Tag Archives: gender

Gender and Politics

One point I share with parents on all the time, (and I got this insight from the great Rick LaVoie), is to NEVER confuse Fair and Equal.  From Merriam Webster:

Equal: 1 a (1): of the same measure, quantity, amount, or number as another

Fair has many more defintions, but the important ones here are:

Fair: 5: ample <a fair estate

6 a: marked by impartiality and honesty : free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism <a very fair person to do business with> b (1): conforming with the established rules : allowed (2): consonant with merit or importance : due <a fair share>

Simply put, Equal means everyone gets the same, and Fair means everyone should get what the need or deserve.  Things canbe both fair and equal, but frequently they can be either/or, not both, simultaneously.

When we talk about things like gender, we are talking about something that naturally divides people into two categories.  It’s something we can’t do anything about.  Is that fair? Yup.  Is it equal?  No.

Women always have a different part to play in life, because they are capable and frequently do have children.  We can’t outrun or circumvent biology.  As a result, women have certain issues men will never have- Do I get adequate pregnancy leave at work?  If I want to nurse my baby, how do I do that and meet all the requirements they have for me at work?  If I have an unplanned pregnancy, what decision will I make?  All of these decisions are inherent to being a woman.  It doesn’t mean men can’t have feelings or opinions about them, but in the end, the person who is carrying the child has to take responsibility for it.

Notice how we always know who the mother of a baby is, but the paternity can be called into question. It goes like this- one person comes into the hospital, two people come out.  We know for sure who the mother is.  Basic biology.   This is another issue, unique to women.  There aren’t a whole lot of Maternity Suits out there, searching for the unknown mother of a child, to hold them fiscally liable for the child’s expenses.  That would be silly, and unnecessary, since we “register” each new baby by issuing a State birth certificate and now even a social security number, before the baby leaves the hospital.  Except in rare cases of home births and child abandonment, we always know who the Mom is.

So How Does This Gender Difference Affect Politics? Should it?

When women have struggled for equal pay for doing the same job, that is an argument that is about both Fair and Equal.  If both people have the same experience -exactly-, the same education, and the same job, and are performing it equally well, they should be paid the same wage.   Fair and Equal.  If the woman is out of the office more because she has a baby,  her kids are sick, or she is caring for elderly parents, or whatever reason- should this be reflected in her job?  Her job review?

Many working moms watch their sick days and vacation days like a hawk, because they know, sometime during the year, a kid is going to get sick- hopefully not with anything that is like chicken pox, requiring a week or so out of school and thus out of work as well-and if they exceed the maximum number of days they can use, they risk being fired.  Taking a day off to attend a school play or teacher’s meeting?  Great- but you pay for that down the line without a vacation day left for when the child gets sick, you get sick yourself, or you actually want to get away and have a vacation.

Sure, working dads have the same issues.  But in most families, the reality is that when a child is sick or there is an issue at school, 90% of the time it’s the mom who goes in and takes care of the problem.  That may not be equal, and it may not be fair, but it is reality.

Even my husband, a physician, has avoided taking off more than a few hours when we’ve needed him at school meetings, or I have been out of town on business.  It doesn’t ever occur to him to take a sick day or a vacation day-in fact, he’ll sooner have a relative come and help with the kids if I am out of town for an extended period than take a week off of work and use vacation time for child care duties.  And I am perfectly okay with that, and don’t feel it’s a sexist issue at all- I look at it as triaging the situation, and know his patients need him, and this is a high enough need that taking a day off  “because he feels like it” is not part of his nature.    Patients come first.   I get that, and that is part of our family contract, so to speak.  (And I hope all of you out there appreciate that too- you do, and should, come first to your health care provider, often before his own family.)

I doubt this is unusual in most families, even those without wage earners with “important” life or death kind of jobs.  We can argue fairness, equality, and sexism, but reality is  this is the way the world works, liberal or conservative.  Women have a larger share of child care issues, in part because she is the mom, period.  Dads participate and it’s wonderful, but few dads are the sole and primary caretakers of their kids.  Reality, not sexism.

And this means, as a result of my gender, as a result of being a Mom, I see what happens at our local schools more than my husband.  I know the Teachers and Administrators.  I know my child’s physicians. I also know the other parents, my kid’s friends and their parents, and I am the social hub of the family as a result.  Education is a big political issue, and while we all want a good education for our kids, I would imagine most Moms have a better sense of what is happening in the school than Dads, at least 8 out of every 10 times.

There are very few dads on most PTA and PTO committees.  Dads may sit on the school board, but few are out there baking cookies for bake sales and setting up the book fair, independently of their spouse.  Just the facts- gender plays a role, but it doesn’t make it a sex discrimination or sexist issue.

Gender in the Election

When I hear people complaining that Sarah Palin is being treated differently than a man, I answer- “You Bet!  Because she is a woman!  And that is perfectly normal and ok!”

Being a woman doesn’t make Palin any less of a politician, nor does it make her a better one, either.  It doesn’t make her more or less competent as an executive or administrator.  And her husband could be an example for men all over the Country, on how to have a spouse in national politics, and be a role model for stay at home dads.  That’s fantastic and I applaud this.

But I think we do ourselves a disservice if we say we need to factor out gender from politics; that “we would never say that or ask that question if she were a man”.  If women want to play on an even playing field, then they need to compete on the same playing field as men and be okay with it.  They have to be comfortable with their gender and all the questions- good, bad, indifferent, and even the nasty questions that might be asked.  If male politicians can be hounded and examined for every woman they have ever taken out for dinner, women politicians should undego the same scrutiny and be asked if they ever use their gender for their advantage.

Gender does matter, and I think it’s silly to think it isn’t a factor in the election or in politics.  Of course it is.  Some day, maybe it truly won’t matter.  But it does now.  And we shouldl feel very free to discuss it, without apologizing for doing so.


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Why I Think Hillary May Not Win, and How She Could

Let me preface this post by saying I think of myself as an average suburban mom. I am a democrat, which is unusual in the republican stronghold where I live. I have an ivy-league education, and my own podcast about education issues. I am sure some of my “demographics” put me outside of the main stream, but for the purposes of this post, let’s assume I am average.

I had my doubts about Bill Clinton when he first ran. But he was a great president. Yes, he had a charisma problem- too much and it got him into trouble. He believed his own hype and appeal, and regardless of how you spin in, he took advantage of a young girl and he should have known better. I still don’t think it was any of our business, though.

Bill Clinton always seemed to be speaking from the heart, and found his authentic voice.  Even if the words were written by a speech writer, Bill had a way of making them his own.  He never sounded forced or insincere.  Barack Obama shares this same oratorical gift- the ability to deliver a speech that touches or emotions, not just because of the artful way the words and alliteration are constructed, but because it is pretty clear he believes everything he says.

Hillary Clinton is an amazing woman, who has worked for years for organizations like the Children’s Defense Fund.  She is a public-spirited politician, and I believe she works hard for her constituency.  Her policy positions and those of Barack Obama are almost identical- so why is she having problems on the campaign trail?  For all her strengths, she has one big problem- she uses her “stage” voice and not her own voice when speaking to the crowd.

Hillary has been trying to be one of the guys for so long, to avoid playing the politics of gender, she’s forgotten the advantage she has over all the other candidates- she’s a mom.

The Mom Card 

Hillary is a mom.  She knows what it’s like to hold the hand of a small child, and the joy this brings to your heart.  She’s gotten up in the middle of the night when Chelsea was sick, worried to death, and yet bone tired herself.  She’s changed diapers and been thrown-up on.  It’s not glamourous, but it’s real.  And no Mom who has spent time wondering whether the germs from the sick side of the pediatrician’s office were going to infect her kid, there only for a checkup, (ultimately causing her to lose even more time at work) takes health care for granted.

Granted the Clintons have only one child.  I have said from time to time that Bill Cosby is right- you’re only really a parent when you have two kids, because with one, you always know who did “it” in the house, and the joys of mediating sibling disputes is not something you fully understand.  Yet negotiating bed times with even one child better prepares mothers for negotiating Mid-east peace than most Dads on the planet.  As a friend of mine said in law school- “I knew I could ace my mediation and negotiation final, because I live this every day with my five year old.”

The men in the campaign have succeeded in making Hillary play their game, rather than playing her own, where she makes up and negotiates the rules.  Boys respect their moms, but resent them at times as well.  We hold the ultimate guilt card- we gave them life.  They can’t one-up that one, ever.

So by making Hillary one of the guys, they never let her deal with her most powerful asset- her gender.

Men don’t want to be seen beating up on a woman, even metaphorically. So what the “guys” have managed to do is get Hillary to play their game.  If Hillary wants to win, (and it may be too late) she needs to find her authentic voice, her own voice, and that is a woman’s voice.  She can’t hide the fact that she’s a girl, and she shouldn’t try to.  She needs to be herself.  The lack of speakng from her heart is what has hurt her, nothing else.

Women in Charge, from Morning until Night 

Women do the bulk of the raising of children in this Country- not just in the roles of moms, but in education as well.  For example:

  • At both of my children’s schools, the clear majority of the faculty and staff are women.
  •  The Parent-teacher organizations are full of women, with very few men involved.
  • My sons live in a world where women have been telling them what to do from the moment they get up in the morning, until they go to bed since they were born.  From being woken up by me in the morning, to my pleas of personal hygiene and wishes for sweet dreams at night, I am their clock and drill sargeant.
  • My husband is actively involved with our kids, but the bulk of the “maintenance” work is mine.  From buying them clothes, to getting them dressed and to school on time, to feeding them something that resembles nutrition day to day, to going to bat for them with teachers at school- that’s largely my job.
  • Once at school, another batch of surrogate Moms ensure they learn to read, write and perform academically.  These women help shape my son’s ideas of what women are as much as I do at home.

We try to ignore the fact that women are different and have a different perspective on life, but we do.  We feel vulnerable walking alone at night the way most guys never will.  We tend to be more in touch with our emotions, but that doesn’t make us weak and all “emotional”- it makes us strong, because we understand why people feel and act as they do.  Women are the emotional caretakers in this world, and I worry more about some super-analytical, “get-even”, “mine is bigger than yours” kind of guy in charge of this Country that I worry about an overly emotional woman in charge.

Margaret Thatcher certainly was never a weepy mess- we need to consider that a woman in office in this Country wouldn’t be a push-over, either.  While women may be more in touch with their emotions, we are not stupid because of it.
I honestly think mothers would think more carefully before sending someone else’s child into war.   I think women have an opportunity to bring compassion and reality into politics.  Moms don’t try to make everyone happy- we try to get everyone what they need, not what they want.  We don’t crumble when someone says “That’s not fair”- instead, we say “There is a difference between fair and equal- let me show you what that means.”

Hillary could be amazing if she could stop being afraid of being a woman and a Mom.  Tell the pundits to go stuff it-  She should be proud of who she is, and her experiences as a mom will help make her a great president, if she can only talk about it, rather than hide it.


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