Monday, May 18, 2009

Mommification Watch: Not just for Michelle Obama!

Really, guys? We're going to put Kathleen Sebelius in an all-women photo op with yarn and babies at the table? Really? What's next, will they have Janet Napolitano bring some muffins to border patrol officials?


Mary said...

OK, I let the first "mommification" post go, but these really are realistic portrayals of women's health care concerns among small business owners. I frequent a few small businesses owned by women, and in the world I live in they are often hobby shops...yarn, scrapbooking, beads, ceramic painting,etc. This is how many women at certain stages of their life actually live. I don't think it's any different from photo ops with politicians going to factories or Chamber of Commerce gatherings or diners in small towns, but it seems that because it represents a certain kind of woman, it's OK to be condescending.

Nick Beaudrot said...

To an extent I think you're right that the Obama administration is simply reflecting existing norms and trends. Also with Michelle Obama the situation is complicated because she's not elected or appointed to anything, and everyone is so scarred from the experience with Hillary Clinton. However this paranoia extends to essentially eliminating her professional career from her public profile, which I think is sad.

I sort of feel like the photo-op is a condescending to Sebelius. If you know who she is, you know that she's an accomplished public official in her own rights. But the imagery here doesn't give that impression at all. While the President does have the "male equivalent" of this photo op when he goes to a factory to visit a speech and take a tour or what have you, do cabinet officials? Does Gary Locke hang out at the local hardware store? Does Tim Geithner down at a community bank with local bankers? Perhaps they do in which case I am happy to be proven wrong.

I guess what I am saying is that I don't particularly like the current norm, which I think ends up both pushing too many women out of high-end professional careers and discourages men from carrying their fair share of child-rearing responsibilities. I'm not saying that men and women will have identical preferences for career paths, but I think that social expectations about what men and women 'should' do with their lives play a larger role than they really ought to. "mommy tracking" is a real phenomenon.

Mary said...

To me, the advantage of having women in power (in politics, business, etc.) is that they ARE women who have a different perspective and understanding of people's real lives. While I believe Michelle Obama's "mommification," as you call it, was certainly encouraged, I have no doubt that she is deeply concerned about her young daughters being in a very unusual and potentially lonely and distorting situation.

Trust me, women are smart enough to "get" and appreciate that Michelle Obama is a highly accomplished woman in her own right. We understand the same thing about Kathleen Sibelius. In my mind, it is condescending to suggest that her professionalism and high profile is being compromised by being photographed with "girly" things like yarn and babies.

I believe the "mommy-tracking" situation stems largely in part from the fact that the world is simply set up to accommodate the "seasons" of men's lives and not those of women, and that is a large part of what must change.