Wednesday, October 8, 2008

One Woman’s View


We have had a female vice-presidential nominee before, a skilled debater and woman of experience who held her own in the race for the second-highest office of our country. When Geraldine Ferraro ran, however, the issues around supporting her candidacy seemed clearer and, oddly, her gender less of a challenge than are the polarizing and divisive positions engendered by the current woman candidate, Sarah Palin.

I am surprised how confused I am and how difficult it is to coherently discuss Palin or her abilities. I find myself defending my personal viewpoint of her role as a self-professed PTA and soccer mom. I can't explain exactly why it rankles me that her choice to tackle a run for the vice-presidency at this time doesn't seem the best choice given her circumstances. She is, after all, the mother of five children, one with Down syndrome and one a pregnant teenager who will certainly need special support in the coming months.

If she had waited another few years to jump into the national spotlight, maybe then she would have a system of dealing with the conflicting needs of her family while being in a very powerful and demanding position or, God forbid, perhaps having to take over the reins as president should that occur.

As a woman who believes women should have choices and that it is respectable to have a career and also to stay at home, I am not happy with my reservations in this case, and I also realize I may sound unenlightened and horribly old-fashioned. Still, even though I have been a working mother all my life, and I know some women can better juggle things than I, I can't imagine embarking upon such a public journey with a Down-syndrome child who is still an infant. That makes me uncomfortable. People say, "Well, she'll have lots of help, lots of nannies." That bothers me, too, especially when she places herself so solidly in the world of modest, working-class citizens, stay-at-home mothers with tight budgets without the privileged lifestyles that she distances herself from, even though she and her husband are well-off by any standards. She even used the "humble" argument when asked why she hadn't traveled more. She insisted that was because she wasn't from a wealthy family who can send their kids all over the world.

The size and complexity of her family is her business, but there are responsibilities that come with that decision. It is not as if she has only a couple of children who are a bit older and probably more flexible about the rigors of public life, but this family, it seems to me, demands more attention than most of us can give, even if that is "all" we do. They need her.

When I consider my negative feelings, I realize that I am compromising positions I have taken since the '60s. Women should have the freedom to inhabit a wider world than house and home if they want to. However, I also remember the emotional tugs of teaching school while raising two young daughters. I have experienced the difficulties of straddling both disciplines and the guilt I felt about carrying papers to correct with me everywhere we went. Even Gloria Steinem, when contemplating combining motherhood and career, said, "We can't go on doing two jobs." Maybe Palin is just more clearly capable than I, but the mixed feelings she has stirred in me are unsettling. I wish I could be less judgmental. In short, I find her criticism of fortunate citizens, her image as a holier-than-thou Christian who holds the keys to family values, and her stance as a devoted mommy and also a successful politician rather hypocritical, given the particular situation she is in.

Certainly since Palin has entered the political world, she has opened herself up to being treated as a candidate, not just as a woman. She should be considered a fair target whatever her gender, and I hope that the press will be equal in its concerns, not condescending or not too lenient with her. That would be the worst insult to all of us. She surely displayed her strong personality in the debate with Joe Biden but countered the idea that she is equal to a man in her field by relying on winks and flirty smirks to the camera. Sarah Palin has polarized many: I find myself still polarized within about her family and her knowledge of the consequences of her choices.

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