Sexism in the Twin Cities

Salena Zito
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Posted: Sep 07, 2008 12:00 AM
Sexism in the Twin Cities

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.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court, going back to Buckley v. Valeo in 1976, has ruled against restrictions on political campaigning as a violation of First Amendment rights, what it really has done is to say that money rules our politics. So long as that is the case, women will find it difficult to shatter that glass ceiling -- unless they have a spouse who already is networked.

Notice that women are fairly well-represented in the political elite of American states where running for office is fairly inexpensive. The appointment process also works better than the electoral process when the costs of running for office are so high.

Since much of the media is perceived to lean left and to favor Democrats, some people will argue that press negativity toward Palin could be blamed on the Democratic Party.

Both former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge and GOP House Majority Leader Tom DeLay believe that will be a problem for Democrats, even if they did not perpetuate the press coverage.

DeLay's response to the media is, “Bring it on.”

Franklin & Marshall political science professor Terry Madonna says the only danger for the Obama campaign is if it buys into some of the sexist arguments of the leftwing blogosphere.

According to an ABC News poll, 61 percent of all mothers work outside the home in some capacity. That is a lot of voters on Election Day.

And if the media continue to question Palin’s ability to mother her family and to serve her country at the same time, that is a lot of female fury to scorn.

Democrats hoping to earn that female vote will be wise to distance themselves from the media on this one. Just ask any hurting Hillary supporters if they’re over their perception of political sexism.