The Palin Problem: A conversation

Carla: It’s been less that a week and the tide has already turned for Sarah Palin. She had a few, brief hours of sweet republican lovin’, then–Bam! She shouldn’t have gone back to work so soon after her handicapped son was born. Bam! Her 17-year-old daughter is pregnant and unmarried and what kind of responsible mother lets that happen. Bam! Did McCain and his people look any farther than Palin’s conservative evangelical credentials before choosing this woman from the tundra to fill the role of the second most powerful position in the world?

Caryn and I have both been having all kinds of reactions to the news of Gov. Palin’s potential nomination. Personally, I’ve gone from thinking she was the most brilliant choice McCain could have made to wondering why on earth this poor woman said yes. But for the sake of this blog, I think it’s time two Christian women–supposedly the very demographic Palin is meant to woo–weigh in on her selection and the chatter that’s been floating around in the days since.

Caryn: I am still roaring excited about Sarah Palin. And the more I learn about her, the more I love her (well, except the moose hunting. I’m just not a fan…). But even for those of us who may disagree with her philosophically, I think we moms have tons to be pumped about here.

A Washington Post article today talked about how she’s been known to nurse in meetings (discreetly, for all you squeamish folk) and often has her baby slung around her. This is a new day–and image for moms. Governing with a baby sling? Yes! Having top-secret discussions and making world-changing decisions while nursing? You go, Gov! People say they want “change”? Well, this is it, people. For the better. Up until the 20th century, women worked and thought and decided with babies slung on their backs and suckling on their breasts. ’bout time we got back to that understanding of what we’re capable of.

I’ve heard all the talk of “how can she put her family through this” and that IS a fair question. As is the one wondering if she’s up to the task with her family obligations–but those should be asked of ALL politicians, not just women ones, not just mothers with young children. Being a kid of a pol is never a walk in the park.

So I say, whatever you think of her policies, moms be glad. Defend this woman’s choices here. Things are getting good.

Carla: It’s already starting to drive me nuts that she is discussed in such a different way than a man. The pregnant daughter issue? It’s mommy blame in disguise. If Todd Palin were the presumptive nominee, his daughter’s pregnancy might make the news, but the underlying tone wouldn’t be that he didn’t have his priorities straight (even though every therapist in the world would say that it’s the father’s involvement in a girl’s life that has the biggest impact on her sexual behavior). For that matter, if Todd Palin were the presumptive nominee, everyone would think his wife was a superhero for supporting her husband’s ambition and caring for her family while he sets out to change the world.

But all of that aside, here’s what’s getting stuck in my craw during this discussion. The Christian Right is all for Sarah Palin, and why? Because she is pro-life. These are the same people who have told you and me that we should quit our jobs and take care of our families, that we are selfish for wanting to work outside the home. They are the same people who have built careers laying out a model of the “good” Christian mother that includes being home all day, every day and making endless sacrifices for the sake of our children. But now that they have a candidate who is unquestionably on their side of a single policy issue, all of that is out the window. Now those same prominent voices of family values are conveniently forgetting everything they’ve said to crush the spirit of every other woman who has dared to work outside the home.

We–that is you and I–have spent more than a decade encouraging women to share their gifts in whatever ways God leads. And over and over we have bumped into that message that women need to be home with their children, that raising children is the single most important work a woman will ever do, that to long for or seek after anything else is to devalue the blessing of motherhood. To see those who have pounded us with that message back off of it for political gain is disturbing. They have used the Bible to shame women like us, to push us back into our houses and remind us of our “rightful” place. They have done it for so long that there has been a part of me that almost started to believe them. And yet when the right opportunity came along to turn away from the so-called calling of motherhood, they didn’t hesitate.

Caryn: I thought the same thing when I saw James Dobson praising Sarah Palin on TV last night. I startled my husband with my yell of “Are you kidding me?” when the Focus on the Family founder was saying such nice things about her. (I don’t mean, of course, that I objected to the kind things about her…) But here’s what I’m hoping for: that Dr. Dobson sees that just as God can call moms like Sarah Palin to run for the second hightest office in the land, so can God call moms like you and me to write and edit—and snipe and snip. And other moms to practice medicine, farm fields, make TV shows, mend clothes—whatever.

But it’s also making me laugh what so many liberals are saying. I mean, that’s where I’m hearing so much talk of her needing to be home, get her priorities right. Gotta love the flip flops. Politics as usual is all I can say.

Good thing you and I always have things so right, Miss Carla. Gotta run now. My son needs to use this computer to check on his Webkinz thing. You can see I’ve got my priorities right…..

Carla: Indeed you do. And let me add the last word here–Sarah Palin’s critics can say what they want about her politics and her experience. But that speech last night left no doubt in my mind that this is one mother who is exactly where she belongs.


8 responses to this post.

  1. Caryn & Carla,
    Thank you for this very helpful and enlightening dialogue about Sarah Palin. I agree with Caryn – I love her – but have thought some of the same things about her reception by the ‘traditionalist’ among our society, and Christians chief among them.
    When Sarah spoke of her parents and they were ‘introduced,’ she said they encouraged her to walk through any open door that she wished to, regardless of her gender. I thought to myself… my parents did the same exact thing for me. And my parents are very conservative Christians, Dobson supporters, and raised a traditional household with a stay-at-home mom. I realized how rare it is to blend the two well – to value and work toward and truly prioritize family life and children… and also to support girls and women in all their giftings.
    Sarah Palin is a unique and extraordinary woman, at least so she initially seems. Few women would be able to do what she is doing, especially with such a large family. But I think of Margaret Thatcher, one of the most compelling and effective political leaders of our time… Certainly her gender didn’t stop her from being that.
    Thanks again for this forum. I look forward to seeing where it will go.


  2. Posted by Sue on September 4, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    Hi Caryn and Carla,
    I understand your perplexity re Dobson and others, but want to ask you to cut us “oldsters” some slack. (I’m a friend of Susan’s, by the way. Homeschooled my four all the way through — didn’t work outside the home — and now have four young adult children.)
    I was suprised at my response to Palin — all joy and manic hoopla — and all completely sincere. I had none of the “but she’s a mom — how can she be doing this?” reaction. But would the “me” of 20-some years ago, have been so happy to applaud the path she’s taken?
    Back in the 80’s when I was having babies and deciding to stay home to invest in them, we were fighting a war against radical feminism which castigated the worth of childraising (they’ve tempered on that over the years), when working from home for someone like me who aspired to write was not possible as it is now with the internet, when standing up for life meant standing out in the cold in front of an abortion clinic trying to hold out hope for women being led (often by boyfriends or their own mothers) to the slaughter. I toted a baby in a front pack, a toddler in a backpack, and held a child’s hand in each of mine pleading for the life of the unborn. We didn’t have enough money with our husbands’ meager incomes to pay for a babysitter for a night out, leave alone for good, regular childcare. I remember thinking that I needed to fight the battles that were given to me in my generation so that my children wouldn’t have to fight them. We did the best we could to fight for life, for children, for family values, and we put aside career aspirations to sow into our children both educational and spiritual seed the only way we knew how.
    Dobson, though not a mom, is part of that generation. The battles we’ve fought in have filled our sights, and make it hard to see that the younger generation has its own battles to face. The landscape is very different for a young mother of today. Somehow, I always thought that the war my children would wage would be a continuation of my own. I’m beginning to see that it’s not.
    Sarah Palin is emerging as a warrior in this new landscape. I am SO all for her. For her using her God-given abilities. And I am still for investing in children. And standing up for life. And strengthening the family. Like Dobson, I am beginning to see that some women can do both to the seeming detriment of neither. They have tools and help we didn’t even dream of back in the dark (ages) 80’s.
    Give us time to make the transition to the new battlegrounds. We’ll become some of your most faithful footsoldiers.


  3. Posted by Rachel G. on September 4, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    Obviously, Anne Morrow Lindbergh was really ahead of her time in Gift from the Sea. Today my predominant thought about Sarah Palin’s choice is that I can’t imagine how she is ever going to get a day off.

    “By and large, mothers and housewives are the only workers who do not have regular time off. They are the great vacationless class.”
    Anne Morrow Lindbergh


  4. Posted by Crystal on September 4, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    First off, great blog! I’m enjoying the debate here as I’ve been listening to the same voices in my head going back and forth saying some of the same things. I think what I love most is that finally along comes a great representative of US – stay-at-home moms, working moms, moms with small or large families, moms with unique children with unique challenges, etc. I feel like there’s finally potentially someone who can be “on the inside” watching out for and representing us moms. However coming from a “Dobson-supporter”, traditionalist background as well, I’ve wrestled with the idea of Palin accepting this type of role while still having very small children at home. Maybe it’s because my youngest right now is 8 months old, and I can’t even imagine leaving him to go off to work and put in a long day in the governmental office. My personal emotions are clouding the overall rosy picture. Then again, I find the idea of Palin governing with baby in sling as so completely ideal, it’s makes me wonder if I’m opposed to a mom with small children working or more opposed to work that doesn’t support a mom with small children. I know not all jobs can specially accommodate the mother/baby relationship (I assume the secretary of defense would object to briefing the VP amidst the endless caterwauling of a small baby), but maybe if more women were able to work in environments more accepting of their role as mother, there wouldn’t be such war between working moms and stay-at-home moms – the playing field would be more balanced for both.
    Anyway, I look forward to seeing how Palin does in the race and in your continued debates…


  5. Posted by kimwj on September 4, 2008 at 9:07 pm

    I love it! Just what I need — another blog to read 🙂 I’ve enjoyed your 1st post and I’m looking forward to more.


  6. Glad to see you blogging Carla!


  7. Posted by joellawme on September 5, 2008 at 5:17 am

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments, particularly acknowledging the mutual flip-flop of both sides– the feminists think she’s a bad woman for not leaving office to care for her infant, and the social conservatives are lauding her service and sacrifice for the common Good. We’re a funny bunch. It’s easy to imagine finding ourselves in the opposite reality should Obama have chosen a different running mate.

    In the midst of the endless commentary, I have been struck that we as a people need to be more truthful (and thus fair) about what is really going on here. With those with whom we fundamentally agree, we are gracious and interpret their lives with understanding and generosity. With those with whom we disagree, we tend to think the worse, and judge the same scenarios harshly. I am reminded of Jesus’ call to love our enemies (however defined) particularly, and that loving one’s friends is a fairly low bar (“even the tax collectors do that”),

    My own reaction to Palin’s nomination helped me to understand, at an emotional level, how some African-Americans may feel about Obama. I am an Alaskan from a VERY small town (Wasilla is not a small town, by Alaska standards), an evangelical Christian who was raised by a feminist mother, and currently a work-at-home mom. Policy and philosophical issues aside, her nomination has left me feeling strangely affirmed and more involved in the process. I think this experience has given me more sympathy for those on the other side, and that’s a good thing.

    I am thankful for and enthused by Sarah Palin’s run, and pray that she’ll run a Good race, and her children will particularly know Christ’s love and grace during this season.


  8. Posted by Lori on September 5, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    Congrats on the new blog! I’ll look forward to reading more.
    I’ve been reading with interest the website. They invited mothers to download bingo cards on which to score each candidate’s speech based on how they addressed mother’s issues.
    Check out the responses:

    Interesting to see that Obama scored far higher than McCain. It raises the question: does simply having a woman in office who blends work and family necessarily make life better for moms? I’m wondering if a woman who goes back to work within days of having a baby is really going to fight for things like better maternity leave. Or is she going to tell women to stop whining, that we should all try to do it all like she appears to do? She has a large, supportive family and a husband who apparently is willing to do stay-at-home dad duty. Will she have concern for those of us who don’t have that kind of support?


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