Today it was in the Washington Post Style section that I came across the already-tired backpeddle, “We wouldn’t be asking these questions if Sarah Palin were a man.” I say: Bullshit.
Although I concede that DeNeen Brown probably had to reference this position early on in her otherwise interesting and insightful piece on how women are responding to Palin (“Who Do We Think She Is?”, C01, 9/12/2008), I do think the article stopped short of pointing out just where the sexism lies. It’s not that “we” are holding women to an unfairly high standard; it’s that “we” let men off the hook when it comes to looking at how their home and work lives intersect. So maybe we should stop not caring about what kind of parents and partners men are.
People seem to think it’s okay that we wouldn’t seriously question the responsibility and choices of a man who went back to work as a governor with a three-day-old at home, to say nothing of his role as mentor to a teenage mom. We should raise flags. If that man later went on to accept a bid for the second-highest national office that would by necessity keep him away from that special needs four-month-old or put the baby in another caregiver’s hands, I’d have serious qualms and would not be quiet about them.
So I’m not going to be quiet now that it’s a woman in question. As a woman with a feminist background and a degree in women’s studies, and as mother who envisioned an equal division of labor with her husband in marriage and, to the greatest extent possible, in parenting, I would not feel any better about a mythical Mr. Palin candidate than I do about the female version. In fact, I would think he was a self-serving jerk.
I can just hear myself: “How dare he saddle his wife with all the care of their newborn! What is that baby going to think about his father, who’s never home or is always occupied with other business? If he’s being a good father, how can he possibly be functioning effectively as a governor, to say nothing of Vice-President or, gasp, President?”
People need to have jobs. Fine. But people do not need to seek the most stressful possible path right after having a child. It seems highly ironic to me that someone who is so concerned with not allowing women to control their bodies in the event of an unwanted or troubled pregnancy would blithely hand over her child at three days old.
Of course, I don’t know what the Palins’ life looks like at home, but the teen-rebel-with-clueless-parents in me wonders if it was a little lacking in conversation to land Bristol and her boyfriend might on the other side of unplanned conception. And, though I was glad to hear that Palin spoke of pumping breastmilk to People magazine, she can’t possibly have provided the body-close kind of early bonding that folks like me think is crucial for both mom and dad/the other partner if he/she is going to be a trusted care provider. If my husband had balked at wearing our son in a sling or the Ergo, if he acted like watching the baby was babysitting instead of just what a father does, if he let “your job” slip more than a few random times when comparing my identity as a stay-at-home mom to his as a working-outside-the-home dad… well then there would be hell to pay.
So forgive me for not admitting to being some kind of catty sexist bitch for questioning how Sarah Palin could leave her baby or cart him all around in the high-stress jobs of governor and VP candidate. If her husband did it, I’d assume he was a pretty scummy partner and crappy dad.
Even before John Edwards admitted his affair, I was disappointed that he’d move forward with a presidential bid knowing his time with his wife and with his family as an intact unit might be short. I don’t know much about Joe Biden’s decision to go forward taking the oath of office for Senate after his wife died, but I’ve heard he had to be persuaded to follow through by advisers who told him he could always resign if he needed to, and that his sister came to live with him and his young sons. I think that must have been hard and really sucked, but I doubt that would have helped anyone’s grieving for him to give up his newly-elected position. His wife was dead, and, assuming the boys got the love and support they needed to mourn their loss, they needed to see their dad living on, into the future.
This baby, Trig, is just starting out. He will never get another chance to be a young vulnerable baby. He may never participate in some aspects of life like his siblings, but if he was going to be brought into this world, it seems to me that he should be done so full-on and lovingly. As a former teacher who knows how hard it is to lovingly care for 120 different students (some special needs, but none with Down Syndrome), I simply can’t imagine how Sarah Palin can perform and seek these intense jobs and do right by her kids, especially a newborn with Down’s. And I honestly don’t understand how she can possibly muster up the strength and focus as a new mom, especially if she is indeed nursing. (See author Melissa Stanton’s piece on the MotherVerse Blog: “How does Sarah Palin juggle work and family? I’m not judging. I’m just curious”)
Maybe Trig’s mom will never get the chance to be a VP candidate again, so it was now or never. Every moment in life is unique, and we have to make choices, if we are legally allowed and economically privileged enough to have them. So Sarah Palin made a choice. I don’t respect it, it wouldn’t be mine, and it doesn’t make me feel good about how she might make other choices. But I do think I might have an easier time simply granting her the right to make a choice if she supported other kinds of choices for women.