Tuesday, December 2, 2008

No family doesn't equal no life

CNN's Campbell Brown is right on the money again. After a comment from Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell saying Janet Napolitano (Obama's pick for head of Homeland Security Department) would be a good choice because she has no family and thus, no life.

Brown says this:

Wow. Now, I'm sure Gov. Napolitano has many qualifications for the job beyond having no family, and therefore the ability to devote 20 hours a day to the job.

But it is fascinating to me that that is the quality being highlighted here as so perfect. C'mon. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is married with two grown children. His predecessor, Tom Ridge, had a family. Anybody remember a debate about whether they would have trouble balancing the demands of work and family?

Now, I am a fan of Gov. Rendell. He has been on this show many times. I like him for his candor. In our attempts to cut through the bull, he delivers far less bull than most politicians. But it is his frankness here that raises so many questions.

1. If a man had been Obama's choice for the job, would having a family or not having a family ever even have been an issue? Would it have ever prompted a comment? Probably not. We all know the assumption tends to be that with a man, there is almost always a wife in the wings managing those family concerns.

2. As a woman, hearing this, it is hard not to wonder if we are counted out for certain jobs, certain opportunities, because we do have a family or because we are in our child-bearing years. Are we? It is a fair question.

3. If you are a childless, single woman with suspicions that you get stuck working holidays, weekends and the more burdensome shifts more often than your colleagues with families, are those suspicions well-founded? Probably so. Is there an assumption that if you're family-free then you have no life? By some, yes.

Again Gov. Rendell, I don't mean to rake you over the coals. I know what you meant to say. But your comments do perpetuate stereotypes that put us in boxes, both mothers and single women.

In government and beyond, men have been given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to striking the right work-life balance. Women are owed the same consideration.


Right on the money. I've really appreciated Brown's commentary over the past few months... it's been a long time since I've enjoyed someone in the mainstream media, and Brown offers us a supportive voice.

3 comments:

groovyjoss said...

I've just been reading a few books on missionaries and this is something that comes up a lot. Often it is assumed that single woman missionaries can work holidays, do extra work or babysit at any time because they 'don't have anything else to do'. Which is, of course, ridiculous.

kelly g. said...

I am so falling in love with Campbell Brown!

feministblogproject said...

Plus, no kids doesn't equal no family. The childless and childfree still have parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews. And some of them probably have spouses, too.

As someone without kids (by choice), I get that whole "you have no life" thing a lot. Nevermind that I spend a good portion of my week doing volunteer work, taking yoga and dance classes, and writing. Yeah, no life at all.