“We’re a country with some serious mother issues.” – Joanne Bamberger, author and blogger.
While watching the new Ken Burns/PBS miniseries Prohibition the other night, I was struck by a factoid that I’d forgotten: Women (specifically mothers) were at the center of the temperance movement that led to the successful passage of the 18th amendment to the Constitution. Sure, it was one that was later repealed, but hey, these ladies succeeded in banning booze before they even won the right to vote (which was the very next amendment).
In spite of the obstacles in front of them, the mothers who supported temperance and the women’s vote were there, in the middle of it all, marching, lobbying and rallying, as well as raising their kids. And that was before they had all the cushy stuff we take for granted like microwave ovens, Target, smartphones, minivans and easily available take-out (like the subs I bought for my kids for dinner tonight).
So why does it seem as though now, in the year 2011, the notion of mothers being involved in politics is still seen as some kind of anomaly or fleeting trend?
Despite the activist history of the women’s suffrage and temperance movements, decades later even Jackie Kennedy still considered politics as a males-only domain.
In newly released tapes of a 1964 interview with a former political advisor to her late husband, Kennedy said: “I think women should never be in politics. We’re just not suited to it.” Of women who were what she described as “violently liberal,” Kennedy said they were likely “scared of sex,” and suggested that two well-known political women of that era were lesbians.
Even after the women’s movement of the 1970s, it stuns me that women continue to confront biases and hurdles in politics. From former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin to former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, mothers, in 2011, are the odd ones out in the political arena. When it comes to political activism, punditry and general political conversation, it’s assumed by many that the women raising today’s generation of kids would rather discuss issues like logistics of the carpool, cupcake recipes and who has the best sale on kids’ winter boots than the latest on the 2012 presidential race.
But Joanne Bamberger, who goes by the handle “PunditMom” on her blog and in her columns, thinks it’s time to put to rest this misguided notion that mothers are not interested in politics because, she asserts, that’s just not the case.
“Mothers are political. If you don’t think that’s true, think again,” wrote Bamberger in her new book Mothers of Intention: How Women & Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America, which includes essays from a number of female writers. “When children become part of our lives, we’re committed to making the world a better place for them as they grow up. But we live in a culture where mothers often are undervalued and overlooked, so many people assume that once we have children, thoughts of anything unrelated to the care and feeding of kids flees our minds, our political thoughts and goals dismissed.”
Mothers, “mama grizzlies” as they’ve become known among the pundit class, actually want to do whatever they can to create a better nation for their children and care very much about the decisions that politicians, only they’re not treated as seriously as fathers are. “. . . [O]ur male-heavy political and media worlds remain, for the most part, distinctly indifferent to actual hearing what women in general, and mothers in particular, have to say about the world they want and how they want to shape it,” Bamberger asserted.
Politically oriented mothers – whether they’re commenting on politics online or musing about it in coffee shops, whether they do political work or educate their children about politics during dinner – are not a just a passing fad like the hula hoop, Flashdance-style ripped sweatshirts and leg warmers.
Although mothers who offer up strong opinions on politics are often reduced to pithy monikers like “soccer moms,” “hockey moms,” “security moms” “or “mommy bloggers,” Bamberger said it’s a mistake for women to underestimate their own influence. Her book, which provides a platform for mothers of all political stripes, covers the gamut of political motherhood – from becoming politicized and raising politically aware children, to how the political views of mothers are regarded differently than those of fathers and how treating mothers as a monolithic voting block is deeply patronizing.
Encouraging mothers to step up and enter the political fray, whether through public policy process or espousing political opinions in blogs or columns (an arena vastly dominated by men), Bamberger calls upon mothers to muster their courage, harness their intellectual prowess and change the political conversation.
But being a politically active mother isn’t that easy in the current climate where female politicians who have children still field questions about who’s going to take care of their offspring while they’re off campaigning and governing (this happened to Sarah Palin), something that never happens with male politicians.
“This ‘motherhood and politics don’t mix’ meme is now firmly entrenched in our political dialogue,” Bamberger said. “Men and women alike are guilty of buying into these long-held assumptions about mothers that have spilled into the realm of public service and political thought. The reality is that women who want to embrace political power, elective or otherwise, will be criticized no matter which side of that maternal line they walk – women like Palin for not being a good mother and mothers like [Hillary] Clinton being mocked for being too masculine.”
However those double standards haven’t stopped political mothers from running for office or from writing columns or blogs with a political bent to them. Mothers are still trying to change and/or influence public policy, even when some people try to marginalize them by saying they’re “just” soccer moms.
Women who have children do run for office, though not as many as Bamberger (and I) would like to see tossing their hats into the ring. Lots of women not only take their children with them to the polls when they vote, but there are moms who are taking it upon themselves to educate their children about the process, politics and government and why it’s important to them. Political moms might be in your circle of friends and you don’t even know it because, for some reason, people don’t think it’s a good idea to bring it up on the sidelines of youth soccer games.
To folks like Bamberger (and like me), politics isn’t something dry and textbook-y, reserved for political science classrooms, oversized guys in smoky backrooms chomping on cigars or men in snappy suits, a Bluetooth glued to his ear and a campaign contribution in his briefcase. “The numbers of these mothers speaking out about causes and candidates grow every day . . . [and] these politically energized mothers aren’t going away,” Bamberger said.
This means that, as the 2012 presidential race heats up, you can and should be seeing politics everywhere that mothers are, even in the carpool lane. To borrow a phrase from Canadian mothers who were looking to have their voices heard in a recent election in their country, we really need to “mom the vote” no matter your party nor your candidate. Our kids are watching.