Friday, September 5, 2008

Soft Core Politics: She's a mahhhhthur!

OK, if you read my blog regularly, you might have picked up that I am not a fan of McCain-Palin.*
Despite my political beliefs, I really don't mean the following post to be a gripe about any particular party or person, though it's possible some of my preference might be evident. It's more of an observation about politics in general. And, I suppose, life in general.

Of all the things that bother me about Palin, one thing has been bugging me: The fact that she's a mother. OK, not really that she is a mother. I think it's great that she's a mother. (Really. However any of us want to judge or applaud her choices, I 'm sure her kids love her and she loves them.) What I have an issue with is that during the speaking breaks (or when they decided that the speaker wasn't important enough to stay with thankgodforCspanwheretheymostlyshoweverything...) at the RNC, when they interviewed people here is what I heard:

"I think she's great. The fact that she's a mom..."

The first word of the video to introduce her: Mother.

The headline to a story about her: Sarah Palin: Mother of five...

Obviously, a lot of this identification as "mother" comes from her own telling of her story. But surely this woman, as much as I don't think she should be vice-president, could be identified for other things? What if Sarah Palin didn't have any children? What would the narrative be? Would she ever have even gotten elected as Mayor if she didn't have the PTA?
Sexism of course makes this more of an issue for her - we might still be discussing this if she were a man, but not as much and more of the glory and more of the sniping would be directed towards the female spouse. (And the PTA thing - I know that sounded sexist, but I am trying to view it as people would view her - as somebody with no kids, not as somebody without drive or ideas - does that make sense? I hope so.)

But seriously, are women with children that much BETTER than those of us without? This idea of "mother" is put on such a pedestal. That being "mother" makes you wiser, more patient, more caring. It's the subtle condescension I hear from friends who tell me I'll understand when I am a mother.

I mean really? What the fuck is that? I can accept that maybe I can't completely know the kind of love that comes with being a mother because I can feel the absence of that love. But patience? Wisdom? Generosity? The ability to potty train? Bullshit. I was a live in nanny for years to the extent I really was part of the family. I have "done" the age three with six different boys. I *know* potty training, people. (And because of all that potty training, I *really* know patience.)

And it's not just mother. Let's say the Obamas didn't have children. I don't think Obama would be on the ticket. Not that he makes a big deal out of his kids. He mentions them certainly, and they were used as part of the pageantry at the DNC, just as all candidates parade their families, but they're not a central part of whatever narrative most of us assign him. (Granted, this is due in part to being a man - once again with the sexism.) But even then, no kids and what happens?

Barack losses his ability for compassion. Michelle becomes nothing more than a cold career woman. How can they care about the future if they have nobody to create a future for?

America does not trust people without children who are running for office. (We *really* don't trust people who are single without kids who are running for public office.) Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule, but I do believe they are few and far between.

Did anyone really think Charlie Crist stood a chance being picked as McCain's running mate? Here's what I know about him: He's really tan, he's a Republican, he's a single man with no kids. (Yes, I also know he's now engaged. And maybe a couple other things. But those are the first three things that come to mind.)

I think his status as a single man with no kids ruled him out as a choice - it makes him a playboy, selfish, childish himself. Possibly gay. Poor guy. Other than being a Republican and probably a good candidate for skin cancer, he's probably great and thoughtful and all that jazz. But Americans would never accept somebody who can't haul a family on stage after the speeches.
Hell, I wonder if part of the thought process that went into picking VPs was how many children they could add to the milieu on stage. (And Biden had such a great backstory for his sons. A horribly sad and life changing one, but it plays well in Peoria.)

I think being a parent changes your life, I really do, even if I haven't had a chance at it yet. But I think that even now, dealing with infertility, it's easy to fall back into the idea that it somehow makes you a better person. I think it can. But parenthood is not the only path or even a certain path to all those qualities we like to ascribe to it.

Feel free to share your thoughts. (Kate, I'd love to hear your thoughts on Clinton - I kind of left her for you since I figured you'd have better stuff to say there.) I know this was kind of disjointed and random and maybe I contradicted myself somewhere. It's complicated and there is no definite right or wrong. But it's what I've been thinking about.

*For those of you somehow not aware, I am a flaming liberal: I am pro-choice, for gun control and gay rights. I think if you want to burn a flag, you should be able to do so even if I don't like it. I believe in economic justice and the regulation of industries that could profit from harming people or the earth. I believe that discrimination on the basis of race or religion or sex or a million other things is wrong. I believe most conservatives need to expand their understanding of what discrimination means. I believe that until we have a perfect justice system, the death penalty will be imperfectly used. I believe banning books is a crime and creationism is ridiculous. But if you want to have a book about creationism, I'll let you put it in my library. I won't teach it in my science class though, because it's not science. It's religion. I believe that speaking up about what my government is doing overseas IS patriotic. I believe that letting people die because they don't have health insurance is criminal.
Don't worry my Republican friends - I believe in a lot of other more universal things too: chocolate, puppies, booze, sleep.


  1. I don't know if being a parent makes you a better person. What I do know is that INFERTILITY has made me a better person.

  2. Here is what I think was said when they were chosing Palin as the VP candidate. "We need a gimmic in order to blow everyone out of the water after that rock hard demo convention. Hmmm... Let's see..... I know! Let's get this Palin lady to be the VP candidate! She's hot! All the women will vote for her! We'll get all of the Hilary drop offs! MUUUAAHAHAHAHAH!"

    I can't stand Palin. I don't like her at all. I don't think she has any right to be VP or P. If she was a man, she woundn't have been chosen because she has no experience. I am sick of hearing about her being a mom. I don't care if she is a mom. I agree she would look like an ice queen if she never had kids and probably wouldn't have been chosen either.

    Fuck people and their sterotypes. Just because they can put a woman in the white house doesn't mean we are still thought of as equals. Some of the photos I've seen of Palin make me think she is no feminist. She's just a puppet. She needs to get home to her kids (esp. the kid who's knocked up) and help them out.

  3. I know I have not been commenting but really I am feeling very bad about myself for not caring more about what is going on with our country.

    I am oblivious in my little town and that needs to change.

    *I care I just don't put as much thought into these things as I should

  4. Yes, yes, yes. The idea that simply being a mother (or a father) automatically makes you a superior being in some way vs those of us without children (for whatever reason) drives me nuts. The idea that their life, their time, etc., is somehow more valuable or more important than mine, just because they have kids & I don't. I don't think most parents consciously think that, but subconsciously? That's certainly the message I get sometimes.

  5. yes, yes, yes, yes! thanks! as a long time independent and community activist i am right there with you with all you said...

    as a woman who like you is seeking motherhood (and late in the fertility game for me cause i was organizing and doing political work for the last 16 years) i am aware that i am finally doing something that will make me a *real* woman in so many eyes - tho doing it with another woman, so i guess that still makes me fringe. it is weird and not what i base my life on - those eyes of society - so i am ok with it, i know i am doing it for me, not them... but in these situations the different male and female measuring sticks becomes crystal clear.

    anyway, not saying anything you didn't really, just enjoying that you said it and that i have a kindred spirit out there ;)

  6. come on, Io, didn't you know that childlessness is so UNamerican? get with the program girlfriend.

    all I'll say is a LOVE your asterisk. love. it.

  7. I have a friend who always tells me "such is life with a baby." I find it so condescending and insensitive. She knows about me ttc, yet she acts like she has this secret knowledge b/c she has a baby...or like she's a martyr. I think you're right about someone without a family not being picked. I haven't really thought of it like that, but I think you're right.

  8. I never thought of this before and as I was reading I was trying to think of well known politicians that were childless and not too many come to mind.

    What bothers me is how much they are parading her motherhood and the kids. We've seen her kids more than any of the other nominee's kids. Plus, we knew Hilary was a mother, but that didn't seem to be the first thing defining her campaign. Do I really want the PTA president as the next VP or godforbid the president?

  9. I think you've put it perfectly. The childless are "less than" in so many things. Compassion, patience, having real priorities, knowing what love is, being able to juggle, it's just everything, everything, everything.

    Would love to say more, but The Boy has demanded a walk.

  10. I've been looking forward to reading this post all day, and you, being the genius you so clearly are, have not disappointed me. You're completely right about everything you say here - there is no way she would be a candidate without her kids. And it bothers me really deeply to hear people defending her and telling everyone to stop judging her by those "mother" standards because we wouldn't do that to a man. (And I don't mean you, Kate - I mean the people who really like her.) It's true that women in politics shouldn't be judged differently from men, but I think it's possible. I didn't see all this stuff coming up with Hillary - maybe cause Chelsea is an adult, but still. But I really think you can't have it both ways - you can't use "mother" as your first qualification and then get pissed off when people criticize you for turning your kids' issues into political fodder, or go back to work 3 days after giving birth (yeah, family first, right Sarah?)

    It's a problem because we don't put men through this - not only men in political life, but men in general - we don't expect them to be full-time parents and full-time achievers in other areas in the same way we do with women. But at the same time, to me the answer is not that we stop asking of women "Why can't you do more?" I think we need to think about how to change our whole culture so we do less, but better. And develop a more compassionate understanding of what it means to live a meaningful, valued, productive life - definitely including people without kids. But that is really a cultural revolution sort of thing, and I'm not thinking it's going to happen real soon.


    Brilliant post, Io. And I adore your asterisk, too.

  11. The mother card is bullshit. It shits me for example if a victim of crime is reported as being "a mother of 2", as though they are therefore worth more than they would be if they were childfree.

  12. As a woman and a Clinton supporter, I find the Palin choice insulting in the extreme. I feel like they chose someone with few professional qualifications to hold up in front of all of us heathen fire-breathing career gals as a shining example of what a "real" female leader looks like--someone who knows her role in society, a strong frontierwoman who may have proven that she can make it on her own but will gladly use her power to prop up a man and his principals (in this case more, IMO, THE Man than John McCain and his actual principals). All the mother emphasis is a constant reminder that a woman is supposed to be FEMININE, that first and foremost a woman's role is to birth and nurture.

  13. Great post, and great observation. I've never really thought about it, but it's almost as though being a parent, or at least a spouse, is viewed as making a person more "well rounded" in the public eye, and that's a shame.

    For the record, I believe in almost everything you've said in your asterisk section, but it is the HOW that we are likely to disagree on.


  14. IO-I can't believe I never thought about that. Your insight is one reason I keep coming back to read your blog.
    Angry IF said "She needs to get home to her kids (esp. the kid who's knocked up) and help them out."
    I almost couldn't finish reading the rest of the comments because this comment almost made me crossed-eyed. It is just the type of sexist comment that is being thrown around in the media. If she were a man, and all things being the same would she have said this about him? This is right up there with saying fathers "babysit" their kids. WTF?
    In that case, no parent has the right to have a fulfilling career and especially no woman with children. I didn't realize having kids immediately disqualifed someone from having any aspirations. Since I will be adopting from the foster care system my child(ren) will come with their set of problems and issues. Does that mean I should give up my career and be at home? This isn't the 1950s!
    And please stop with the Sarah Palin has no experience bullshit. Obama does? Please. If he is elected it will be the equivalent of promoting the mailroom worker to CEO of Microsoft.

  15. Io- What a great post! You are so right on, how does being a parent make you a better person? If I have to hear, well, she is a mother one more time on the news I think I am going to puke!

    I agree with Denise, infertility has made me a better person. How does being childless make me less of a person?

  16. I don't if I can back you on a lot of your individual beliefs, but I like you! Your very outspoken, know why you believe what you believe and you make me think! VERY INTERESTING POST! Thanks....your right to publish or not! ;-) God Bless and have a nice day!

  17. Women who are accomplished and razor-smart (like Hilary or Michelle O. or even Condi, though I disagree with her) are ridiculed. Women whose greatest accomplishment is popping out a few shorties (and naming them the first word spoken on TV after their births--I mean, how else do you wind up with a trig, track, piper, and a bristol?) are something conservative men and women can relate to. It doesn't scare them or challenge their essentially anti-intellectual and often anti-scientific beliefs.

    In Palin's case, she has no other accomplishments besides motherhood in my book. She has a poor educational background. She has a poor record in politics (i.e. no policies or even legislation promoted under her watch, only the dismantling of her terrible predecessor's screwed up administration; a bad, unethical habit of punishing those who oppose her and abusing the earmark system while denouncing it). She is like W.: wily, but not very smart or articulate.

    Thus, the emphasis on what's come out of her hooha. Conservatives just don't value other contributions from women, and thus only focus on the easy pitch point: motherhood. It's pitiful.

  18. I agree with what everyone else sad but want to add that your asterisk paragraph was flipping BRILLIANT.
    Awesome post.

  19. I agree that there are some people (republicans) playing the "mother = better person" card, especially when it comes to Palin. Sorry, every mother of 5 with a disabled child is NOT qualified to be president... In addition, how great of a mother is she when she flies with ruptured membranes, and goes back to work the next day? But, I digress.

    I think more of the general sense of greater public trust in candidates who have children comes from people's tendency to vote for someone perceived as "like them". Its the same reason why people voted for Bush, because they felt like they could have a beer with the guy. Despite what a wrong stupid notion that is...

    Most voters have children (I think), and therefore feel like they can relate to those who have children. Conversely, such voters have a more difficult time relating to people who do not have children.

  20. The "IO Creed" it.

    In general it pisses me off that our society uses mom as a definition, but I guess you could say you're a sister, a wife, etc. however the mother definition definitely overpowers it all. As far as Palin goes? The fact that she isn't "mothering" her 4 month old downs syndrome baby and running all over the US campaigning does turn me off (not that I would have voted for McCanin no matter who he chose). Probably as much as the book burning.

  21. excellent post! I can't stand that Palin's camp is all "don't talk about the children!" and yet her motherhood is like this effing badge that she has on her forehead. sigh...

  22. @Calliope. I think what they mean when they say "don't talk about her family" is really something like: "Don't talk about the parts of her family that she's ashamed of, like her 17 year old pregnant child or the 4 month old baby she is NEGLECTING on the campaign trail. But, if you want to talk about what a saintly mother she is, go crazy!" Standard political DOUBLE standard. What's good for the goose is definitely NOT good for the gander.

  23. Very accurate observation about people who have children being considered more valuable. Reminds me of my high school American history class, where my teacher assigned an exercise in which we were to evaluate draft board appeals for Vietnam. I refused to participate because I knew precisely where it was going -- people were arguing that the men who were married and especially those who were married and had children should be spared from the fighting, while those who were single and childless were expendable. By a similar token, I was recently talking to a woman who is about to become an ordained Lutheran pastor, and she was saying that the married men from her class at seminary were hired first, then the unmarried men, then the married women, and then the single women (including her). Come to think of it, I don't think she mentioned children in her analysis, but it was definitely a subtext, like churches are comprised of people with families and they don't relate to a single (and childless) woman as a pastor. It's interesting too that in some fields (like law), you can't be highly successful unless you don't have children (or are willing never to see them), but in politics, being a parent plays better.

  24. Okay, this comment has absolutely nothing to do with this post, but it was fun to come back and read all the comments. Your last comment to me reminded me of those evangelical healers, "Pelvic pain, BE GONE!!!!!"

  25. Do you think she's pumping? THERE'S something I haven't heard discussed about her "motherhood."

    I started to leave you a comment, but it turned into a rant, so I moved it over to my blog.

    Baby, Borneo, or Bust...

  26. Palin is the worst kind of candidate.... she plays on her role as a woman and a mother, but she retreats to the 'poor me - you are being unfair because I'm a woman' defense anytime someone suggests that she may not be qualified or perhaps that she is not everything she claims to be. It's disgusting that so many people AND the media are eating it up....

  27. That is the truth. Before even considering a political career you better find yourself two things:

    1. Children
    2. Religion

    Then we can begin to discuss your knowledge, abilities, experience, etc.....

  28. I love the way you think, girlfriend! I was thinking along similar lines.

    You now what bugs me? This shit actually works! People actually buy it. It is as disingenuous, hypocritical, and pandering as can be, but they do it and will continue to do it because it's exactly what some people need to hear in order to decide how to cast their votes.

    Just thinking about it pisses me off, so I'm gonna go get a glass of wine now.


  29. Delurking to say "Amen" to everything you said in this post. Brilliant.

  30. Brilliant post, Io! I'd never really made that connection myself but I think you're onto something.

    I am dismayed and yet (in my heart) not surprised by how certain people have embraced Palin. I'm sorry but being geographically close to Russia doesn't give you foreign policy experience.

    Here's a tidbit from McCain's campaign manager on Palin and the media:

    "Why would we want to throw Sarah Palin into a cycle of piranhas called the news media that have nothing better to ask questions about than her personal life and her children?" Davis said. "So until at which point in time we feel like the news media is going to treat her with some level of respect and deference, I think it would be foolhardy to put her out into that kind of environment."

    Suddenly being a mahhhthur has also become a convenient shield. Let's focus on the media and obfuscate the true issues, namely her lack of qualifications for the VP position.

    ::bangs head on desk::

  31. Great post. This woman is scaaaary!!

    This article about her stand on issue is frightening. She's worse than W.

    This clip shows the hypocrisy of her choice as VP nominee.

  32. I agree completely, and couldn't have said it better. THANK YOU!

  33. Well said.

    For the record, I think Charlie Christ would have done a great job. I thought I didn't like his politics, but then he got into office and actually proved to be pretty moderate! So far he's done a good job with Florida overall.

  34. Ah, so much to say about this...
    I will write my own diatribe about the treatment of Hillary on my own blog, but for now, I'll just comment to say that I couldn't agree more with your assessment of women in politics.

    And then...

    Then, I was watching The Ellen DeGeneres show, and I was thinking, "Man, I sure do like Michelle Obama. I wish she was running for president." And then? Then, Ellen asked Michelle for 3 words to describe herself, and she says, "MOTHER. Um, well, uh, down-to-earth." and after much hemming and hawing about how many words that was, she was asked to come up with another and she said, "Well, Mother. Down-to-earth. And wife."

    FUCKING SERIOUSLY? You are an extremely accomplished woman and you can choose any three words and you choose TWO that define not who you are, but what sort of role you play in SOMEONE ELSE'S life! I just about died!

    And then she won me back with a few other witty phrases, but then I realized that she didn't congratulate or acknowledge Ellen's recent nuptials (even though that was a huge lead-in topic of the day), even when Ellen misconstrued Michelle's "big move" comment to mean her wedding (Michelle was talking about her change in studios), Michelle quickly changed the subject back to the new studio digs and to her own children. Even when Ellen asked for marriage advice, Michelle made no acknowledgement of the fact that Ellen was now (in a historical event) a married lady.

    And then, I really started to wonder what the fuck this is we're all fighting for. I realize it's the lesser of two evils (there is ALWAYS compromise in big party politics), but still- It's the spouse of the liberal-ish party on a liberal-leaning talk show hosted by a very out lesbian woman. If it's not safe there for you to show support for gay marriage, then how can we EVER expect that kind of support in the white house? Damn, just made me sad all over again.

    But I digress. Media is what it is, which is manipulative bullshit. Women get the tough end of the stick in the media, and in my opinion, Hillary especially got the shit end of that stick. But it doesn't really matter anymore. We need to look at the candidates that the parties have presented us with and demand more responsibility towards those issues that are important to us. Palin is beyond our grasp, but McCain, Biden and Obama aren't. One of those men is going to be in the White House, and we need to make sure that they don't walk in that door because we let the media convince us that that's okay BECAUSE of their gender.


    So much to say on this. Will say more on my own blog...

  35. I totally agree with pretty much every thing you said. And BTW, I totally LOVE every word of the italicized disclaimer!!!

  36. Thank you sooooo much for your post. Even from here (Australia) the Republican situation frightens me...the fact their seem to be people it will appeal to scares me witless! How long before they ask Elisabeth Hasselbeck to run? Ugh!!

  37. Very, very good point! Has anyone ever run for president who didn't have children? Probably not. And if they did, they wouldn't win.
    I don't think it is because parenthood makes you a better person, it's just that Americans with children think that someone else with children is more likely to understand their own problems.