As the author of Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America, I know there’s a powerful connection between one’s motherhood experiences and political inspiration. Having said that, there’s a big difference between parenting experiences as a political motivator and being a woman politician who is defined by the media in a traditional mother-as-caretaker role.
I thought with 18 million cracks in the proverbial glass ceiling we were moving away from that tired ‘but who’s taking care of the kids’ meme. Apparently the New York Times (again) didn’t get that memo.
In writing about Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her selection to head the Democratic National Committee, the first paragraph of the article entitled, “In a Life Filled with Firsts, One More,” states:
Open lunchboxes are sprawled on the kitchen counter. Four dogs dart in and out. And three children rummage through backpacks. With the predawn bedlam at its height, the harried mother asks: Do you have your baseball glove? What do you want for a snack? How about the form I have to sign?
“Harried mother.” Hardly what I’d guess would be in the first paragraph in an A Section article about the one Democrat who is now responsible for making sure that her party wins and wins big in 2012.
A few paragraphs into that article, Wasserman Schultz is further described in this order — “mother, wife, Girl Scout leader, legislator, fund-raiser and House vote counter” and, then, finally, as the first woman elected to lead the Democratic National Committee (though she is not the first to hold that post).
If this was a fluffy profile piece for the Style section or one of the traditional women’s magazines, I’d be less annoyed. There are many women in general, and mothers in particular, for whom Wasserman Shultz’s story will resonate. But here’s the rub — being the head of the DNC is one of the most powerful positions any Democrat can hold — the primary duty of the DNC Chair is to support all Democratic candidates and their campaigns around the country. Heading up the DNC isn’t about signing permission slips or weighing in on whether your tween daughter can wear faux leopard flats to school; it’s about wielding real power with big time donors and supporters, getting the grassroots inspired and staying in close contact with other Democratic leaders.
Publishing an article in ostensibly the biggest newspaper in the country that begins with a description of stereotypical mom duties and that places Wasserman Schultz’s professional responsibilities at the end of a list that starts with typical mommy chores does exactly what you would assume — it insinuates that it’s OK for women to move up the ladder of political power, as long as they packed the lunch boxes and washed the gym uniforms first.
Two years ago, when Tim Kaine was named the head of the DNC, the New York Times made no mention of what his daily duties were when it came to his three children. It didn’t describe him as a father or a husband. It didn’t feature a photo of him in the kitchen with his kids while wearing pink sweats– in his picture, he wore the typical Washington, D.C. power suit while sitting at the side of the president.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to read between those work/life balance lines.
I can only conclude that it just doesn’t even occur to those writing or assigning and editing stories about political men to ask about or highlight their care-giving roles. Yet, when profiling a woman, no matter how powerful or high-profile, those with children get defined by the mommy card. It happened to Hillary Clinton and to Sarah Palin. And tt was a topic that almost defined the last Oklahoma governor’s race. Now it’s happening to Debbie.
I get tired thinking about this topic and whether there will ever come a day when the media stop seeing women, no matter how accomplished or educated, primarily in that early morning rush of getting kids out the door with their homework, lunches and backpacks. Maybe I should just be happy that women like Wasserman Schultz are finally getting the plum political assignments and any attention from the Gray Lady. As I was reminded by a friend, maybe should we lighten up and celebrate the fact that a down to earth Jewish mom with fabulous curly hair is going to be in charge of a LOT of those guys.