This comment was posted to my most recent blog entry:
Reading the exchange you and Slackonomics author Lisa Chamberlain had about the challenges of parenting (and noting that you haven’t had much time to blog because of the needs of your own children), I’m curious what you think about Gov. Palin campaigning for – and possibly becoming – Vice President having a four month old special needs child.
And this comment was sent to me in e-mail by someone I know personally:
Maybe if she stayed at home and watched out for her kids her 17 year old daughter wouldn’t be preggers. Now this stupid 17 year old has to get married b/c her mom would get slammed in the press if her kid got an abortion or gave up the baby for adoption. “Bristol, take one for the team.”
Where do I begin? I feel like I’m in some kind of Orwellian dream world, where 2 + 2 = 5 and we’ve never been at war with Eurasia, but always with Eastasia.
For years I’ve been hearing things like, “Why are you wasting your talents staying home with your kids?” and reading books and articles by feminists lamenting the fact that so many other educated women are doing the same thing, setting aside their careers, squandering their talents, wasting their time taking care of children when they could be doing something meaningful and hiring a housekeeper, nanny and cook to do the grunt work at home. Women are just like men, only with ovaries instead of testicles. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. If men can have children and careers, by God, so can women. Anybody ask John F. Kennedy how he managed to “have it all” with a baby and a toddler in the White House? And yet here we are, more than 40 years later, demanding to know what business Sarah Palin has being Governor of Alaska — let alone Vice President, God forbid — with three kids and a baby at home. And, irony of ironies, since she’s a Republican, the very feminists who have demanded full equality for women all these years are in the position of having to oppose Palin’s candidacy, and are faced with the temptation to jump on the “How can she possibly do it all?” bandwagon when their own principles insist that of course she can.
First, the question of what I, often too busy with my children to blog, think of Palin’s ability to balance family and high political office. To that I reply:
1) My children are 7, 5, 3 and less than two months old. They are all very young, too little to be left alone at all, too little to be of any substantive help to me. Even though she’s my age, Sarah Palin was smart enough to get an early start having children, so hers are now 19, 17, 14, 7 and four months. Big difference. The 19-year-old is grown up and in the Army. The two teenage girls do not need 24-7 supervision, and are old enough to be of real help to their mother in caring for the youngest children. 17-year-old Bristol Palin, who is expecting a baby herself, was holding her baby brother all during their mother’s maiden campaign speech on Monday, and I have little doubt she’s a tremendous help to her mother. I have a 17-year-old niece, and when she visits it’s a dream having an extra pair of grown-up hands around the house. Even the 7-year-old is old enough not to be quite the physical drain that younger children are. My own 7-year-old is far less difficult than she was just a year or two ago.
2) I homeschool my children, while I’m assuming Governor Palin’s children are in school.
3) Mrs. Palin must have domestic help. Until I hired some part-time help last week, I didn’t, and was being run ragged by doing everything around the house myself. Part of what makes housekeeping so time-consuming for me is that I love to cook, and cook just about everything from scratch. I don’t know if Gov. Palin makes her own moose stew from scratch, but I can’t imagine that governing Alaska allows her to spend as many hours a week cooking as I do. Sometimes I really wish I could just pop open a can of chili instead of making the real deal, but alas, I can’t. I’ve spoiled my family, and now they wrinkle their noses at pre-packaged food. When I was sick and pregnant, I tried to foist frozen lasagna on them, but no dice. After all, would you eat Stouffer’s when the only lasagna you’d ever known was made with creamy whole milk mozzarella, fresh basil, and onion-and-nutmeg-infused bechamel?
4) A Down Syndrome baby isn’t any more work than any other infant. The difficulties begin when the child is a toddler, and by that time Palin’s daughter Bristol will be married and on her own, and the other two girls will 16 and 9, not exactly toddlers demanding their mother’s attention every moment.
5) Given her 80%-plus approval rating in Alaska, Palin has been doing an outstanding job as governor. She doesn’t seem to be bleary-eyed and frazzled now, and while it isn’t the presidency, the governorship of the largest (in terms of territory) state in the Union, a state which borders not only Canada but Russia, a state in which the governor must be an expert in the field of energy policy, isn’t exactly an undemanding job. As McCain’s vetting team found, she’s been performing it competently.
Now, on to the question of Bristol Palin having to “take one for the team” so her mom can get elected, and of her mother’s culpability for the pregnancy in the first place.
1) If Sarah Palin had been a stay-at-home mother, her daughter might still have gotten pregnant. No mother, be she a SAHM or working mom, spends every moment of every day with her teenage child. If she did, people would call her overprotective and smothering — if not downright psychotic. The youthful sex drive is a powerful force, and one that’s been triumphing over parental proscriptions for millenia.
2) A related criticism that my e-mail friend did not raise is Palin’s culpability because as governor she backed abstinence-only education rather than sex ed that taught students about contraception. This is a non-issue. Show me the teenager that actually learns something in sex ed. Kids learn about sex and birth control from their more precocious classmates long before they hear about it in the classroom. That was true when Sarah Palin and I were teenagers, and it’s still true today. In addition, today’s teenagers have access to all the information on the Internet, which kids in my day didn’t have. Believe me, any girl who knows about sex also knows about the existence of birth control.
3) Poor Miss Palin has to get married because her mom would get slammed in the press if she had an abortion or gave up the baby for adoption? In the first place, I think many people would find it admirable if she allowed a childless couple to adopt her baby. In the second place, given her own willingness to carry to term a Down Syndrome child, Mrs. Palin would no doubt oppose her daughter’s getting an abortion even if she wasn’t in politics. Finally, this analysis makes marriage sound rather like a death sentence. If she didn’t get married, Bristol Palin would likely go off to college where everyone would be getting drunk and high and hooking up, and she’d either be a social outcast by rejecting the sex-drugs-booze college culture or she’d become a part of it, likely ending up depressed and degraded by all the sordid experiences with guys who used her for sex without caring a bit about her. So many people today assume that marrying young is a mistake — even a tragedy. But I know couples who married and had children young, and they are doing just fine. I have a friend here in Santa Fe who got married at 18 or so and had her first child at 20, now has two and is planning a third. She and her husband (who is her age) are so mature that I often forget I’m nearly old enough to be their mother. Both of them say that marrying and having a child really made them grow up, and that they’re glad they did things the way they did. I realize that this isn’t the way a lot of young people’s marriages turn out, but that’s an argument for people working harder at their marriages, not for eschewing marriage in the first place. I really don’t think it’s a terrible thing for a young woman to be married and a mother instead of being cannon fodder for horny frat boys.
McCain’s choice of Palin as his running mate has created some strange political bedfellows, putting traditional, conservative Republican women in the position of defending a working mother’s ability to have it all and do it all, while forcing feminists to sit tight-lipped and silent while Palin’s opponents question her ability to balance political power and family responsibilities. As feminists, they want to say, “Yes, she can!” but as liberals they want her and McCain to lose the election, so they need to make difficult choices.
Truly, this has been one of the most interesting elections in decades. During the primary season, when it looked like Mitt or Rudy or some other candidate who didn’t inspire me, I thought, here we go again, Bob Dole all over again. Then McCain came out of nowhere to snag the nomination, and I thought, great, Mr. Bipartisan, just what we need. But Mr. Bipartisan surprised me, and gradually won me over. Then, with his choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate, he proved that he really deserved the “Maverick” reputation I used to scoff at. My husband and I have opened our hearts — and our checkbook — to McCain and Palin.
I hope many of you do the same. I hope some of Hillary’s PUMAs realize that there’s more to being a feminist than the right to get rid of a baby you don’t want, and that being a Republican doesn’t make Sarah Palin any less of a role model for their daughters.