Sarah Palin can have it all
I should know. I'm a writer and the mother of 12.
The five children. The newborn diagnosed with Down syndrome. The pregnant daughter. Sarah Palin's life – chock full of challenge – confronts her opposition with some formidable challenges of its own. After decades of pushing equal rights and treatment for women, the Left is backtracking.
Suddenly motherhood – well, at least too much motherhood or too-complicated motherhood – is incompatible with executive responsibility. Fathers with little children or complex family issues – even some who cheated on their wives – have held office without having to justify their continuing careers. Yet women once again face a very different standard.
Who knew that beyond the glass ceiling feminists vowed to shatter there existed another barrier, imposed by feminists themselves? What happened to choice? To having it all? Have we had a paradigm shift since Aug. 29? What's to stop Governor Palin from doing it all?
This debate matters a lot to me. I have 12 children, including four diagnosed with Down syndrome. Three were adopted. I'm a professional writer. And yes, some people wonder how I do it all, or if I'm doing any of it as well as I should.
The skepticism about Palin's ability to juggle responsibilities has been punctuated with below-the-belt punches. My heart goes out to her and to every mom who soldiers on in the face of such flak. Sisterhood can be powerful, but only when we celebrate one another's accomplishments and growth – in all our diversity.
The hardworking mother rolling up her sleeves to tackle a "man's job" is a staple throughout American history and folklore. Think Rosie the Riveter. Think "Places in the Heart," featuring Sally Field as a Depression-era widow succeeding against all odds. These tales of women transformed through their work – even as they transformed the culture – resonate with me. As a second-wave feminist, I recall how we turned the medical establishment on its head over childbirth.
In 1969 it was barbaric: flat on your back, bright lights and stirrups, no husband allowed. My first, Samantha Sunshine, was whisked off to the nursery, and I was forced to stay in bed without her. Just standard procedure.
When Jasmine Moondance was born at home in 1975, I was up in 20 minutes – an older and wiser counterculture mom hip to the global portrait of motherhood as part of the fabric of life, including rice-paddy moms who simply pushed out their babies, wrapped them up, and went back to work. This kind of "Sisterhood is Powerful" approach had put women in control of their birthing experience.
And our mothering experience as well. At first it was an either/or choice: stay-at-home motherhood – discredited by Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique" and Ms. magazine – or "real work" alongside men. But as time went on and women seemed disinclined to give up their biological imperative, word came down that we could have it all – work and motherhood – and outclass men at the same time.
Think "I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan" from the 1970s (and now clearly retro) Enjoli perfume commercial. Perhaps that's not what we mean today by having it all, but it's the confident spirit that rings a bell almost 40 years later.
That confidence took us places we never dreamed. In 2001, Jane Swift of Massachusetts became the first governor to give birth in office – to twins. Her maternity leave included a governor's council teleconference from her hospital bed. And while Ms. Swift was rebuked for using aides to babysit her daughter, Palin's record of eschewing the trappings of power – listing the governor's jet on eBay, for example – suggests she wouldn't make such mistakes. So what to make of the fire and brimstone raining down on Palin?
Is it because her choices aren't the ones feminists anticipated? Or was it ever really about choice at all? Just because Palin's choices skew away from abortion and toward the affirmation of life – even in difficult circumstances – does that mean they shouldn't be accorded the same dignity as those more in line with today's feminist party line?
"How do you do it all?" people ask me. All I can say is that my capacity has grown with each child. I've learned to assess situations quickly, gather information and advice, negotiate, delegate, communicate clearly, and work under great pressure and with little sleep. Put simply, motherhood is its own executive office. That's why it's a proving ground for political leadership.
"The personal is the political" was a feminist mantra I still believe. Which leads me to a qualification for office that sets Palin apart from her peers: Consistency.
You see, motherhood under pressure has a way of helping women become greater than they started out to be. And the fact that Palin has a baby with Down syndrome only makes me trust her more. Here's a woman who chooses sacrifice and challenge over expediency and convenience.
I've seen those pictures of Palin nursing her baby as she signs a bill into law and as she pushes a grocery cart. Moms understand that those photos might well have been taken just a few hours apart. That's the kind of life we lead.
Can she do it all? Trust me, there are lots of moms out here who know she can.
[Editor's note: The original version misrepresented the sale of a state-owned luxury jet.]