In the News
“No Family” Therefore “No Life”?
Sexism over an open mic (when will they learn?)
-Mary Dixie Carter
Some trouble-making sound techies out there are up to no good again! We have yet another private conversation overheard on an open microphone in what has turned into a veritable epidemic. When will these people learn? First it was Jesse Jackson sniping at Obama. Then it was Peggy Noonan and Mike Murphy suggesting that Sarah Palin was the death knell for McCain’s ticket. And now, we have Ed Rendell discussing Obama’s appointment of Janet Napolitano as Secretary of Homeland Security. “Janet’s perfect for that job. Because for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19-20 hours a day to it.”
Commentators like CNN’s Campbell Brown are finding fault, and with good reason. Whatever Rendell intended, it’s a serious diss to describe someone as having “no life.” And the reason Napolitano has no life, according to Rendell, is that she has no family. Would the same comment be made about a man? Do single men have “no life”? It’s certainly not as noteworthy. Single or married, that fact alone wouldn’t signal a man’s level of commitment to his work. No one wonders how an ambitious man can focus on his job 24-7. For example, we don’t worry about whether Obama has a life because we know Michelle will take care of the kids, as she did during his campaign.
The same vicious circle has been analyzed to death, but it still dogs us. It’s socially acceptable for a man to be an absent workaholic father, because we picture that someone’s picking up the slack. Absent workaholic mothers are considered bad parents, because we guess that no one’s picking up the slack. (Take Sarah Palin and the questions about whether she’d have time to focus on VP with all her kids and the baby.) Whether they are workaholics or not, employers probably assume that mothers will constantly feel torn, fretting over the children, even when they’re at work. And, a lot of the time, those employers would be right. Mothers are fretting over the children, because if they don’t, no one will. Their husbands can and do compartmentalize. Fathers believe, in the back of their minds, it’ll all be OK. She’s taking care of it.
Obviously, many women want to be the emotional center of their child’s life. They wouldn’t have it any other way, and they’re willing for their career to take a back seat. However, self-perpetuating norms hamper working women, with kids or without, who aim to achieve at the highest level. Governor Rendell is not alone in assuming that a woman without a guy, like Governor Napolitano, has “no life,” (whether or not she’s scaled Mount Kilimanjaro and the Himalayas), and that it’s only those women without a family who can make it to the top. By his comments he was insulting Governor Napolitano as well as competent, hard-working women who have chosen a different lifestyle.