Once I started taking Introduction to Women’s Studies, I immediately began to notice examples of feminism, enlightened sexism and oppression and even successes of women, all around me in the media and the news. I found it difficult to pick one piece of news that I felt related most to aspects of this course, as every time I open the newspaper or watch television I see issues and stories that directly relate. However, recently I found an article in the New York Times Magazine entitled “The New Momism: Momism as a Clever Political Strategy” by Judith Warner. This article seems particularly relevant in that it was written on October 29th, 2010, right before the 2010 Midterm Elections. As we have discussed in class, right now females make up about 17% of each the House and Senate (mostly Democratic seats). And though this is “the Year of the Woman”, it appears that females will actually be losing spots this year, as Republicans take over. As someone who is not intensely involved in politics, yet curious and fascinated by women’s issues, this piece is quite eye opening. Warner writes about women politicians who are connecting with and trying to win over voters via their “momism”. While in the past, femininity and motherhood have not been qualities that are looked upon with respect and admiration; this group of candidates is using their womanliness as a platform.
Using examples of Sarah Palin, Michelle Obama, Linda McMahon (Connecticut Senate Candidate) and Sharron Angle (Nevada Senate Candidate), Warner reiterates the many situations in which these powerful figures in American politics have used their womanly and motherly power and identities to their advantage. As she writes “each is doing the mom thing – big time – tapping a vein of sentiment and belief, practicing a special form of political sympathetic magic, hoping clearly that by invoking the image, inveighing the glorious beloved power of all that’s maternal, they will warm and rally the hearts of voters…” I find it intriguing that while once upon a time women were not allowed to vote, let alone run for office positions, they have made these kinds of strides. As Susan Brownmiller points out, the very newspaper in which this article was written had “help-wanted ads, which were once arranged by gender to distinguish ‘women’s work’ from real careers” (Levy, page 50) in the late 1960’s and 70’s. Evidently, we have come an extremely long way to even consider women as politicians—there is no doubt in my mind that this was certainly not considered as ‘woman’s work’ a short 40 years ago. I further wonder if, since women are now holding these respected positions, does this mean that women are no longer feeling the strain or the gap between the sexes. While this is not discussed specifically in the article, I feel that based upon what we have talked about in class, there is no doubt that in general a divide still exists.
Warner writes about how being a mom is “synonymous with being one of the people”, and how Linda McMahon posted special advertisements towards the “moms of Connecticut”. While this all seems positive and reaffirming for women, at the same time I could not help but think that it is a little bit twisted. Does it really need to be this “motherly” identity that gives women the capabilities to run for office, or that pushes voters to want to vote for these women? Warner has an answer to this in her article.
“The mommy brain is now considered a greatly superior organ—uniquely suited for multitasking, specialty schooled in the challenges of diplomacy and budgeting, grounded in the can-do here and now rather than in the hopelessly abstract or esoteric—being a mom (the “just” has been dropped) is now frequently spun as a prime career asset, particularly in the world of politics”. So, it seems, women are finally being appreciated for their innate capabilities and qualities. It is not even “motherliness”, according to Warner that is important here. It is, “ a certain idea of womanhood; woman as earthy, concrete with her view of the world bound by personal experience—by ‘immanence’”. This is how, apparently, Christine O’Donnell has seen successes in her pursuit of candidacy, despite not being a mother. Furthermore, Michelle Obama very often publicly announces her daughters as being influential on her decisions and actions. Overall, therefore, it appears that nowadays people feel that women can do a great job in politics, because they have all of these attractive and respected skills. How the world has changed.
Finally, it appears that many Americans feel that the “intimidation” factors—Linda McMahon, for example, is a co-founder of World Wrestling Entertainment—of these women could lead to them being disliked by citizens. These women are powerful with a lot of public and business influence. This itself breaks normal gender stereotypes. Using the fact that they are motherly, however, shows that these women are sensitive, authentic and use common sense; it reaffirms them and places them back into the stereotype. After Hillary Clinton said (and no less offended many in the process), “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies” in 1992, in response to her possible first lady position, many politicians, including our current secretary of state, have learned their lesson. This past summer, even in the midst of an intense and tense Pakistan visit, Clinton made sure to sit down with Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC New Anchor, to discuss how excited she was to be the “mother of the bride” (and obviously show her softer side) in reference to Chelsea’s upcoming wedding. Furthermore, this brings up the question of who the targets of these “womanly reaffirming” platforms really are. It seems that females are not actually the ones being drawn in by this decision, especially because it is men that identify women as mothers. Additionally, Warner writes, “multiple surveys have shown, women may be disproportionately sitting out the midterms”. So, interestingly enough it is actually men that are being addressed.
It now seems that being female, and a mother, is all of a sudden a good thing in choosing our country’s power. But when we think about it in terms of real, average people, this is not necessarily the case and women aren’t always respected (and as seen by the results, actually neither McMahon nor Angle were elected). As we read in both “Knowledge is Power” and “Reality Check” in Listen Up, many women with children, no matter how educated they are, face enormous challenges, between Welfare, job availability and segregation, and more. Being a mother comes with a huge cost, that Aisha Kahim-Dyce discusses- does one choose the welfare of oneself over the welfare of one’s family, such as in the case of being a go-go dancer to bring in income? How do you make a decision on something like this? While it seems all fine and dandy now that women are esteemed in our political society, in many other places in America being female is just not even close. It remains today that women are only earning about 80 cents to a man’s dollar for the same type of work. It is obvious that women, in general, still have a long way to go to actually become equal in our society, but this is one baby step that could perhaps get the ball rolling in the right direction.
Findlen, Barbara. Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation. 1995. Seal Press.
Levy, Ariel. Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. 2005. Free Press
Warner, Judith. “The New Momism: Momism as a Clever Political Strategy” New York Times Magazine Online. October 29th, 2010.