The Mommy Slur

Hilary Bok is rather bent out of shape at a Washington Whispers poll which asks “If you had a choice of four daycare centers run separately by Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton, and Nancy Pelosi, which would you choose for your kids?”

She suggests some alternative poll questions:

If you needed some yard work done, would you hire Mel Martinez, Henry Cisneros, Xavier Becerra, or Bill Richardson?

If you needed a rap DJ for a party, would you hire Barack Obama, Charlie Rangel, John Lewis, or Michael Steele?

If you needed an interior decorator, would you choose Jim McGreevey, Barney Frank, Larry Craig, or the disinterred corpse of Harvey Milk?

She believes that “they would probably recognize any of these other appeals to stereotypes as offensive. And yet, oddly enough, asking which one of four prominent women we’d like to have running our children’s day care center is A-OK. ”

Are these really comparable?  None of the men listed have any association aside from ethnicity, race, or sexual orientation with said stereotypes.  Conversely, all four women are, in fact, mothers.

Is it any worse than asking whether you’d rather have a beer with George W. Bush or John Kerry?  Heck, Bush doesn’t even drink! Ditto, “Who would you rather be in a foxhole with” questions.

Further, as it turns out, we do in fact ask “Who would you rather have watch your kids for a couple of hours on a Saturday?” and “Who would you rather have as your dad?” about male presidential contenders.

Beyond that, leaving aside that this was just a fun poll rather than a deep psychological exercise, it is simply true that women are generally the primary caregivers to their children and that we judge women with children on that basis more than we do men.   And while some of that is a function of culturally imposed norms, it’s not entirely a social construct but rather hard-wired into human biology.

My wife’s an educated, successful career woman.  She’s the Chief Operating Officer of a major polling firm.  My jobs give me more flexibility than hers, in that I can often work from home and time shift and she can’t.

We do not have equal roles in raising our daughter.

I’m an active father and try to do my fair share of diaper changes, burping, bouncing, and so forth.  I was there for the ultrasounds, labor, C-section, and have made all the pediatrician visits so far.  But, for example, because of my biological limitations, my wife did one hundred percent of the gestating.  She also endured the lion’s share of the pain associated with labor and delivery.  She’s still recovering from the C-section.  She plays a role in every feeding, whether by actively nursing or having pumped milk that I later bottle feed.   She got two months’ paid maternity leave, whereas I went back to work immediately.  (It helped that Katie was born on New Year’s Eve and our office was closed until January 5th).

My wife will go back to work soon and the division of labor will shift somewhat to a more balanced role.  In a few months, once Katie starts eating solid foods, things will balance even further.  But the reality will almost certainly be that she’ll cry out for mommy more than for daddy for years to come.

Getting back to the poll, then, it strikes me as an interesting way to get at public attitudes about these women.

Two of the women, Clinton and Obama, played second fiddle to their husbands’ careers during their children’s formative years while the other two, Pelosi and Palin, are the public faces of their marriages (although Pelosi’s husband is a multi-millionaire investor, he’s a virtual unknown; nobody outside Alaska and perhaps the “snow machine” racing community had ever heard of Todd Palin until his wife got tapped to be John McCain’s running mate).

They’ve all been pretty good moms, it would seem.  The Pelosis raised five children to adulthood, largely keeping them out of the national spotlight.  So far as I’m aware, they’re all productive members of society. The Clintons raised one daughter to adulthood entirely in the spotlight.  They managed to mostly shield her from the worst of it and she’s doing well for herself.  The Obama girls are living their formative years in the White House.  By all accounts, they’re doing well. The Palins, too, have five kids including, famously, one with Down Syndrome.   Their oldest is serving as an infantryman in Iraq while their middle daughter has had some well publicized issues.

If I had to send Katie to day care with one of them, I’d pick Obama, who’s warmer than Clinton and Pelosi (at least in public persona) and brainier than Palin.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    There’s a direct relationship between Hilzoy’s outrage and Eric Holder’s “cowards” crack from last week. If you want to have a frank conversation about gender roles, you’ve got to stop shouting down people who may disagree with you and put ideas you find objectionable into expression. In the case of Holder’s remark, I’ve been shouted down too often in making comments about race relations to think that cowardice accounts for the lack of dialogue. The general form it takes is “How dare you, etc.” They don’t disagree with what I say, they deny to the death my right to say it.

  2. Anon says:

    I think Bok is overreacting. Yes, the question plays to stereotypes, but I don’t think it’s an offensive one. A comparable question is not yard work, but something like: “Which X would you rather see coaching your child’s sports team?” Or, “If you had a problem with your (insert some common electronic appliance), who would you call for help?” One that I would consider offensive and playing to stereotype, might be something like, “If you needed a housecleaning maid, who would be better?”

  3. ken says:

    Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet, wrote that a parent is like the archer who takes aim and then lets the arrow fly. It is only when the arrow leaves the control of the archer that we can judge his or her skill.

    With this in mind as a useful guide to judge a persons parenting skills how do these four women measure up?

    Of the four women, Pelosi, Obama, Palen and Clinton, three of them have grown children who are no longer under their contol: Clinton, Pelosi and Palen.

    Michele Obama’s kids are still too young for us to see the outcome of her parenting skills. Michele I think is therefore disqualified due not yet having her skills tested.

    Pelosi’s daughter is a documentary filmmaker and by all accounts is a capable, sincere and intelligent women who is carving out a career for herself.

    Clinton’s daughter Chelsea has been in the public spotlight almost all her life. Yet she has grown into a wonderful young woman whom anyone would be proud to have as a daughter.

    Palen’s kids – well they are still young so it may be premature to judge, but at least one has begun making her own choices and so far I am not impressed.

    So I think it is a toss up between Pelosi and Clinton.

  4. tom p says:

    On one level I am with you James, but on another I sympathize with Hilzoy simply because:

    Conversely, all four women are, in fact, mothers.

    Being a mother does not qualify one to run a daycare any more than being hispanic qualifies one to be a gardener. Daycare is a whole lot more complex than just taking care of one’s own children.

    as to the question:

    If I had to send Katie to day care with one of them, I’d pick Obama, who’s warmer than Clinton and Pelosi (at least in public persona) and brainier than Palin.

    I’d agree.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    Being a mother does not qualify one to run a daycare any more than being hispanic qualifies one to be a gardener

    Not quite. All or nearly all mothers engage in childcare. Not all Hispanics engage in gardening.

  6. Mithras says:

    [W]e judge women with children on that basis more than we do men.

    Who is this “we” you’re referring to? Sexist conservative men? No lie. Try to break the habit of judging women on the basis of their child-rearing.

  7. DavidL says:

    As to choice of hypothetical day care providers, I disagree. Michelle Obama, may or may not be brainer that Sarah Palin. However Obama is one angry b****. I would trust any person as angry and resentful as Obama to care for young children.

    As to Mrs. Palin, she has raised, or is raising, five children and she run a business. the family fishing boat. She’d do just fine running a daycare center. Bet the moose stew would takte great as well.

  8. James Joyner says:

    Try to break the habit of judging women on the basis of their child-rearing.

    I only judge mothers on that basis.

    I would trust any person as angry and resentful as Obama to care for young children.

    But she’s caring for two of them as we speak and by all accounts they’re cheerful, well adjusted girls.

    As to Mrs. Palin, she has raised, or is raising, five children and she run a business.

    My hope for Katie is for her to follow this sequence: 1) Graduate high school, 2) Graduate college, 3) Marry, and 4) Get pregnant. So far, so good for the Pelosi, Clinton, and Obama girls.

  9. Bithead says:

    I suggest there are two kinds of discrimination… one generally valid and one generally invalid. Let’s draw a few comparisons.

    Steve Benen of all people,wrote a post yesterday which had me reaming him a new one at my place… and his. The subject, Fox’s John Gibson, and Huff and Puff’s attempt at fakery with a bit of doctored audio. Basically, somebody edited a bit of audio from John, and posted it as real. You’ll have to see the article, if you’ve not yet seen it.

    Benen, calls the incident “unfortunate incident” and an “unpleasant episode” and says:

    No question, Gibson was treated unfairly this week. He was wronged, and the apologies were warranted. But I wonder if Gibson might take this opportunity to ponder why so many were willing to believe the unfair misquote in the first place.

    Of course, were a Democrat the target of such doctoring, Benen would be on the front lines, as close as possible to that our budget, a bag of fathers in hand. Still, I have to give him credit for getting it closer than usual. The question that he raises about reputation is a good one, if misdirected.

    Of course, the bottom line here is is that the left and the press (But I repeat myself) has spent the last twenty years are so going after people at Fox, and hitting them with reputations that include the word “racist”. After so long of that, it’s fairly easy to jump to the wrong conclusions.. as many.. including, I note, the staff at the Huff and Puff, did.

    Then there’s the other side of the coin, where there isn’t a huge publicity campaign to cast aspersions on a particular group. Where, the facts and a speak for themselves, even for the suppose it’s spokesman for the chosen group of oppressed…

    One of the guys that writes at my place, DavidL, in a post this morning quotes Jesse Jackson:

    “There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery-then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”

    The point I’m making here, is about this mythical non-discriminatory world. David makes the point as regards to race relations, but as this conversation that James brings up, and the Benen article, points out, discrimination cuts across all kinds of lines. Simply because there is a natural level of discrimination against (insert favorite protected group here) does not necessarily make that a bad thing. Certainly, some kinds of discrimination are bad, but not nearly all.

    And since Jackson has already done so, given the quote, I will also suggest that failing to discriminate in some circumstances can be equally unhealthy as discrimination itself… and occasionally fatal.

    In a milder sense, I suggest to you, that we discriminate every time we make a choice. Do you have fries or a salad with that burger? Do you pick the Prius, or the red Dodge pickup? Do we spend the weekend in Atlantic City, or do we send the time hanging around South Street in Philly?

    Well, OK, that last one perhaps wasn’t so mild.

    Each of these choices, and indeed every choice we ever make in our lives involves a certain degree of discrimination, and each and every one of them has repercussions for our lives, and the turns they’ll take… or in fact if our lives will continue at all.

    Don’t blame people for observing and reacting to the obvious. That’s simply Darwin, in action. Overcoming such decision-making seems to be endemic to the political and social left, these days. Absent the power of government, Darwin would’ve taken care of the lot of them a long time ago.

    Perhaps what we should be concentrating on is the source of the reputation of each, and the question ‘is the reputation in fact justified’?

    If we are cowards about anything as regards race, sex, or political ideology, it is that we have failed to address that crucial point.

  10. James, one oft commented upon aspect of motherhood is that there is nothing more important than just being there. If that is true, would it change your perspective somewhat?

    Also, before you take another shot at Sarah Palin, do you know that none of the Clinton or Pelosi children got pregnant or just that they did not carry any pregnancies to term? I don’t know and wouldn’t dream of asking them or entertaining any conjectures about it. I would never consider insinuating anything as you have regarding the quality of their parenting skills based on how many of their kids got pregnant outside of marraige. Do you imagine that the Palins had all the assets available to the Pelosis or the Clintons and consider how that might affect they relative success or behaviors? Do you really think that “braininess” makes better mothers? Sorry if this sounds harsh, but this is about the most elitist thing I can recall you ever saying.

    As for Ms. Bok, we learn once again that outrage comes cheap and easy these days.

  11. Grewgills says:

    do you know that none of the Clinton or Pelosi children got pregnant or just that they did not carry any pregnancies to term?

    Given the nature of our sensationalist media I would be very surprised.

    I would never consider insinuating anything as you have regarding the quality of their parenting skills based on how many of their kids got pregnant outside of marraige.

    If you cannot judge parenting skills based on outcomes then you cannot judge parenting skills at all and the question that sparked this becomes not just pointless but unanswerable.

    Do you really think that “braininess” makes better mothers?

    All things else being equal, yes.

    As for Ms. Bok, we learn once again that outrage comes cheap and easy these days.

    Agreed.

  12. James Joyner says:

    I would never consider insinuating anything as you have regarding the quality of their parenting skills based on how many of their kids got pregnant outside of marraige.

    Given what she’s got to juggle, I’m inclined to give her slack. I say, in the post itself, “They’ve all been pretty good moms, it would seem.” But only one of them has had a teenage daughter get pregnant out of wedlock and marry a high school dropout. Were the others more careful? Did they have abortions? No idea. But, picking and choosing among the four with publicly available information, I’m factoring that in.

    Do you imagine that the Palins had all the assets available to the Pelosis or the Clintons and consider how that might affect they relative success or behaviors?

    She was governor of Alaska at the time her kid got pregnant.

    Do you really think that “braininess” makes better mothers?

    Given a choice of caregivers who are otherwise good, I’ll take the one who is most likely to intellectually stimulate and inculcate good communication skills and a love of learning in the child.

    Neither my mom nor my wife’s mom went to college and we both turned out fine. But, given Katie’s starting point and expectations, putting her in the best learning environment is important to me and, thankfully, we’ve got the means to do something about that. We’ll likely start her in Montessori as soon as she’s eligible, for example.

    Sorry if this sounds harsh, but this is about the most elitist thing I can recall you ever saying.

    Surely, I’ve said more elitist things than that!

  13. Bithead says:

    Do you imagine that the Palins had all the assets available to the Pelosis or the Clintons and consider how that might affect they relative success or behaviors?

    She was governor of Alaska at the time her kid got pregnant.

    This would seem to dive into a separate, yet totally related issue… one of equal opportunity versus equal outcome.

    We are told so often that the single reason why so many of the poor don’t do well is because they’re not given the opportunity. Referring to Palin as a failing parent would seem to allow that things other then equal opportunity are more important, since Palin would seem to have had more resources at her disposal.

    Funny how that’s only valid in Palin’s case, and not so much in the case of (Insert favorite downtrodden subgrouping here).

  14. anjin-san says:

    We are told so often that the single reason why so many of the poor don’t do well is because they’re not given the opportunity.

    Well there is a nice huge generalization for you. Guess that sort of thing is cool when you do it, just bad when people who’s views differ from yours.

    Who does “we” refer to bit? Who is doing the telling? Just some nebulous evil leftists? If you don’t agree, why don’t you just ignore that message, quite whining and move on?

    I don’t have any idea if Palin is a good parent or not. But things certainly go wrong, sometimes very wrong, in the best of families as well as the worst. I am inclined to give Gov. Palin the benefit of the doubt. I do wish she would be a little less preachy on how others should run their lives.

  15. dutchmarbel says:

    Since we don’t know at what age the various kids became sexually active all we can say for certain is that Bristol Palin and her boyfriend didn’t have proper anticonception methods. Wether that is an issue to judge parenting skills on is up to you of course, but since I read that 48% of the pregnancies in the USA is unintended I surely hope it isn’t.

    I also think it weird that the parenting skills of the mothers is judged by how their kids turn out without saying anything about the fathers.

    James; wether Katie runs to you or to your wife depends totally on what the both of you want. My husband is a very involved father and even though he works 4 days and I am a sahm our three boys are as likely to run to him as to me when they hurt. And though I think I am a good mum I think that he would be better at running a daycare center because he likes small kids better than I do. It is not the giving birth or the fathering a child that makes someone a good parent. Nor does becoming a parent make someone autimatically fit for running a daycare center.

    They wouldn’t have the same poll with for instance Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, Barak Obama and John McCain though all of them were fathers.

  16. Joe says:

    Henry Cisneros

    Charlie Rangel

    Jim McGreevy

  17. Bithead says:

    Well there is a nice huge generalization for you. Guess that sort of thing is cool when you do it, just bad when people who’s views differ from yours.

    Who does “we” refer to bit? Who is doing the telling?

    So, ‘Equal Opportunity’ is no longer the end all and be-all Anjin? Please, spare us the competitive dancing, huh?

  18. Bithead says:

    They wouldn’t have the same poll with for instance Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, Barak Obama and John McCain though all of them were fathers.

    Very true, Dutch. Telling, that.

  19. anjin-san says:

    So, ‘Equal Opportunity’ is no longer the end all and be-all Anjin?

    What are you carrying on about? Here on planet earth, equal opportunity is a nice concept, but that is all it is.

    Should we work to make our society more equitable? Of course. Will we ever get there? Probably not. Its something worth striving for, but hardly the center of the Democratic political universe.

    To say it is some sort of “be all end all” is just a regurgitation of right wing radio talking points. Do try harder.

  20. Our ideals are like the stars, we cannot reach them but they are an excellent aid in steering our course.

    I know it must get tiresome to read but since some still haven’t grasped the concept, the perfect is the enemy of the good. I prefer freedom and striving tomake our society more free with all the good and bad that entails than all efforts to make society more equitable, whatever the hell that means, especially since it usually is driven by some sort of class envy that demands someone can’t have something unless everyone can have it.

  21. anjin-san says:

    it usually is driven by some sort of class envy that demands someone can’t have something unless everyone can have it.

    What a load of crap. Not surprising though, it is a typical fallback for the right when they cannot address this issue intelligently. Our friend bithead uses it frequently.

    I don’t have any big class issues, I was pretty much born into the winners circle and grew up in one of the wealthiest communities in the country. I would like to see people who did not get all the breaks I did have a shot too. “Class envy” does not figure into it.

  22. Bithead says:

    What a load of crap

    It is that. But it’s been what the Democrats have been running on for the last few generations.

    Amazing, though, that you seem to be running against it.

  23. just me says:

    Well I think the direction of this thread sort of proves the point.

    Here we sit judging the quality of a person’s mothering based on the choices her children make. The reality is that as kids get older they sometimes make choices that come with long term consequences, how they deal with those choices is far more important.

    I know three very fine upstanding adult women who all got pregnant in their teens. They all three had very good mothers-one of these ladies was like a grandmother to me, and I would trust her to watch my children without thinking about it.

    Each of those women married the fathers of their children and all have been married 15 or more years.

    Teenagers sometimes get pregnant. Teenagers of some very good parents and very good people sometimes get pregnant. Sometimes birth control fails (I happen to be the mom of two very wonderful children that were conceived while I was taking birth control pills).

    As parents we all have our desires for our children and the order we would like them to do things in-but kids have minds of their own and sometimes don’t follow that path. I don’t think it is some failure on the part of the parents-at least not always.

    I also think dutchmarbel made a very good point. While we sit in judgement on the women and judge their worthiness as parents, why aren’t we discussing the worthiness of their fathers or the fathers of other politicians children?

    Obama has been all but an absent father while running for office the last two years. While he served in the senate his two girls lived in Chicago. If his daughters eventually have public problems is it Michelle’s fault or Barak’s? Is there a way to tell? Should we be assigning fault?

  24. hln says:

    I pick…no day care. We’ll keep them at home.

    Nice to be able to say that. If more of us did, the country would be better off.

    hln

  25. anjin-san says:

    Amazing, though, that you seem to be running against it

    Ummm, yea. Its called “thinking for yourself”.

  26. anjin-san says:

    You know bit, you are really quite the ideologue. You remind me of that Andrei Gromyko dude.

    It is that. But it’s been what the Democrats have been running on for the last few generations.

    As opposed to the crap the GOP runs on. Crap is a major driver in politics…

  27. Bithead says:

    Ummm, yea. Its called “thinking for yourself”.

    Well, that’s what’s so very amazing about it. You do it so seldom as to belie having the ability.

  28. anjin-san says:

    Well, that’s what’s so very amazing about it. You do it so seldom as to belie having the ability.

    Thats your comeback? LOL, thanks, its been a rough week and I needed a laugh.

  29. sam says:

    Steve Benen of all people,wrote a post yesterday which had me reaming him a new one at my place.

    One of the guys that writes at my place, DavidL

    You got your ad rates posted someplace, JJ?

  30. Bithead says:

    I think James understands that if upping the hitcounts alone were the issue, I’d have dropped a link to my place in the post.

  31. anjin-san says:

    Bitsy, could not help noticing the ad for “free government grants you don’t have to pay back” over at “your place”.

    Advertising government giveaways on your site? I always suspected you were not about making anything but noise. Thanks for the confirmation.

  32. Bithead says:

    Ya know, if you had a bloody clue about how Google ads work… or anything else, for that matter, I’d be pissed.

    As it is, I’m merely amused as one would be watching a slapstick reel.

    Suffice it to say, I don’t directly control what ads run.