Who Do We Think She Is?
Friday, September 12, 2008
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's nomination as the Republican vice presidential candidate has stirred the hypocrite within us. Women judging women.
We watch the polls while examining her stockings. We listen to her speech while calculating how many bobby pins hold up her hairdo. We parse her record while commenting on the shade of her lipstick. We measure our child-rearing skills against hers. She's a hockey mom. We are soccer (or swimming or softball) moms. We can give a pretty good PTA pep talk, and nobody asked us to be vice president.
But wait. In her circumstances -- five children, one a baby with Down syndrome, one a pregnant, unmarried teenager -- would we want to be vice president? We gather at the playground or in office cubicles and question her choices, knowing that to do so is sexist, the very thing so many women have fought against. "We never have these conversations about men," said Kavita N. Ramdas, president and CEO of the Global Fund for Women, which promotes women's rights worldwide.
Still, women are debating, partly because Palin herself injected motherhood into the campaign.
For Sherma Farray, a Frederick mother of three young children, the internal argument went like this: "How is she going to run for vice president with five kids? . . . Then I said to myself, 'She is doing it already in Alaska, she can do it in the White House.' Then I saw the picture of that baby, and I thought, 'She is going to need a lot of help.' The vice president goes all over. Makes big decisions. Then she will have a grandbaby on the way. That's a big responsibility."
Finally, Farray concluded, "I just cannot see myself sitting around the meeting table when my family is going to need attention."
Maureen Carrington, a 40-year-old mother of three who runs a business from her Silver Spring home, came down on the other side of the question. "This lady seems to be a powerhouse. I don't think there's anything she can't do" -- including raising children and holding the nation's second-highest office.
Like many women, Carrington admires and identifies with Palin. "I'm not a member of the NRA," she said, "but I've had to do a lot by myself. I learned to be independent. I get up at 5 a.m. every day. I work my tail off like a lot of women. I see that in her. I think she works her tail off."
Heather Maurano, 35, is excited by Palin. "I'm a mom of three small daughters," said Maurano, who lives in Silver Spring. "I think it is great to have a role model for them. At this point, I'm staying home with them. I respect the fact she is doing it all, and it's great."
So it appears that we have a superwoman running for vice president, soaring above other mothers who are trying to balance work and family. Pro or con, the discussion about Palin's choices is a process of comparison for women, because that's what so many of us do: measure ourselves against other women, contrast our lives to theirs, compare our careers with her meteoric rise. Would we choose as she did? Could we do what she's doing? How does she do it?
But there is another component to the conversation. Palin has burst onto the political scene from a state far away, geographically and culturally. Suddenly she has become the symbol of Everywoman, the working mother who broke the glass ceiling that so many women have tossed stones at. Standing on their shoulders, she has emerged on the other side.
Now many women are trying to square Palin's sudden status as the most famous female politician since Hillary Clinton with her political views about women. On some level, we despise ourselves for judging the first GOP vice presidential nominee among us. On another, we feel entitled to scrutinize her choices because she would like to dictate many of ours.