Salena Zito

ST. PAUL-The one thing that Democrats, Republicans and analysts agreed on regarding Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin was that the double standards on parenting directed toward her crossed all kinds of lines.

“I think it is highly sexist to suggest that Sarah Palin cannot be a good mom and run for office,” said Kate Michelman, an adviser to Democrat Barack Obama.

Michelman, a premier advocate of abortion rights, faced a different form of sexism during the run-up to the Democrats’ primaries: MSNBC hardballer Chris Matthews asserted that she had “abandoned her commitment to the women’s movement” by backing Obama instead of Hillary Clinton.

So much for the glass ceiling being broken.

“Sexism is all over the place,” said Purdue political science professor Bert Rockman. “It’s assumed that the mom will do everything at home and maybe work 60 hours a week, too. But if things go wrong, it’s her fault, not dad’s.”

Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate, says what he heard and saw while attending last week’s GOP convention here was “sexism from the media in the worst way.” He reinforced a point that Michelman and Rockman both said: “Nobody has ever asked a male candidate running for office whether it was inappropriate for him to run for office while he had children.”

If that infamous glass ceiling has been shattered, Michelman, Rockman and Huckabee all say they’ve seen no evidence of it.

“Sorry to say, but we have a long way to go towards gender equity,” Rockman added. “Were Hillary not already a major public figure and the wife of a popular former president, would she have been able to put the money together to forge a competitive campaign? I doubt it.”

Like it or not, sexism -- like racism and ageism -- is part of our culture. But it exists on an entirely different plane; much of it is based on how American society conducts its daily life.

Americans work longer hours than just about anyone else in the world and, without any established child-care system in place, that becomes a private expense. In countries where women routinely share power or even constitute a majority of the political elite, far more time off is allowed and day care for children is provided.

In some places (Sweden and Norway, for example), fathers as well as mothers take turns leading neighborhood play groups for children.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.