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Palin's Nomination Fuels Working-Moms Debate

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Palin's Nomination Fuels Working-Moms Debate

Election 2008

Palin's Nomination Fuels Working-Moms Debate

Palin's Nomination Fuels Working-Moms Debate

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Breaking the so-called glass ceiling in politics or business is seen as a mark of progress for women in America. But women who do that while they raise kids often receive critical scrutiny over how they manage work and family in a way that men never do.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The nomination of Sarah Palin as the Republican candidate for vice president has sparked a different kind of conversation about women in the workplace. National polls show the Alaska governor is very popular. But since she joined the GOP ticket, Palin has fueled a debate among women about working mothers. NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

TOVIA SMITH: Reaction to Palin's candidacy basically falls in two camps. There's the "you go, girl" and the "how could you?" And that question is coming from mothers across the political spectrum.

Ms. MARIA MARTIN ANGELO(ph) (Single Working Mother): It's selfish on her part. Her kids need her. She has got a baby in diapers. I mean, she should be concerned about being there to put her kids to bed every night.

SMITH: Forty-nine-year-old Maria Martin Angelo is a single mom who's always worked in a liberal-leaning suburb west of Boston. She says she's all for a woman in the White House, just not a woman who's got five kids, including a newborn with Down syndrome and a teenager about to have a baby herself.

Ms. ANGELO: Your children sacrifice for that. You know, day care or somebody else is raising your kids. I may be politically incorrect in saying so, but it's how I feel.

SMITH: For sure, some of the more bitter barbs against Palin are politically motivated. But even some social conservatives who are with Palin on the issues are expressing qualms about her running.

Ms. MARINE ZAFF(ph) (Stay-At-Home Mother): I think that's crazy.

SMITH: Forty-eight-year-old Marine Zaff, a stay-at-home mother of three from Stratham, New Hampshire, says she was leaning Republican until Palin joined the ticket.

Ms. ZAFF: I think she's overambitious, and her heart isn't in the right place. I hate to be judgmental that way, but my values are my children come first.

Ms. MICHELLE COLLINS(ph)(Working Mother): Oh my God, we're like in the Dark Ages. This is not up to us to decide how she runs her family.

SMITH: Forty-five-year-old Michelle Collins doesn't agree with Palin on the issues, but she says she's appalled that anyone would even question whether it's proper for Palin to run.

Ms. COLLINS: I think it's outrageous for somebody to make the assumption that a woman can't do a job because she has children. How about hiring somebody, how about her husband or boyfriend, or how about somebody else taking some of the slack up?

Ms. JANE SWIFT (Republican, Massachusetts; Former Acting Governor of Massachusetts): I can't help but wish we were beyond these debates, but you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out we haven't made enough progress yet.

SMITH: Massachusetts former acting governor Jane Swift knows it all too well. She ran for lieutenant governor pregnant with her first baby and was acting governor when she delivered twins. She, too, was mocked and condemned for trying to pull off the breast pump-BlackBerry balancing act. She eventually dropped out of politics. As she explained at the time, something has to give. But Swift says that's a decision that every parent has to make for her or himself.

Ms. SWIFT: I do recognize that how I choose to spend my time has an impact on my family, and so those are personal choices. But what I reject is when women are forced to justify those choices in ways that guys aren't.

SMITH: Indeed, no one's questioning whether Barack Obama can still be a good father to his two young kids. Susan Reverby is a professor of women's studies at Wellesley College.

Professor SUSAN REVERBY (Women's Studies, Wellesley College): I see it as unfinished women's movement business, that there is a deep-seated, still, belief that somehow what women give is different than what men can make available. And therefore, when men are at work, they are not required in some deep psychological way to think about their children in quite the same way as women are.

SMITH: A study by the Pew Research Center shows Americans still disapprove of working moms by a two-to-one margin, and the numbers haven't really budged in the past 10 years. Some say that's partly because moms themselves tend to really dig their heels in once they take sides in the so-called mommy war.

Ms. MICHELLE LAMAR (Author of Blog, "White Trash Mom"): I mean, it's a game face, is what it is. It's like, oh, yeah, I got it covered, you bet. You bet.

SMITH: Michelle Lamar hosts a blog about working moms. She says another reason the question of work-family balance continues to rage is because right now...

Ms. LAMAR: There is no good answer at all. And whatever you do, there are consequences, there is fall-out.

SMITH: Many moms hope it will be one good thing that comes from the debate swirling around Sarah Palin. If it helps change policies around flex time, paid sick days and maternity leave, they say, what Sarah Palin is doing might raise fewer eyebrows in the future. Tovia Smith, NPR News.

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