Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Is "Mother Blame" Behind Palin Criticism?"

It's striking that many women are criticizing Sarah Palin for being a "bad mother" by virtue of her decision to run for Vice President. Some of my women friends don't like Palin because they think that somehow she is putting her own needs ahead of that of her children. They say she shouldn't be pursuing the job of VP with a special-needs child at home, or because she should not be putting the spotlight on her pregnant 17-year=old daughter, or just that the needs of her five children are just too great for her to be in such a high-profile, demanding job.

This criticism of Palin for "bad mothering" by other women explains the recent CNN poll which shows that Palin is more popular with men than women.

I just read a post of mine from July 30, 2007, and it's relevant to how Palin is unfairly being maligned by many as a "bad mother," at the same time that her maternality is a major part of her image and appeal to others:

Here's what I wrote in July 2007: " what do we make of today's New York Times article about the stellar Chelsea Clinton who is always poised, always in control, always setting a good example: a complete opposite to the generational example set by Lohan, Hilton et al. No where in the front page news story is there any praise for Hillary Clinton for being an excellent mother. Here is a young woman who has turned out remarkably well given the unusual and public upbringing she has had. . ."

"Another recent New York Times article "Sometimes a Mother Can Do No Right," focused on how it's Lindsay Lohan's mother, a single mother of four, who is targeted as the cause of Lindsay's bad behavior, same in the case of Britney Spears."

"In that [New York Times] article, Susan J. Douglas, author of The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women, said, 'We have a long history in this culture of mother blame. Media images of the 'bad mother' serve to police all mothers,' said Professor Douglas. 'We still have a virgin-whore binary in American pop culture, and this governs motherhood as well,' Professor Douglas said."

“'It’s supposed to be a mother’s job to train her daughter into how to domesticate her various desires,' [Douglas] said. 'If we see a young woman who hasn’t done that, the mother has failed her tutorial.'”

That media image of the "bad mother" that Professor Douglas talks about is what was behind this week's US Magazine cover, with its "Scandal and Lies" headline writ-large under a photo of a beaming Palin holding her infant son Trig.

It's this "virgin-whote" binary that explains why Palin clutched baby Trig to her chest after finishing her convention speech. It's an attempt, a successful one, of trying to appear more like the maternal Virgin Mary than the mother who allowed her daughter to have premarital sex.

As I wrote in July 2007 on my blog, "We're not going to see . . a detailed comparison or examination of the candidates' children, because the media does not judge a male politician by his children in the same way that it judges a woman. The media does not care to examine how the child turns out in order to infer whether the male politician was a good father or not, because as a society we have lower standards for how responsible a father is for a child's day-to-day care. So it's merely enough that the man has 2.5 children and a loyal wife at his side; their mere existence is proof that he is a good enough father, it doesn't matter whether that child has turned into a productive, independent, functioning adult."

But women are prepared to attack Palin for how they perceive her as a mother, for her decision to pursue the VP position while having a special-needs baby, and a 17-year-old daughter who is pregnant--two criticisms I have heard vocalized by many of my women friends. Women are willing to attack Palin on the grounds of her mothering in a way that they have never judged a male politician. We have different standards for what we expect of our leaders as mothers and as fathers, and we, as women, are our own worst critics.

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