This is a flat-out great moment.
Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell was caught on an open mic saying of Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, with regard to her nomination to head 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." And Campbell Brown, herself a woman with a demanding career who is currently pregnant with her second child, was not pleased.
[Full transcript below.]
While an observation like "We all know the assumption tends to be that with a man, there is almost always a wife in the wings managing those family concerns" is pretty tame stuff around Shakesville, Duh of the Day territory, it's actually fairly amazing to hear remarks like that on the cable news, the natural habitat of misogybags like Chris Matthews who consider it appropriate to, for example, call a female president a "she-devil" and decorate her image with devil horns.
When I was first applying for jobs out of college, it was repeatedly recommended to me that I not wear any rings on my left index finger, lest a potential employer think I was engaged or married and ergo "close to having a family." That was only 12 years ago. When I was working at an advertising firm, I was asked flat-out by the owner if I planned to have children anytime soon, because he wasn't going to bother promoting me if I was. That was only 6 years ago. There's a sense that we're well beyond this stuff, that we left the biases back in Rosie the Riveter's dust. We haven't.
Good on Campbell Brown for using her big platform for a little teaspooning.
Btw, on a side note, I will never cease to find it interesting that a woman whose life is (by all appearances) solely her own is accused of having no life at all, while the woman whose life is most lived in the service to others is said to have the richest life. Funny how that works.
It would be great if someday we could live in a world where a woman's value wasn't predicated exclusively on what she invests in others and denies herself.
(Consider that in the context of Rebellyon...)
How many times have politicians been warned about the dangers of an open microphone? And yet, on Tuesday, the lectern mic at the National Governors Conference picked up this little nugget from Pennsylvania's Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell.
He's having a conversation near the lectern about President-elect Barack Obama's choice for to lead the Homeland Security Department, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano. Here is what Rendell said about Napolitano:
Rendell: 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.
Wow. Now, I'm sure Gov. Napolitano has many qualifications for the job beyond having no family, and therefore the ability to devote 20 hours a day to the job.
But it is fascinating to me that that is the quality being highlighted here as so perfect. C'mon. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is married with two grown children. His predecessor, Tom Ridge, had a family. Anybody remember a debate about whether they would have trouble balancing the demands of work and family?
Now, I am a fan of Gov. Rendell. He has been on this show many times. I like him for his candor. In our attempts to cut through the bull, he delivers far less bull than most politicians. But it is his frankness here that raises so many questions.
1. If a man had been Obama's choice for the job, would having a family or not having a family ever even have been an issue? Would it have ever prompted a comment? Probably not. We all know the assumption tends to be that with a man, there is almost always a wife in the wings managing those family concerns.
2. As a woman, hearing this, it is hard not to wonder if we are counted out for certain jobs, certain opportunities, because we do have a family or because we are in our child-bearing years. Are we? It is a fair question.
3. If you are a childless, single woman with suspicions that you get stuck working holidays, weekends and the more burdensome shifts more often than your colleagues with families, are those suspicions well-founded? Probably so. Is there an assumption that if you're family-free then you have no life? By some, yes.
Again Gov. Rendell, I don't mean to rake you over the coals. I know what you meant to say. But your comments do perpetuate stereotypes that put us in boxes, both mothers and single women.
In government and beyond, men have been given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to striking the right work-life balance. Women are owed the same consideration.