I've been saving links* to the Sarah Palin coverage for the last week and a half, but I'm still feeling a bit stymied as to how to link the coverage of the vice presidential nominee to Mama, PhD. Yet it's clear that this nomination -- far more than Hillary Clinton's run for the presidency, or Geraldine Ferraro's earlier nomination for Vice President--has put the so-called "mommy wars" front and center in the national debate. I've never seen a woman running for national office whose profile so resembled mine--in the broad strokes, of course, not the all-important details. Like me, Palin's been a "working mom" (a term I hate -- don't all parents work?) for many years. Like me, she's got both teenagers and younger children (though I only have one of each). Like me, she's had to figure out how to balance work and family life -- though, unlike me, she took only three days of maternity leave with her last child. Like me, she did not wait until her children were grown to get started on her career, though it seems clear that at some level having children may have directed the shape of that career (from PTA mom to mayor is a logical leap, just as moving from Victorian lit scholar to children's lit scholar made sense for me). While I've never aspired to public office, my job has occasionally put my children a little bit more in the spotlight than they'd like -- though sitting in on a college course, or even having your mom write about you in her blog, is a far cry from finding yourself in the celebrity box at the Republican National Convention. Still, so what?
So what, indeed? As I read over the coverage, I find myself more and more frustrated by it: by focusing on Palin's maternity, journalists are avoiding putting the focus on her policies. It's tempting, I know, to talk about her legendarily short maternity leaves, the baby swing in the office, her husband's accommodation to the ever-increasing demands on her time. But, finally, those are all beside the point: what matters is whether she's qualified to hold the office she seeks, and what policies she would support in that office.
I do not asked to be judged differently from my peers because I am a mother. My work should not be "good enough, considering…" This does not mean that I think women should work twice as hard as men -- we should, rather, make sure that pregnancy and childbirth don't prevent a woman from doing her job well, by ensuring adequate maternity leave, appropriate child care facilities, and portable, reliable health-care coverage, among other things. Sure, I'd have preferred that Governor Palin used the six weeks leave she was no doubt entitled to, but that's her choice. All I can do is work to make sure it -- or, preferably, a more generous leave -- is available to other women, whether they all make use of it or not.
So let's leave Palin's kids alone for a while. But let's not leave Palin alone: she need not answer for her childcare choices, but she must answer for her record, her policies, her plans for the future. Let's focus on policies that help working families balance their budgets and their time, caring for their children and their jobs. There are millions of us already working on these issues one family at a time; Palin's policies, not her simple presence, will have the biggest effect on what happens to all our families in the future.
*A few of those links: Mama, PhD contributor Rebecca Steinitz wrote an op ed on Palin for LiteraryMama.com; poet, writer, and editor Nicole Stellon O'Donnell, who lives in Alaska, has also contributed one. You can find the New York Times coverage of Palin yourself, no doubt. Many academics have been concerned to hear about Palin's alleged attempts to ban books in the Wasilla Public Library; the best coverage of that issue that I've found was in the Atlanta Journal Constitution last Friday.