When a woman attempts to find some semblance of “having it all,” she automatically becomes demonized. We can’t seem to rise up in the ranks — whether it’s in the corporate world or in politics — without our personal lives, particularly our mothering skills, being called into question.
The latest female politician in the hot seat is Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, who is running for governor on the Democratic ticket. She has recently been skewered (again) for having been both a young mother and a single mother. The focus circumventing her actual politics (like her support for women’s reproductive rights) and instead revolve around how she is as a mother. A reporter for Fusion even asked Davis to respond to a blog post by Sarah Palin’s daughter Bristol Palin — seriously, her — that called Davis a woman “whose ambition and ego were so big she couldn’t have both a career and kids at the same time.” Both Jessica Luther and Carolyn Edgar wrote insightful pieces this week explaining why these allegations are egregious, erroneous, and just plain clueless.
I could spend hours picking apart what is wrong about these attacks. Instead, I’d like to note that we hardly ever see male politicians skewered for their parenting. We look past that aspect of their personal lives — for the most part, barring a mistress or financial scandal — and focus on their politics. A male politician who is also a father gets to be, first and foremost, a male politician. But a female politician who is also a mother? It’s completely different.
For shame. These men have no idea what they’re missing, having their fathering dragged through the mud like it impacts their voting records and ability to hold office. Can you imagine what it would look like if the media decided to subject male politicians to the same media spin Wendy Davis has recently been treated too?
Rick Santorum: Republican candidate Rick Santorum, hit the campaign trail in 2012, despite the fact that his young daughter, Bella, was sick, struggling with a genetic condition. At times, he suspended his campaign for a couple of days while she was hospitalized, but ultimately, returned back to his bid for the presidency despite his daughter’s illness. Can you imagine if Santorum had been a woman politician leaving a sick child’s bedside to gladhand voters?
How the headlines would have read: ”No Heart For This Presidential Hopeful.” “Rick Santorum Fails As A Father.” “Santorum Leaves Gravely Ill Daughter In Care Of Mom Already Caring For Six Other Kids.”
Mark Pryor: Democrat Mark Pryor is currently running for re-election for a 3rd term to represent the state of Arkansas in the Senate. But since the last election, Pryor and his wife Jill have divorced.
How the headlines would have read: ”Single Father Mark Pryor Hopes Arkansas Families Overlook His Recent Divorce In Time For Upcoming Election.” “Pryor Is Now An Unmarried Father Of Two — How Will This Impact His Ability To Focus On His Campaign?”
Jeff Flake, Mike Crapo, Chuck Grassley, Angus King (and more, I’m sure): All of these men, a mix of Republicans, Democrats and even an Independant thrown in for good measure, have a minimum of five children – all while holding down positions as US Senators!
How the headlines would have read: ”How Do They Do It?” “Stretched Too Thin?” “Having It All With Growing Broods At Home.” “Five Times The Children Equals Five Times The Commitments — How Do They Do It?” “Is It All A Big Facade?”
John McCain: An oldie, but a goodie. Have we all forgotten about his affair-filled first marriage, subsequent divorce, and remarriage to beer heiress Cindy Lou Hensley (now Cindy McCain)?
How the headlines would have read: ”McCain Marries Into Money.” “John McCain Goes For The Gold After Leaving First Wife.”
There’s ample fodder in these male politicians’ personal lives for many a tabloid headline. But unfortunately, his sort of judgment is reserved solely for female politicians and political hopefuls. As Wendy Davis has shown, not only must female candidates promote and defend their political views, these women also y have to respond to criticism about their parenting and their married lives in ways that would never be thrown at men.
Even a former Republican ally of Davis’ on the Forth Worth City Council thinks the viciousness against the candidate is gendered, sexist and offensive. “If this involved a man running for office,” former city councilwoman Becky Haskins said, “none of this would ever come up.”
Avital Norman Nathman blogs for The Mamafesto. Her anthology, The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood To Fit Reality, is out now. Follow her on Twitter.