Palin puts focus on working moms

Published 11:34 am Monday, September 15, 2008

The conversation still stings.

Five weeks after giving birth to our first son, I was sitting in the publisher’s office, a nave 27-year-old assistant managing editor with serious sleep deprivation, muddling through the final week of maternity leave and trying to make plans for a return to work.

My mentor and dear friend had resigned as managing editor, opening the top spot in the newsroom – the position for which I’d trained and worked for nearly six years.

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“We have an outside candidate,” the publisher told me. He was not familiar with the paper or the community, the publisher said, and admittedly perhaps not as skilled but, “you’ve just had a child and I don’t think this is the time for you to try and run the newsroom.”

With one sentence, a career was derailed. And 10 months later, this new mom was working in a different field.

Watching the national furor over the nomination of Sarah Palin has brought the memory of that fateful conversation to the fore.

Now, let’s be clear — I’m not comparing myself to Sarah Palin, who’s balanced running a state as governor with raising a family that includes a special needs child. I can’t know the challenges she faces every day — or would face if elected vice president.

But as a mother, I suspect I’m like millions of women in America who are watching her candidacy unfold with a mix of respect and curiosity. Can she really have it all, we wonder … and at what cost?

As the first female nominated to represent the Republican Party in the nation’s most important election, Palin has been thrust into the national spotlight. A relative unknown — Palin currently serves as governor of Alaska — proponents are hailing her as a refreshing voice in the debate, a self-proclaimed hockey mom who dares to balance the challenges of family and career.

Yet that same persona which millions of Americans find so appealing has become an easy target of opponents and detractors. Her joke about hockey moms – “pit bulls with lipstick” – was turned around in less than a week by Sen. Barack Obama, whose “you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig” comment drew the ire of Republicans and independents alike.

And, when South Carolina Democratic Chairwoman Carol Fowler said that John McCain had chosen a running mate “whose primary qualification seems to be that she hasn’t had an abortion,” Republicans reacted with appropriate shock and indignity

Sadly, these won’t be the first comments that dance close to – or even cross — the line for many Americans. Palin’s candidacy could realign the perceived barriers for women in politics as manners are set aside in the name of politics.

Already this year, we’ve watched as the national discourse struggles to realign itself with the first African-American candidate for president. Obama’s opponents have to choose their words wisely in criticizing him and his platform without making inferences of race, which would rightly raise the national ire.

Tom Blevin, a blogger on, was blunt is his criticism, writing: “Imagine for a moment if John McCain had used a similar shopworn phrase in reference to Barack Obama’s policies. Suppose he said, ‘Obama says he’s going to cut your taxes but he’s really going to raise them. My friends, it’s time for some straight talk about taxes, it’s time to call a spade a spade.’

“Do you think for a second the Joe Kleins, Andrew Sullivans, and Josh Marshalls of the world wouldn’t scream from the rooftops that McCain had used a racial slur against Obama? Of course they would — and they’d scoff at the notion that McCain was somehow unaware of how that phrase would be interpreted … Even if McCain hadn’t meant it that way, it wouldn’t matter.”

Yet, where is that same line for a hockey-mom governor, who truly believes she can balance the challenges of being a heartbeat away from the presidency with raising a family of four that includes a special-needs infant?

Does the line stop short of “liptstick on a pig?” Or just on the other side?

Sen. Hillary Clinton, the other woman of sorts for the Democratic Party, never sought to project the middle-America image of a nurturing hockey mom, who can balance an infant on her hip while planning campaign strategy. In her failed bid for the Democratic presidential nomination – and throughout her long political career – Clinton has cultivated a focused image of a career woman – a savvy political insider who puts her work first. Her ability to balance family and work were never an issue.

Now, in acknowledging – even celebrating – her femininity and motherhood, Palin opens the door for opponents to examine and attack nearly every area of her life … whether we think it’s fair or not.

Ultimately, the voters will have the final say, as they should.

As for me? Well, nearly three years after that fateful conversation a new publisher came calling. Ironically, just as I was about to return to the newspaper – as editor, no less – we learned our second child was on the way. Unsure of which way to turn, I told the new publisher and offered an out; surely he wouldn’t want someone to step in to run the newsroom only to have to step out in nine months.

He never blinked.

Stacy G. Graning is publisher of The Messenger. She can be reached via email at