll that she thinks she should get equal pay for equal work.
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And then there’s Sarah Palin. As if she’s the first or only woman who’s had to put down her Blackberry and pick up her breast pump. Please. She’s eating up this whole supermom thing, and that offends me. If she was interested in breaking the glass ceiling for any woman but herself, she might call people on that shit, but no, she seems to like it, to think it strengthens her bid.
I have no problem with a mother of five deciding to accept her party’s nomination to be Vice President. None. In Sarah Palin’s shoes, would I have accepted? No. And part of that refusal would surely have been because I had a special-needs infant at home. And part of it would have been because I had an unwed-and-pregnant 17-year-old. Not because I was the mother of either of those children but because I was a parent of those children. I’d figure that the baby would surely need more of both parents’ time and attention (and I’d probably think that about a baby who didn’t have special needs, too). I’d also be selfish about my time with that baby. Wouldn’t being Vice President mean I’d miss far too much of his growing up? First step, first word, first … maybe everything. That seems like a lot to give up, but that might just be me.
Maybe I would have accepted if Trig had been my only special-needs child. I’d have enough money to arrange for excellent care — even excellent care that could and would travel with me wherever I needed to be, excellent care that would be live-in once I moved to DC to take office. Ok, scratch my first answer. I’m on the fence now on the Trig question.
I’m not anywhere near the fence, though, when it comes to Bristol. There’s no way I would have accepted the offer. I would have thought about the fact that my acceptance would be to turn my child over to the rabid frenzy of the media, open her to scrutiny, judgment and commentary that she would be much happier and healthier without. I would do that as a mother or a father. It seems reasonable to assume that Bristol Palin would rather have had the personal story of her pregnancy and motherhood play out in the spotlight of Alaska politics rather than in the international press. I also choose to assume that she might have preferred not to be forced to marry the man-boy she’d been messing with (but that might just be me, too). If her mother had declined McCain’s offer, most of us would never have heard of the Palins, would never have had to see a single photo of Levi Johnston’s I-was-cool-in-high-school face. Bristol might actually have been able to make some choices, and maybe those choices would have been different from the ones that have been made for her in the last couple of weeks.
I just can’t see how any parent could do to a child what Sarah Palin has done to her daughter. Your ambition is more important than your child’s life? And how she’s spinning it as a way to showcase her ‘family values’ is, as my students would say, grimy. To use your child as a political tool is so ugly I can’t quite process it. Maybe the subtitle of this post should be “Beyond the Pale … but not the Palin.”
Am I way off base here? Help me make it make sense, help me see it differently.