Sarah Palin's acceptance speech was followed up by another night of so much Mother-worship that, if you didn't look around and see the obvious white male presence of the RNC, you might have mistaken it for a grand coven of Wiccan goddess-worshippers or something. Seriously; Sarah Palin's aggrandizing of the hockey mom, PTA persona was underscored by Cindy McCain's blunt assertion that nothing else she's done in her life has fulfilled her like being a mother; and the star of John McCain's biography video was Roberta McCain.
I was already convinced there was something going on with all the mom-talk Palin was doing in her acceptance speech. I know that part of what happens in these speeches is a sort of introduction of oneself as person and candidate, and that Palin had a lot of this to do, given that she'd been under wraps at the convention until that point, and all the true and untrue things swirling in the media with regard to her family. Even so: the hockey mom line grated.
But now that the role of Mother has been so elevated in successive RNC discourse, I am all the more firmly convinced that this is simply the only way that this voting constituency can even comprehend strong women. Palin has to present herself as "just your average hockey mom..." because that is only category in which women are allowed to be legitimately aggressive, and is attached to the only sphere (the home) in which women are allowed to be leaders. Palin has to distance herself from the frightening feminists, like Hillary Rodham Clinton (who may also be mothers but who don't run for political office by listing their wombs as assets), by making her political activity an extension of her mothering: "...and signed up for the PTA because I wanted to make my kids public education even better" flows smoothly into "and when I ran for city council..."
There are many other things that bug me about the deliberate positioning of Palin as mom, including my feeling that Palin's children are being used as political props in the same way that the adopted daughters of McCain and friend were used the night before (and Bridget was, again, made the object of that repeated narrative last night). I've already blogged about that, so that's all I'll say about it here.
Laura's expressed her reservations about Palin on her blog. This is less a critique of Palin as potential VP than it is a question about her priorities as a mother. Normally this might be out of bounds--certainly people are playing the sexism card about it (Guiliani's comment prior to her acceptance speech, and Carly Fiorina's complaint to Charlie Rose, for examples)--but given that Palin is billing herself as Supermom, I think it's actually quite fair.
Now, don't read me as saying that I don't think any woman, or any mother, should consider accepting a nomination for vice president (or any analogous type job). But mothers who do take on those responsibilities have the obligation to make sure that their kids are adequately cared for by someone--dad, grandmom, nanny...someone. Because it's simply not true that the mom can do it all. If Sarah Palin would come clean about that--that there will be others taking on the role of primary caretaker--then the criticisms of her mothering priorities would lose a great deal of force. Of course, she can't; because to come clean about that would mean walking away from the supermom image.
And this brings me to my biggest complaint. Sarah Palin made the pseudo-feminist claim in her acceptance speech that every woman can walk through every door of opportunity. And to that I say, bullshit. Forget the obvious example of poverty stricken female heads of households who are scrabbling for enough wages to put food on the table and pay the rent, let alone childcare. I'm talking about me: affluent (well, you know, relatively), educated, white, privileged, for whom opporknockity tunes twice an hour. And I say, bullshit. The Supermom myth is one of the most pernicious lies about women that we tell ourselves and get told, and here's Sarah Palin lying to us all on a national stage: I'm just a hockey mom who can raise her five kids and be Vice-Pres too.
Well, I'm just a mom of one toddler, and all I'm trying to do is maintain my sanity, take semi-regular showers, and write a dissertation. I've been trying to achieve this for two years now, and so far, my daughter's healthy and happy, I've not showered today, and I'm still writing the same chapter of the dissertation I was two years ago when she was born.
Oh, and the sanity thing is questionable; I'm starting therapy soon.
Why? Because quite frankly, I am tortured at every turn with guilt. Supermom taunts me. I should be able to mother my toddler, feed her nutritiously, stimulate her intellect and curiousity by constant interaction, keep my house decently clean, cook dinner every night, look beautiful, lose those last torturous 12 pounds I'm still carrying, support my husband in whatever way he needs, be involved in church and in other people's lives and have friends, AND enjoy a successful academic career. I should be, because I am a smart and capable and strong woman, and this is what smart capable strong women do: they do it all, without breaking a sweat. Because women are not only innate nurturers, they are natural multitaskers as well. Well, I suck at all that, and because I can't kick the feeling that I should be able to do it, I constantly just feel like a loser. I'm a bad mom, because I can't do the ideal stay-at-home-mom thing the way it should be done. I'm a terrible student, because I'm not making any visible progress and my committee probably has forgotten I even exist. I'm a rotten wife, because I'm so bummed and guilt-ridden and exhausted that I don't want to go out or have fun or do anything other than stay at home, have a glass of wine and spent a few hours asleep trying to forget how bad I feel about everything. And I no longer sleep so well.
Sarah Palin's use of the hockey mom image as a major part of her public persona is therefore pissing me off, because I know it's a big fat lie. And instead of being able to see a woman on the national stage as a triumph for American women, I am experiencing it as a betrayal. Sarah Palin's carefully constructed hockey mom image may reassure those voters who have no category for strong women other than "mom." But in pandering to those who are unwilling to see women as simply other human beings, free to follow any number of possible paths through life, she has also condemned women who are struggling to liberate themselves from the tyranny of unmeetable expectations placed on them by the Supermom.