Monday, October 25, 2010

Mary Fallin and More Mommy Wars: Does Motherhood Make You A Better Political Candidate?

I'm watching The View right now.  Yes, that's pretty much how I keep up with current events these days . . .

And a discussion of how sad it is that these contentious ladies are considered a credible news source by so many aside, they do have a habit of talking about topics that interest me.

Today, the topic up for discussion is Mary Fallin, the Republican candidate for governor of Oklahoma.  Fallin's Democratic opponent, Jari Askins, is also a woman, so the state of Oklahoma is poised to elect the first female governor in it's history in next Tuesday's election.

Usually, voters would be casting their votes based on their preferred political party, their conservative or liberal leanings, their understanding and assessment of the candidates' qualifications and experience. 

Unfortunately, this race seems to have been reduced to yet another battle in the mommy wars.

In a debate last Tuesday, Mary Fallin stated that her experience as a mother of six (four of whom are stepchildren) makes her more qualified to lead the state of Oklahoma than her unmarried, childless opponent.

It's a pretty simple statement.  I think that many women who have raised families or who are in the midst of caring for young children would agree that it is an exercise in patience, leadership, and compassion, and that you learn all sorts of things about time management, how to motivate people, how to handle delicate situations, how to broker peace agreements. etc. 

I could go on and on about the skills acquired in motherhood, and yes, I do personally believe that experience as a mother can be a valuable asset for a woman in other aspects of her life.   

But . . .

The fact that you learn a lot as a mother isn't really the issue here, nor is it the reason why Ms. Fallin's statement has received so much publicity.  By playing the "mom" card, and more specifically by saying that a woman who hasn't had children is less qualified, the Republican candidate has really put her foot in her mouth. 

Feminists are up in arms over the notion that in the year 2010 a woman's worth can still be defined in terms of her marital and reproductive status.  And even people who agree that motherhood provides her with valuable experience have trouble with her assertion that this experience is more valid than the outstanding (albeit childless) resume of her opponent Ms. Askins.

For me, I believe that bearing and raising children is an integral part of many women's identities.  Motherhood alters your life and changes your perspective.  It grounds you and knocks you on your ass simultaneously.  And unfortunately, it is often dismissed in our culture as less important and less valuable than so many of the other (most often paid) endeavors that women pursue.

Motherhood should be a valid point on a resume.  Raising and caring for our next generation is important work with the potential for huge long-term impact.  But just as women shouldn't be penalized for being mothers, we also shouldn't be penalized for not being a mother.  One isn't better than the other. 

Women are a diverse group, with different strengths, passions, and interests.  We are united by our ability to have children, but we don't need to be defined by it.

Ms. Fallin should be welcome to cite her experience raising her family as one small part of who she is and why she is a better candidate.  I disagree with feminists who claim that motherhood doesn't or shouldn't impact your professional identity at all.

But suggesting that Ms. Askins is lacking simply because she has never had children is taking it too far.  Life is full of choices and trade-offs, and women have come a long way in the past few decades in ensuring that we have the right to make our own choices and choose our own trade-offs. 

Fighting amongst ourselves over who has made the right or the best ones isn't going to help women anywhere. 

Fortunately, getting elected as Governor just might.  My best wishes for each of the two women, mother or not, as she heads into election night. 

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