Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sarah Palin, working moms, and perception

As much as I hate to admit it, how you're perceived plays a key part in your career. Working moms have plenty of stereotypes to contend with, but the perception that we're somehow less dedicated to our jobs than non-parents -- or less capable of doing them -- lingers, no matter what we achieve.

So last week's announcement by Alaska Governor Sarah Palin triggered an immediate response from me: She's just proved her detractors right. After championing working moms and campaigning on her working-mom chops, she's bowing out by offering a jumble of reasons, all of which leave many people with the perception that she just couldn't cut it. I write about how and why at The 36-Hour Day:

The speculation has been rampant since Sarah Palin announced Friday that she will be stepping down as governor of Alaska.

After her time in the national spotlight with Senator John McCain, she didn't seem nterested in running a state, The Asssociated Press suggested. Being governor during a recession -- and when there are 15 ethics charges and budgeting squabbles hanging over your head -- is a chore, quipped. She says she doesn't want to "embrace Lame Duck status," even though the next election is 16 months away, Ed Morrissey points out at Hot Air.

But it's probably best to consider what Palin herself said about her decision: "Life is too short to compromise time and resources. It may be tempting and more comfortable to just keep your head down, plod along... but that's the worthless, easy path; that's a quitter's way out."

As a working mom who compromises her time and resources daily, I beg to differ.

As Rob Schlesinger at US News & World Report points out, "Political success is about hard work and working hard. And progress is made through compromise. But in Friday's speech Palin dismissed hard work and compromise as … the quitter's way out."

Working hard, compromising, sacrificing in order to juggle career and family... is for quitters?

If she's eying a run for the White House in 2012, I don't see how that will play well with her with her working mom base. Or with anyone else, for that matter -- by insisting "It's about country" (Hmmm... her new slogan?) and then explaining, on her Facebook page, that she's putting her family first and implying that she ought to be commended for her bravery in doing so, she's throwing herself, and all working mothers, under the bus. Every one of her detractors who wondered if she'd be able to handle the demands of a high-profile government position while also being a hands-on mom just got their answer, and directly from her: She's choosing not to.

I'm not saying that women who choose to opt out of the workforce are doing something wrong. Not at all. And I agree with Palin that it's a difficult, personal decision. But campaigning on your working mom chops, reaching out to working mothers, insisting that you understand what we deal with and vowing to champion us, and then opting out makes it look like you -- and, by extension, the rest of us -- can't handle the pressure.

It doesn't help matters that her announcement came on the eve of Independence Day and right on the heels of a scathing profile in Vanity Fair. Her decision doesn't show that she can, indeed, govern effectively during a crisis. And playing the "poor little me" card on Facebook isn't much of a maverick thing to do: “And though it’s honorable for countless others to leave their positions for a higher calling and without finishing a term, of course we know by now, for some reason a different standard applies for the decisions I make. But every American understands what it takes to make a decision because it’s right for all, including your family.”

It is difficult to decide to opt out. And we don't know for sure what Palin plans to do next. Whatever it is, I hope she doesn't have to compromise time and resources, since that, apparently, is anathema to her. But I think she'll have a difficult time finding a "higher calling" that doesn't require her to do so.

1 comment:

Márcia said...

I think it takes courage to pause your professional life in order to prioritize your family. I feel bad that her decision could jeopardize working moms, but we really don't know what kind of real need her family has.