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!
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?