Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Must "Vote for Mom" = soft and domestic?

The New York Times political memo stating Women Feeling Freer to Suggest 'Vote for Mom' sets up the age-old stereotype of domestic softie vs. qualified leader.

"For a long time women seeking high office, particularly executive office, were advised to play down their softer, domestic side, and play up their strength and qualifications. Focus groups often found voters questioning whether women were strong enough, tough enough, to lead."

The Times suggests that the latest generation of voters is able to overcome reluctance about electing women, but I still feel that the piece reinforces the limited notion of motherhood as a sentimental, soft cushion of domesticity.

The American Prospect Online goes all out to bash female politicians for using motherhood as a qualification for leadership in The Mommy Mantra: What female politicians lose when they brand themselves as mothers.

Dana Goldstein criticizes Hillary Clinton's appearance on The View by saying, "It was a new articulation of the mommy mantra -- the idea that what qualifies women for politics isn't their intelligence, their experience, their policy proposals, or even their character, but rather their inherent identities as feminine caretakers."

I realize that when we try to bring motherhood into the political sphere, we are going up against age-old gender roles and stereotypes such as the Victorian "Angel in the House." But let's not be content to stop there. Let's insist on rewriting these images. I believe that the experience of motherhood is valid life and leadership experience that will inform public policy, that shapes character, in a very legitimate way.

I want leaders who have done the down and dirty work of family management and caretaking. Not studied as a white paper, but lived with all the complexity of family life, budgeting, and prioritizing. I would argue for a much higher diversity of experience in our government. What do we lose if our representation is overwhelmingly drawn from the legal profession? What would we gain if we had more doctors, farmers, teachers, nonprofit leaders, or pastors who went into public service at some point in their lives. And yes, MOTHERS, fathers, and primary caretakers.

Even if it's an urban legend that former President George H. W. Bush was amazed when he was shown a supermarket scanner in 1988, you can be sure it's been a long time, if ever, that any of our Presidents have bought their own groceries and cooked a meal. I would love to see more leaders emerge from families who have had to stretch to buy enough groceries to last until the next paycheck, to navigate the maze of insurance carriers in a health crisis. Military families who have children serving in the armed forces. Families for whom the stakes are high.

Nancy Pelosi has raised five children. She entered Congress in 1987 when her youngest was a teenager. So even though it's been a few years since she's run a household, and even though she was from a financially secure family, I believe her experiences as a mother inform her leadership in a profound way.

Motherhood is a sentimental idea in our culture, but it is not a sentimental day-to-day existence. The Women Hold Up Half the Sky image in this blog posting is from the page of facts about Women at Risk, from the Rehydration Project. The illustration of a day's work for most poor women is an important reminder of the resources that most American women have access to.

For me, motherhood has been the most politicizing force in my life, as I wrote about recently on Literary Mama and the final chapter of Mojo Mom. This issue also recalls for me the first blog posting I ever wrote, What Does A Mojo Mom Look Like? back in September 2003 that described my search for an image that would illustrate the new concept of a Mojo Mom.

In my world of ideas, VOTE FOR MOM can = "Vote for experience, intelligence, power, and competence." We just need the right translator.

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Blogger Holly said...

Yes, let’s rewrite the image of motherhood in the political sphere because the experience has the capacity to shape a whole new political paradigm and we desperately, desperately need that. NOW. Unfortunately we cannot look toward Hillary Clinton for help with the manual. She may have shown the kind of values one would expect from a mother when she worked for healthcare reform but she is assuredly not showing those values in her stance toward U.S. military involvement in the Middle East. She voted to support the invasion of Iraq and while it would be nice to say she made a mistake she won’t repeat, her hawkish words regarding the possibility of military engagement with Iran are truly frightening.

I’m glad you mention diversity of experience because I suspect we already have a new image in the political sphere, one that embraces the kind of moral rectitude some parents find within themselves whether they be a mother or a father. Some of the most “mothering” figures I know in the political sphere are men—Dennis Kucinich, Jim McDermott, Ralph Nader. Just yesterday a representative from my state of Washington, Eric Oemig, sponsored a resolution in the state House to impeach President Bush. If passed, it will go onto the U.S. Congress as a privileged item. Oemig said he was moved to act because of his one-year-old son. He wants to be able to look his son in the eye someday and tell him he tried to do something to right the course of our country.

As mothers we must guard against the kind of dichotomous thinking that prevents real dialogue and change. Our society is riddled with these concepts—America vs. the terrorists, Democrats vs. Republicans, men vs. women. If we really hold true to the qualities we need to raise our children well, we will ask, “what binds us together?”

Holly Borba

1:28 AM  

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