Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Palin and Projection

It's been instructive--though rather sad--to read commentary from all sorts of people about Sarah Palin, her family, the situation involving her eldest daughter, and how all of that relates (or doesn't) to the vice presidency.

It's also been instructive to see the various media reports on the Sarah Palin pick, especially with all of the discussion about her family obligations and Bristol's pregnancy. As the Curt Jester has wittily pointed out in his media guide on the matter:

President Clinton committing adultery and having sex with an intern - Media says move along.

Presidential Candidate John Edwards committing adultery while his wife has cancer - Media says move along.

Sarah Palin's 17 year old daughter committing fornication and keeping the baby - Media says what a moral outrage and front page story!

And to add to the Curt Jester's point, I'd just like to mention that according to data posted online, Bristol will turn 18 in October; I don't know if that's accurate or not. But if it is, then Bristol Palin is only about four years younger than Monica Lewinsky was when she was "involved" with Bill Clinton. Just something to think about.

To get back to my point, though: the reactions to this whole matter are all over the place.

This New York Times article--one of no less than three on Palin they've posted today--is particularly illustrative:

But since then, as mothers across the country supervise the season’s final water fights and pack book bags, some have voiced the kind of doubts that few male pundits have dared raise on television. With five children, including an infant with Down syndrome and, as the country learned Monday, a pregnant 17-year-old, Ms. Palin has set off a fierce argument among women about whether there are enough hours in the day for her to take on the vice presidency, and whether she is right to try.

It’s the Mommy Wars: Special Campaign Edition. But this time the battle lines are drawn inside out, with social conservatives, usually staunch advocates for stay-at-home motherhood, mostly defending her, while some others, including plenty of working mothers, worry that she is taking on too much. [...]

In interviews, many women, citing their own difficulties with less demanding jobs, said it would be impossible for Ms. Palin to succeed both at motherhood and in the nation’s second-highest elected position at once.

“You can juggle a BlackBerry and a breast pump in a lot of jobs, but not in the vice presidency,” said Christina Henry de Tessan, a mother of two in Portland, Ore., who supports Mr. Obama. [...]

“People who don’t have children or who have only one or two are kind of overwhelmed at the notion of five children,” Ms. Schlafly continued, mentioning that she had raised six children and run for Congress as well. “I think a hard-working, well-organized C.E.O. type can handle it very well.”

All of this is interesting, to me, because I think that women in general have a fairly high tendency to engage in the psychological phenomenon known as projection, especially when the subject under discussion involves another woman.

Projection, of course, involves seeing one's own faults, problems, negative emotions, challenges etc. reflected in other people whether there's objective evidence to see those things or not. A couple of classic examples would be a dishonest person believing that everyone else is trying to lie to him, or a thief being overly concerned about his property. But for women, I think, the tendency to empathize and identify with other women makes the temptation to engage in projection--and the inability, sometimes, to realize we're doing it--a rather subtle thing.

So the mother of two quoted by the New York Times can't imagine anybody being the vice president while juggling a breast pump (never mind that as governor Sarah Palin has been in the habit of taking the baby to work with her; and it's not a new habit, because she reportedly took Piper to work with her when Piper was an infant, too). Meanwhile Phyllis Schlafly, quoted in the last quote above, thinks that an organized mom can raise five (or six) children while being active in politics, because this is what Phyllis Schlafly did herself.

And any examination of the comments on various sites that are discussing this matter reveals more of the same. A woman whose Down syndrome baby has been colicky and fragile fumes that no one should ever work while trying to raise a Down syndrome baby--but I knew a woman who continued her work as a college professor and mother of many after their youngest baby, a Down syndrome baby, was born. And that baby is now a lovely young woman, so clearly it's not a definite rule that mothers of Down syndrome babies can't work and care for their infants too, is it?

Another woman insisted that it's not fair to ask Bristol and Willow to help out with little Trig--he's not their baby, after all, and moms shouldn't use older siblings as unpaid help. But I loved helping take care of my younger siblings, especially one curly-headed moppet of a baby sister who absolutely adored being taken for walks or given baths by her big sisters; and another woman wrote bemusedly that her youngest of many probably hadn't had his feet touch the ground yet, and that she had to fight her older children for the privilege of some baby-cuddling time. So it's not a definite rule that older siblings feel imposed upon and badly treated by being asked to help with the little one (and as it turns out, Bristol will benefit from the experience as she prepares to welcome and care for her own baby).

Still others claim that the only proper response to a seventeen-year-old's pregnancy would have been for Sarah Palin to drop out of public life altogether to protect her daughter, or that the fact that Bristol is pregnant just proves that the Palin family is out of control and heading for disaster, or that Sarah Palin must be a cold and unfeeling mom to expose her daughter to the nation. I don't know quite what experiences or bad situations other people have endured, but I'm sure that some people have experienced these sorts of situations, and perhaps they wish things had been handled differently in their own cases--but what exactly that says about the decisions the Palin family have made and are making is unclear.

Some of us look at Sarah Palin and see a fairly ordinary woman--perhaps a bit stronger or more "rugged" than some of us are, but still a woman who wants good things for her family, who hopes to help her country, and who is confident that she can do both. Maybe that's a kind of projection, too, but it's a pretty positive one.

For the rest, though, I wonder how many have asked themselves this question: do I think Sarah Palin shouldn't be vice president simply because I know I, personally, couldn't handle the job given her circumstances?


Anonymous said...

Great piece, Erin! I too noticed how the NYTimes is gorging on this controversy over Sarah Palin, who is a very classy, very strong, fascinating woman. What never gets mentioned is how good her marriage seems to be. I think there is no end to what a woman can accomplish when she's married to a man who fully supports her independence, which is possible when both are deeply and fully committed to family life. I am married to an amazing man--my St. Joseph--and we make it possible for each of us to fulfill our vocation to marriage and family life, while making our way through the world.

Alexandra said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alexandra said...

“I think a hard-working, well-organized C.E.O. type can handle it very well.”

There you go. Women are people with different strengths and personalities. I know I couldn't do it, but that doesn't mean I don't believe there are women who can - woman with more energy and drive. My sister is one of them - a mother of two and a corporate office banker, and so was my grandmother, a family physician and then later in life a psychiatrist.

Along these lines I think many women are cut out for having and organizing large families, whereas some of us have weaker constitutions and are limited in coping skills, both physically and emotionally. I know God gave me exactly what I could handle.

Hannah said...

I stand by my initial feelings about Palin: she should never have exposed her daughter to this kind of media attention.

Everyone is praising her daughter for her intention to marry the baby's father. It's become a major point of pride and admiration among many voters. But what if it becomes clear in the near future that they should NOT marry? -- say, what if he reveals himself to be abusive? (not saying he IS, just saying whatif). How does the poor girl make an honest decision that is best for her and the family when her personal decision has become the object of such adulation, and is a big part of her mother's appeal among voters? That poor girl has become completely caught in the politics of this election.

One of the McCain staffers that was being interviewed at the convention tonight kept telling Gwen Ifill that Bristol's pregnancy was "a private family matter." He didn't seem to see the irony of his statement: the pregnancy ceased to be a private family matter the minute Palin accepted the nomination. Now, it's news all over the world.

I just can't imagine doing that to my kid. Thank God I did not have a mother who would do that to me.

Red Cardigan said...

Hannah, all due respect, but Bristol Palin's decision to engage in reproductive activity while her mother was the Governor of Alaska pretty much guaranteed that her subsequent pregnancy was going to be a media sensation. This young lady is almost 18 years old and presumably old enough to understand that actions have consequences.

Now, we could argue that the attention paid to the pregnancy of a rising-star GOP governor's daughter would be a little less than it is now that Sarah is the VP candidate, but in no case was this going to be a quiet, hushed matter. Further, in this day and age an unwed pregnancy is news even if the Palins had simply been PTA leaders in Wassilla, because the old days of sending the child away "to school" or "to help Grandma" and trying to hide the whole thing are pretty much over.

The media has behaved reprehensibly over this, focusing far too much attention on the young lady--but again, that's not her mother's fault.

Hannah said...

Sorry, but I have to disagree. It IS her mother's decision that made the pregnancy national/international news.

Yes, it would have come out if Palin were just governor. But if she were not the VP candidate, would it be in the New York Times? Reported on BBC News? Discussed on national blogs and radio talk shows? On the radar of people outside the U.S. who are following this election with keen interest? (and I know from friends abroad that there are a great many of them who are). Headlines in Alaska just can't compare to the spotlight the girl is in now.