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.