Friday, June 6, 2008

Mamas for Obama

Barack Obama's speech Tuesday night was a wonderful speech, and he is a wonderful candidate.

He is also so, so smart to be doing what he's doing to reach out to Clinton supporters--to recognize what she has accomplished and not dismiss her as so many have done. He not only needs to do this on a practical level, but he is right to do this.

It's also subtle and smart that he has made it known that he is taking the weekend off to have a date with his wife and go on a bike ride with his daughters. The image that came into my mind as I heard that this morning was so human, and such an image of a man who values and respects the women in his life. Good husband, good father... good way to woo women voters.

When I was a little Rosalie, I listened to Marlo Thomas's Free to Be, You And Me -- an album filled with a multicultural group of actors, musicians and athletes talking about the ways in which gender and race don't need to define or limit us. Songs like "Mommies are people, Daddies are people," "Sisters and Brothers," and "It's Alright to Cry" (aimed at boys) taught me that, in the words of one poem, "A person should wear what he likes to, and not just what other folks say. A person should be who she wants to. A person's a person that way."

As I got older, I experienced and witnessed the same gender indoctrination that everyone does. There were plenty of painful examples, but I still believed I could do anything I wanted to do as I went off to college. Daily, I saw and see messages in the media and heard words on the radio that indicated that women's primary value is as a sexual object or as a passive, dutiful wife and mother. But still, I did not feel defined or limited by my gender until I became pregnant and had children.

I'm so grateful for my beautiful, hilarious, clever little boys. But still, having children has meant making choices for the good of my family that mean compromising some of my own wishes and dreams. If I did not have children, I would be in a much different place in my career because I would be willing to travel, to work different hours, to live someplace where school quality is not something to be concerned about.

The limitations on my personal ambitions have been self-imposed, but still, it's hard to convey just how powerful it has been for me to witness Hillary Clinton's words and actions as a woman who is also a mother -- a woman who works so hard and has inspired so many people and who seems to have a healthy relationship with her brilliant and self-actualized daughter, Chelsea.

Being a mother and a professional is incredibly hard--it's no coincidence that the highest-level women in the executive branch to date--Condoleeza Rice and Janet Reno--do not have children. And that most of the women you see in legislatures and governor's mansions have grown children--whereas you see many fresh-faced young men with delightful young children bounding exuberantly down the aisles of state and federal legislatures.

Investing in children is critical to the work of building a strong community and strong nation, but the daily work of raising them takes so much effort that it's best to have a wife, or if you are a woman, to remain childless and leave that work to others as you pursue your career. And, you don't see many single parents -- moms or dads -- in politics. It's just too hard.

To be clear: I bear no negative feelings toward women who don't have children, and in fact applaud them for the courage it takes not to become a mother--a radical choice in a world that doesn't know what to do with women who are neither sexually available nor devoted to the domestic sphere.

It's just that growing up, I always assumed that we would have a woman president in my lifetime, and it would have surprised me that that's not going to happen before I'm at least in my 40's. I hope that we will some day.

So although my heart did melt just a little bit to hear Barack had plans for a date with Michelle and bike ride with the kids, it's also a little sad, because although Barack Obama is a man I will be proud to vote for, I'm bracing myself for the fashion stories on what Michelle Obama will wear to the inauguration and the plans she has for redecorating the White House.

Because although she is herself a professional and a brilliant woman in her own right, like Hillary, next January (I hope and pray) she will be our nation's next "First Lady."

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