Thursday, September 04, 2008

SP: Supermom vice-Pres

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.


Unknown said...

I appreciate this post very much, but from a different point of view--as a woman who will probably not have children. If a woman's strength and purpose is in being a mother, I'm screwed! Thanks for articulating this so well.
Sara KB

JTB said...

yes...thinking of my sister as well as the other childless women I know. And it reminds me too of the quip Stewart threw out re Michelle Obama's appearance with kids on stage: "she can bear live young"--only at the RNC, it isn't meant to be ironic.

R-Liz said...

Before I had kids, I thought a woman could have it all.

After kids I now say: A woman can have it all, just not all at the same time.

I tell people it took me a good three years to finally adjust-- finally accept!-- the new paradigm parenting brought upon me. I'm not a natural mother, I'm not a natural nurturer. I've had to work hard at all of it, and still do everyday.

And even though I've gotten to a place where I'm relatively good with my new balance in life, I still envy friends without kids on a somewhat regular basis.

And if my job gave me a personal chef, I would not get rid of him/her.

Oh, and sometime back I was searching for an article on people without kids, and I stumbled upon a slew of blogs out there by people who don't ever want to have kids. They prefer "child-free" as opposed to "childless." Even though I reached a different conclusion in my life than they did about kids, I say: More Power to 'Em.

Anonymous said...

You are just pissed that she's a republican and will probably be the first woman president. This is what the woman's movement was all about - no you are all whining because she's a republican. Hypocrite.

JTB said...

No; and if you want to call someone a hypocrite, try leaving your name on your comment, and a reasoned argument while you're at it.

My post states, perhaps not clearly enough, apparently, that I think the image of woman she is using as her public identity is actually harmful to women. The supermom image accepts all of the traditional roles and responsibilities women have been assigned as well as claiming the ability to take on roles and responsibilities in addition. My point is, it doesn't work, and it's harmful to hold this kind of image up to women, as well as being, IMO, an outright lie when anyone claims to be able to do it.

Indie Pereira said...

Thanks for writing this. I have been wondering if the supermom thing might backfire on her. Although its supposed to be some big secret that women can't do it all, all at once, most of us in the thick of it are well aware of our inability to keep up with the supermom image. I think a lot of us are feeling a little resentful that she is acting like she can do everything all by herself.

I've often been frustrated with the whole mother thing because I feel like I have to try twice as hard to be half as good as women who are more naturally talented in this area. I've been a mom for five years and have three children and I am just now at the point where I feel like I can balance a little bit of a life for myself outside of my family.

Our rector, who is a mom with three kids, has said that when she first began to feel called to the priesthood she had two young boys and felt like she couldn't do it. So she waited. To me, hearing that is really reassuring. Much more so than hearing about how SP can manage more than I can imagine.

And I sure as hell wouldn't fire the cook. I'd be kissing that cook's feet for sure.

Anonymous said...

I can't post with a name because I don't have google/blogger account and what difference would that make anyway. I'm old enough to remember the start of the feminist movement and Palin is the epitiome of it (except that she is prolife). I chose to stay home with my kids and never had a "career". My career resulted in two fine adult men who are productive members of society of whom I am very, very proud of and proud that I didn't work outside the home, but raised them. However, the vicious attacks against Sarah for her choices I see as based on her being Republican. If she can do it all, which she is doing, more power to her. But I don't feel I have to. That is real choice.

JTB said...

My point is that she isn't doing it all, she can't be, and it's hurtful to try to claim that she is (and by extension that women can and should be). This is of course my opinion, but then, this is of course my blog.

The fact that Palin's supermom image takes for granted that all the traditional expectations still apply, without modification, means that she is certainly not the epitome of the women's movement as I understand it.

I have seen in church discussions how championing alternative practices with regard to women's roles and responsibilities can come across as a harsh critique of women who have chosen otherwise, and spent years or whole lives serving family and church in the roles that were/are available, doing good, effective and mostly unrecognized work. I've seen how that leads to hurt on both sides. So let me be clear: I don't think that staying at home and dedicating yourself wholly to running a household well, and mothering your children with all your energy and attention, is some kind of betrayal. I think it's totally admirable. (And all the more admirable, because beyond my reach. I can't do it; when I try, I burn out and get depressed, because other needs which turn out to be non-negotiable go unaddressed.) So it's not Palin's claim to be a mom, even a mom in the traditional mold, that pisses me off. It's her claim that she can do that AND. Being a SAHM is a full-time (unpaid and undervalued) job, and her supermom claim totally disregards that.

The reason why I've never bothered to turn off the anonymous comments option is that I know people who don't want to sign up for an account just to comment. But you can always sign your name at the bottom of a comment, which of course makes it not anonymous, despite google's label at the top. I would appreciate if you would; I'm not planning to respond to anymore anonymity on this thread. I appreciate the points made in the second comment and I hope this response demonstrates that.

Anonymous said...

I have one 2 year old and a very small part time job that is mostly done from my home and I NEVER get everything done in a day that I set out to do, never! Go through my house on a normal day and there are dirty dishes in the sink, carpet that is crying out to the vacuum cleaner, dirty laundry piling up and toys everywhere! And that doesn't even begin to include the things that are SUPPOSE to be done like beds being made each day, dusting and polishing of furniture, etc. I'm doing good if I have food in the house by dinner time. Not a meal put together, but food to make a meal in the house by dinner time. Day after day I beat myself up for not doing more for my family. I struggle with providing all the education my child is missing by not being in a childcare center. I struggle with giving my husband joy and relaxation as he enters our home at the end of the day. (Wouldn't you want to come home to a clean house and dinner on the table after a long day? I struggle with trying to provide a menu for the week and actually following it! I, too, struggle with even the basics of hygiene. That's why I take a bath each day with my daughter. That way I at least get a bath! And then that leads to the effort of trying to feel and be sexy for your spouse after the kiddo is tucked into bed. It's exhausting trying to be everything for everyone in order to be someone to yourself.

I'm very excited that there are women in high places throughout most of our society. That is incredible to see although it should be normal. What bothers me in all the research I've done in this campaign is that under credentials, "Mother of five" is always listed for Palin. Why don't I see father and grandfather on everyone else' list if it's that important to the job experience? Is it only listed on hers to deter away from policy or lack there of? Or is it only listed because people are afraid that they couldn't persuade enough conservatives into voting for a woman without making her into what they believe a woman should be? One thing is sure to me, she has lied about nearly everything she has said to the American public. She is not someone I want my daughter looking up to.

I appreciate the post. And don't worry, you ARE a great mom and wife and student and you'll be great at anything else to try.

*Do you how jealous I am when you post recipes for playdough and such??? Yeah, we got ours from the dollar store! :) Have a great week!

Justin Burton said...

I think about the difficulty of the Supermom paradigm quite a lot. Being male, White, Christian, and, as you say, 'affluent (well, you know, relatively),' I experience very little (maybe none outside of my own head) societal friction regarding things I want to do. I have more privilege than I know what to do with.

Part of that privilege is that I get metaphorical gold stars for doing practically nothing. 'Do you change diapers?' someone asks. And then that person is Very Impressed when I say I do, and I feel good about myself (I can't help it). But K doesn't get the same good feeling because she's expected to change diapers.

That's just a small example, but it's one that clues me in to how high the bar is set for mothers. Mothers have a string of responsibilities that often aren't counted as responsibility. Changing diapers is like breathing - you just do it and don't expect anyone to congratulate you for it.

I find myself in that funny spot where my privilege (that I didn't ask for and that I'll probably still be discovering till the day I die) is enjoyed at the expense of someone else.

I'm not always sure what to do. It can't be transferred as easily as money, and I can't try to transfer it in any way that suggests that I'm bearing gifts.

In the end, I do what I do with most privilege. I'm aware, I try to be overly sensitive to it, and then I mention it when I encounter it. Someday soon-ish I'll probably realize that that's not enough.


Anonymous, it's actually really quite easy to do one of the following: either sign up for a google account (it's free! and it takes less time than it took you to type that last comment) or type your name at the end of a comment.

Why does it matter? Because JTB went to the trouble of writing a thoughtful post about politics and motherhood, including some significant soul-bearing, and the civil thing to do is at least sign your comment (or use some kind of handle) if you want to call her a name. Complete anonymity is for people who want to say something they wouldn't otherwise say.

Justin Burton said...

Okay, re-reading my last comment, it comes off a bit defensive - 'Hey, I'm not holding you down!' - but I didn't quite mean that.

If I were Bill Clinton, I would bite my lower lip, point at you with my thumb, and penetrate to your soul with my piercing, calming eyes, and say 'I feel your pain.' But I don't, actually; I'm just trying to. So I tried to use a few more words to convey that and suggest that fathers are responsible for humbly working to undo the Supermom expectations.

...Now why didn't I say that in the first place?

Lauren said...

I read an interview with Michelle Obama on this very subject. I wish I could find it for you, but it was over a year ago, possibly even before Barack declared his candidacy. She talked about the pressures on women in today's society and the impossibility of devoting 100% of yourself to both your career and your family. Her point, as I remember it, was that women live with these expectations without a corresponding network of supports. If we are to have the choice of career AND family, not just the choice of career OR family, then our communities and employers must be willing to make accomodations and provide supports. The danger of Palin's carefully crafted image as a woman who can do it all all on her own is that it removes the need for societal changes with respect to women from the discussion.

JTB said...

Lauren: exactly, exactly right. Thanks for putting it so well.

Justin: here's an article Brent brought to my notice a few months ago, on "equally shared parenting"--it's long. I wouldn't try to read it in one sitting...those days are over for both of you now! ;)

Justin Burton said...

Yes, we saw that very article! The coolest thing about them, and what I aspire to most, is the self-assurance of their parenting. They're forging a mold that they hadn't seen around them very much, but they support each other to the extent that they find affirmation in each other even though they must feel like absolute weirdos sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Someone does a great job of raising a bunch of, fill any place that needs name it...she does her super. Good for her. Another doesn't have kids,does a really great job of, fills all the places that need name it, she does her super. Good for her. Good for matter what...give 'em all credit for being whatever they can be. Univ.Pres.,Chef,Waitress, Business Owner, Minister, Professor, CEO, Physician, Teacher, Author, President, VP..the sky's the limit...women do it. Let's face it..WOMEN ARE SUPER...ALL WOMEN.

Anonymous said...

jtb, I understand your argument about Palin's presentation of herself, but as usual, I feel the need to go off on another tagent. I've always loved voting and have been interested in women in politics ever since Liddy Dole was first tentatively whispered about as a presidential choice (and I was too young to vote at the time). As a general rule of thumb, I'm just irked with all the commentary thrown at any potential female in federal government. Hilary, Michelle, Cindy, Palin...all of them are subject to scrutiny that a man would never be forced to face--most of it thrown at them by women. I want to make a logical, well-educated choice as to who will be best for this country. At the same time, I get that it is politics and it is a race, and to a certain extent, all candidates are going pander and strategize in the way that they see will win them the most votes. I guess perhaps I've regressed a little. Remember your post about how you used to feel when you first voted, the lesser of two evils thing? Maybe I've gone there lately. So yeah, I hate the supermom myth and understand how it damages women. A womb certainly shouldn't be on one's resume. At the same time, I'm so put off by the mud slinging towards all of these women. I think we're all walking a fine line in what we will and will not accept in a candidate. I think its a little dangerous. Was that just a bunch of idea vomit?

JTB said...

no, I think it's very accurate to say that female candidates are subject to a lot of scrutiny that male candidates aren't. Consider all the commentary about dress, for example; it's not like the pundits go off on what kind of tie a guy is wearing, but everyone knows Hillary's pantsuit was orange. Or hairstyles. That's a petty example but it carries through to a lot more serious kinds of criticisms, including the family issues because the baseline assumption, still!, in our culture is that somehow women/mothers are more vital to the family than fathers--and therefore bear a much higher burden of family responsibility. So women who pursue any kind of public career get a lot more criticism about family priorities than men do. I might defend Palin on this account except for the fact that she's using her mom role as a large part of her public persona. That seems to me to make a huge difference about whether or not discourse on her mothering is justifiable. I'd even defend her if I heard some straight talk on the indispensability of nannies, or the role of her husband in making sure all 5 kids are taken care of day to day--because I think that's a valid way to negotiate job demands and parenting. But I haven't heard any of that.

I will certainly grant that we don't hear the same critiques voiced of fathers on campaign trails and in public office. But we should. I think the responsible answer is to hold dads more accountable and amend our social systems of support for parents of both genders, rather than just give all candidates a "bye" on the issue of family responsibility.

A lot of comments on other blogs mention Edwards' decision to campaign during Elizabeth's return of cancer, and I echo those who find this an irresponsible family decision. There was some critique along those lines at the time, but probably not as shrill or long-lived as it would have been if John were Johanna.

And I think a lot of this reflects the fact that in our culture, women are much more likely to sacrifice career advances in order to serve their family's interest than men when a woman appears to do otherwise, it's a startling departure from the status quo.

Susan said...

"Just your average hockey mom" isn't away campaigning/touring the country, she's ACTUALLY AT the hockey game. AND the physical therapist for the special needs child. AND the Obstetrician with the frightened 17 year old pregnant daughter. AND spending those last few precious days with her soldier about to deploy. Not subjected the above mentioned children to the glaring spotlight before sending them home without her. Supermoms go to work and try to balance our lifes by coming home in the evening and squeezing the hell out of those remaining hours to keep bonded.

Anonymous said...

It may not be obvious how to leave a non-anonymous comment without using a Google/Blogger or OpenID identity.


The way to sign your name to a comment on this site is to choose the "Name/URL" option and use the "Name" field (you can leave the URL field blank).

Anonymous said...

You are just looking for something to gripe about because she is a republican. If she were a democrat, I'd like to see what you would say about her then. Deny it all you want, but, if you think about it and are honest with yourself, I bet you'll see that I'm right!

Anonymous said...

Oh, sorry I was the last anonymous comment. Didn't know that it mattered so much that you know my name. I don't know you anyway, but, just so you know, my name is Hillary.

JTB said...

I don't need anonymous lectures about integrity and honesty. The irony gets in the way of your point.

I would really hate to limit participation by requiring google accounts. But as jonathan pointed out, it's not difficult to sign your name. And as I pointed out earlier, you can always type your name at the bottom of your comment. I will demonstrate this technique at the end of this comment.

If she were a Democrat, then her stance on issues and policies I think are significant would in all likelihood be vastly different...which would OF COURSE be relevant in the formation of my opinion of her as a political candidate. I suppose she could theoretically wear the label Democrat and still be a... what was it..."a reform-minded, hockey-mommin', basketball shooting, moose-hunting, salmon-fishing pistol-packing mother of five." In which case my opinion would be the same. I don't see what these attributes have to do with being VP (except possibly the first, though I take issue with what that might actually refer to).

Now, I haven't blogged extensively on her policies or record as an Alaskan mayor or governor. So maybe you think I'm not interested. I assure you that I am, and if you follow the link over to the hermit's post on this there is plenty of reading to do, which I am slowly but surely making my way through.

Jennifer Jeanine Thweatt-Bates

JTB said...

okay, look, Snarky. I've patiently offered a very good rationale for why giving names is important in a real discussion. And you have refused to do so, and called me names, and questioned my integrity.

And now I've lost my temper.

So that's it; I'm changing the settings on this blog, and it's because of your insistence, not just on anonymity, but on the use of anonymity to comment with impunity instead of responsibility. You have not forwarded this discussion. You have derailed it. So I will now do what I must to try to get it back on track for other people who wish to create an honest, self-disclosive, and respectful exchange of opinions.

I guess you can call this a win.

I think we've all lost.

Hillary said...

Okay, apparently you did not read my second comment where I disclosed my name. I'm Hillary. There...does that make my comments any different to you? I sure hope so!! I have an account on Google/Blogger now...are you happy?

JTB said...

um...I assumed your appellation was a sarcastic HRC reference.

sorry for jumping to conclusions.

thanks for giving your name, and signing up for an account.

Vasca said...

Jen...this has absolutely nothing to do w/line of thought in this post but I'll ask anyway.
Noticed you are making presentations at ACU Lectureship on "Olive Trees and Cyborgs--Christian Identity in Paul's Letter to the Romans". I'm in the dark...lived among the olive trees...totally irrelevant. Can you give me a leg up on this? And have you found a place to stay?

Chris said...

I have seen a couple of documentries on Sarah Palin. She does not claim to "do it all." She has a large extended family in addition to her husband that she credits for help in child care.

JTB said...

Chris, could you link to or give some more info about those documentaries? I would be interested in seeing them.

Hi Vasca! just today I booked a hotel room, so I'm set. as far as the class topic, the first session will be a sort of extended apology (in the classic sense) for using "cyborgs" as an interpretive lens...the main idea, however, is to play off of the idea of hybridity present in the text in Paul's image of the olive tree with grafted branches--and put that to work theologically as we consider Christian identity and church. Hopefully, once things are underway I will be able to make it make some sense.

Stasi said...

AMEN. I loved this post. It expresses so much of what I'm feeling. I didn't read through all the comments, so perhaps someone else already pointed this out, but what grinds my axe is that republicans are the LAST people who want to help women out who are trying to "do it all" - that is, they are the last ones to support government programs that provide women with the resources they need to go to work while raising children. We don't have healthcare without a job, we don't have decent nutrition (I'm sorry, WIC does not provide the best - it provides what it can on a too-limited budget, like all the food banks in this country right now), we don't have enough subsidization of childcare or support for businesses providing it, we don't provide paid maternity leave (or not enough of it) or postpartum leave, etc. etc. In the republican world we really all need to be Supermoms, because they sure as hell aren't going to support us being regular moms with material needs!
We ARE our mothers' keepers. We need to take care of the women who are doing this amazing task, however they are managing it.

Carolyn said...

I am hopeful that we will hear more from Palin in the weeks to come that will lessen the "supermom" image (i.e., live-in nanny, extended family help, a husband who stays at home, etc.) If not, I agree with you that putting forth the "I'm doing it all and you can do" image is problematic. I know there must be more to the story, and I hope that we'll hear it once she starts doing interviews.

Although I've been frustrated at all the focus on her personal life as opposed to her policy positions, reading your post has made me reconsider that somewhat, and hope that she can truly be an advocate for working mothers, rather than falsely present an unattainable "ideal."

Chris said...

It's on U-Tube. Google: Sarah Palin: An American Woman

It was seen both Sat. and Sun. night on Fox, hosted by Greta Van Susteran.

JTB said...

thanks, Chris.

JTB said...

Okay; watched the Fox News piece. Chris is right to point out that in this piece she extends credit to her husband Todd for his domestic role, even calling him at one point a "Mr. Mom." Todd, for his part, noted that at one point while he was not working, and she was full-time, that he discovered motherhood was the "real job" and "going back to work was like a vacation." (segment 4, I think.) I didn't get the impression that this was a permanent arrangement.

She also mentions daycare when talking about how, after returning to work a day after giving birth to daughter Piper, she brought her with her to work until she was an active infant and then arranged for daycare.

And she also briefly acknowledges the support of her extended family (segment 2 and again segment 4). She doesn't say exactly what they do or how much they help out but she does say she couldn't do it without them.

I am glad to hear all this; if I hear this kind of acknowledgment consistently from her as the campaign progresses then I may find myself disposed to blog on this topic again. At this point, I do still feel that the super-mother image ended up being stronger than the acknowledgment of necessary help...that image of her at a desk with a baby in a sling, for instance. It's also relevant to point out that the piece itself includes the observation that Palin made her mothering part of her political image in Alaska--exactly the same observation I made in this post (only, I grant, considerably more disgruntled.)

Here's the youtube link for anyone who wants to check it out.

JTB said...

also this article on Palin & motherhood:

Chris said...

What I would like to know is why Governor Palin's child care arrangements trump Obama's close association with an unrepentent terrorist. His association with Bill Ayers was much closer than he lets on. I am eager to see his interview on this and his other associations such as Jeremiah Wright and Resko. Bill O'Reilly interviews him about this tomorrow(Tuesday)It promises to be interesting.

JTB said...

I don't see what connection there could possibly be between Palin's childcare arrangements (and for the sake of accuracy, I'll point out, not in fact the actual criticism being made in the post) and Obama's association with anyone. That is an entirely different topic than that of this discussion and I don't see any way they intersect.

JDM said...

Didn't read all the comments, so my apology if my question is already covered, but: Are you saying that Palin shouldn't be running for VP, or that she shouldn't be running for VP-as-Mom?

If it's the former, would you apply that std to men (e.g., Obama)? If the latter, isn't your argument internally inconsistent (i.e., you criticize her for emphasizing her motherhood while arguing that being a mother is all-consuming)?


Lauren said...

A friend just sent me a link for an interesting, and relevant, group known as Moms Rising - They advocate for a variety of issues of importance to parents - child care, health care for children, maternity/paternity leave, etc. I've only briefly visited their website and had never heard of them before, so I'm not vouching for them in any way yet. But the little bit I did see looked promising. Currently they are compiling signatures on a letter to Sarah Palin to ask for specifics on how she will address these issues as Vice President. The tone of the letter is friendly and non-accusatory. It is a very straight-forward request for information that I think both SP's supporters and her detractors would be comfortable signing.

JTB said...

JDM, thanks for the comment.

There are a lot of issues being negotiated in this post, and I'm not in the least surprised that there's a hint of inconsistency about the post. I don't think I am being inconsistent, but I find your questions fair.

I don't mean to say that Palin should not run for VP (and by extension, that women who are mothers should not these demanding sorts of jobs). I also don't find it necessarily objectionable for her to acknowledge that she's a mom. What I dislike about her public persona is the image she's choosing to project of a mom who can do ALL the traditional mom stuff, AND be mayor, governor, VP on top of it. This do-it-all supermom message was especially prominent in her RNC speech (though it comes across slightly muted in the FoxNews profile of her, linked in the above comments).

There are three things about this supermom image that get me: 1) it doesn't ring true to my experience (nor to most of the working moms who have commented here); 2) it's anti-feminist in my book to advocate for a pseudo-liberation consisting of accepting all the traditional work of being a mom, plus work and responsibility in addition--impossible to do and damaging to require of women; 3) it actually undermines the respect we ought to give to stay-at-home moms, by implying that work is not the full-time work it truly is.

I do agree that there is, unsurprisingly, much more discussion of Palin's responsibilities as mother than there is of any male candidate's responsibilities as father. That is simply because we're used to thinking of fathers as being able to delegate much of the actual child care responsibilities to others. We don't assume that this necessarily makes them bad fathers. So we don't talk about it. But we don't make the same assumption about mothers; instead, we seem to assume that mothers are irreplaceable and must be constantly present and available--and when they aren't or can't be, we fault them as bad moms. This is what's unfair and sexist about the imbalance of the family responsibility discourse. Palin should be able to be upfront about what decisions their family has made in order to accommodate her job responsibilities as mayor, governor and VP candidate, without worrying about whether people will think she's been a bad mom on this account. But in making an appeal to the evangelical base, the supermom message plays much better.

JTB said...

Lauren, thanks for the link. I think your characterization of the letter is right (I signed it) and I will spend some more time on the site to get a feel for what they're about. :)

Chris said...

My point was that Palin is doing what the feminist have urged women to do the past 30 plus years--go out in the workplace, "have it all", put the kids in 12 hour daycare, etc. Palin seems to be a great, loving mother and up to this point has seemingly ran a unusually "normal" household in spite of being Governor. Obama, on the other hand has had a bunch of shady associates and I hear nary a word from you. Could it be you are, shall I say, "partisan"?

BTW, your blog is full of arrogance and sarcasm, which is fine with me, but which I was reprimanded for by one of your friends. My case in point is not only this post but the one you did the other day taking apart line by line of Palin's acceptance speech. Here is what your friend said about me, I think it describes you to a "T", and you claim to be a theologian!

"It would be one thing if you used a tone that was loving and respectful. You know kinda like Christ might have used if he blogged and commented. However your comments are neither loving nor respectful. How is it that you are so harsh and claim to be a Christian. I just don't get it. Your tone--which I interpret as arrogant and meanspirited is not a fruit of the Spirit."

JDM said...

Understood. And I agree that it's a "lie" that a person can "do it all" (man/father or woman/mom). But unlike you I don't see much difference b/w the Supermom message from Palin and the have-it-all message coming from the Left for years. Except perhaps that Palin checked the kid box 5 times; Hillary only once.

JTB said...


I have seen your comments on friends' blogs and have been consistently amazed at the amount of ad hominem vituperation almost every time. I was actually very happy to receive comments from you on this thread that seemed to avoid this. So I am correspondingly disappointed at the tone of your last comment.

It's fine if you don't agree and even that you don't like the sarcastic tone of my blogging. I'm a sarcastic person. My superhero name, by the way, is Sarcastro.

It's certainly true I am indeed an Obama supporter--a fact which I do not try to hide, given that there's a pic of my daughter on the sidebar wearing a "got hope?" T shirt. But this post is not really about why I agree with Obama's positions on women's issues and disagree with (what I can only conjecture might be) Palin's. It's about my response as a mother to her public image as a mother. What this might have to do with Obama is beyond the scope of this particular discussion, which was my reply to you earlier.

Re the only really substantive part of your last comment: if you consider the "supermom" to be what feminists have been after for all these years, then I think you misunderstand feminism and the women's movement. At the very least, you certainly have a very different understanding of it than I do. Supermom is not a feminist ideal. Supermom is the result of shackling women to all the unpaid work of traditional motherhood while simultaneously urging them to take on more work, while selling it as liberation. That's not liberation. That's two full-time jobs: one unpaid, one paid (.70 to the male dollar, still.) How is that feminism? how is that good for women? Those are the questions I'm posing.

Finally, I really think that you should give me some credit, for "partisan" as I apparently am, I took your suggestion to spend an hour or more of my time watching the Palin profile on Fox News that you suggested, thanked you for the information, commented regarding it, and posted the link for others to follow. That is certainly not in any way disregarding your views, though I continue to disagree.

JTB said...

JDM: yeah, I think you've pinpointed our disagreement well. We could leave it at that, but I think there's a bit more to say. I have not done a good job of acknowledging that feminism, like any movement, has evolved over time. It's significant that we now talk about three "waves" of feminism, and that I identify with the third wave. So, on reflection, I am willing to concede that it may be the case that at one point in the history of the movement, "have it all" was the ideal. I think the women's movement has matured beyond that--but I would even further concede that this is in part because we (and I, still!) have to learn the hard way that it doesn't work. So I need to soften up on my own somewhat ahistorical statements. And while I do that, I'd ask you to consider the possibility that (at least some) feminists have indeed wised up and moved beyond the impossible have-it-all dream.

Steven Baird said...

nothing especially intellectually stimulating to say at this point...

but--have you ever had the feeling after you've read something (an essay/critique, a book, an article, a novel) and felt like you've just read something really important? and you pause, re-read, sigh, and wish you could hold on to the significance for a mere moment longer? i just got that feeling after reading this post. you put everything into words that i haven't been able to put even remotely coherently into thought.

thank you.

Anonymous said...

um, that last comment was from me... not steven.

JTB said...

here's an NPR story on the "Mommy Wars"

Steven Baird said...

Did you see this article yet. I think it comes out in next week's issue of TNR.

JTB said...

Thanks, Steven! Said it all and without the cussing, too. Nicely done. A couple of telling passages:

"As Palin recently explained to People magazine, "What I've had to do, though, is in the middle of the night, put down the BlackBerries and pick up the breast pump. Do a couple of things different and still get it all done."

"Palin's parenting story is not about sacrifice or even the struggle for balance but about blithely doing it all. This vision of parenting is not only unrealistic--it devalues the job. Whether you work or stay at home, parenting is an exhausting around-the-clock juggling act; the list of people I have to thank for giving me the emotional energy and time just to write this article reads like an Oscar acceptance speech. Once the difficulty and sacrifice of the job have been elided, the basis for policy solutions is seriously undermined."

which reminds me: must add a couple more names (at least) to the acknowledgments at the front of the dissertation. Thank you Terry, and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church!

JTB said...

another plank in the supermom platform:

(SP in response to Charlie Gibson, at @ 4:30)

"Of course you can be the Vice President and you can raise a family. I'm the governor and I'm raising a family. I've been a mayor and have raised a family. I've owned a business and we've raised a family. When people have asked me when I was governor and I was pregnant, gosh, how are you going to be the governor and have a baby in office too? And I replied back then, as I would today, I'll do it the same way the other governors have done it when they've either had a baby in office or raised a family. Granted, they're men. But do it the same way they do it."

Really? 'Cause I suspect that the male governors of Alaska probably left the primary childcare tasks to their spouses...but she's not admitting that that's her situation. Note that there is an abundance of the singular first person pronoun in this answer, and only one "we." Here was a stellar chance for her to step out of that supermom straitjacket, and she just pulled it snugger and tighter.

Phillips Family said...


I just now found this post through Joe's blog. Thank you for raising these questions about SP and the horrible Supermom persona she is attempting to create. A few weeks ago I raised similar questions on my blog and the response was overwhelming in favor of SP...just because she was a mom like the majority of my readers. What a wonderful little magic trick the republican party is playing with America, making us believe this woman is qualified to possibly lead our country because she is a mom. Scary.

Good luck with the dissertation!

JJT said...

...and she's still at it:

"A related strategy for Palin and fellow conservatives is to paint actual feminists as condescending hypocrites who simply don't believe in young women: "[They] send this message, that 'Nope, you're not capable of doing both. You can't give your child life and still pursue career and education. You're not strong enough; you're not capable.' So it's very hypocritical," she told the anti-abortion-rights crowd. Palin's "pro-woman sisterhood," however, "is telling these young women that they're strong enough and smart enough, they are capable to be able to handle an unintended pregnancy and still be able to . . . handle that [and] give that child life." (Unless of course, these young women were unlucky enough to live in Alaska when then-Gov. Palin cut funding for an Anchorage shelter for teenage moms.)"

---Yeah, 'cause it's EMPOWERING to tell women that they can and should work a full-time paid job while still carrying that mega-full-time unpaid job called mothering--and YOU can DO it, ladies! You're strong enough and capable enough! So if you try it and feel like a complete failure, shut up and try harder! Just look at Sarah--SHE's pulling it off, right?! Why all the whining about equal pay and family leave policies and breastfeeding facilities at work? Suck it up!!!

above quote from a May 30, 2010 WaPo article (link: