Last week Sarah Palin, the previously-unknown governor of Alaska who burst onto the scene as John McCain’s running mate in the US 2008 election season, claiming to be an example of how to break through glass ceilings, unexpectedly decided to quit her position with 18 months to go.
Palin has given various reasons for stepping down: primarily her home life and her family. However, the pundits and commentators are not satisfied with her explanation. In fact, female pundits are particularly upset about it.
Several prominent women have come out to lambast Palin, on the grounds that she has apparently broken some kind of feminist covenant. Apparently there is no way that Palin, or any woman for that matter, could possibly ever want to put her family before her career. God forbid. She’s now being called a ‘quitter’.
To be honest, I don’t care much for Sarah Palin. I found her to be disingenuous, a race-baiter and not someone that I could relate with or aspire to. Her political views on issues like abortion did little to advance the progress of women’s rights and as a minority female, she is the antithesis of much that I believe in. However, I take umbrage with this idea that there is any one, fixed way in which a woman – including Sarah Palin – should behave when it comes to making choices about her life. Isn’t the whole point of feminism to enable women to have the power and right to choose?
Asserting that a woman should be concerned primarily with her career is no different to me than asserting that a woman needs necessarily only concern herself with cooking and cleaning. A woman shouldn’t have to be concerned about any particular thing – she should have the option to decide for herself what is a priority, without other people condemning her for that.
Perhaps Sarah Palin’s family is more important to her than her career. Perhaps being there for her children and raising them to be healthy and well-balanced individuals is not worth sacrificing. When did being a mother – and being there fully – become such a taboo? Surely her ability to choose should be celebrated by feminists?
Interestingly enough, similar disdain has been cast upon First Lady Michelle Obama in the past for choosing to become the self-titled ‘Mom-In-Chief’. Some seem to feel that you can only truly be a powerful woman if you are a superwoman; that somehow admitting that you are human and perhaps unwilling or even unable to cope with the demands of both a high pressured career and the needs of a family is a sign of weakness and is antithetical to feminism.
As a 28-year-old woman approaching the age when getting married and having babies seems to be the most popular pastime among my friends, I have been interested to note how many of my girlfriends – all well educated, successful women – can’t wait to become mothers and look after their children. There are a number who are willing to give up their careers to do so. And it’s not because, like Sarah Palin, they have to, it’s because they can.
The women’s rights movement gave women choices. Let’s celebrate, not criticise, them for exercising those choices.