Motherhood identity politics

Dana Goldstein has an interesting article in the American Prospect about female politicians who front their motherhood as a political credential.

In 1996 Hillary Clinton reminded us that "it takes a village" to raise a child. In 2007, Nancy Pelosi keeps reminding Americans that she's a grandmother from San Francisco.

Dana wonders whether all this maternal symbolism is good for women:

It was a new articulation of the mommy mantra -- the idea that what qualifies women for politics isn't their intelligence, their experience, their policy proposals, or even their character, but rather their inherent identities as feminine caretakers.
On a gut level, I'm not crazy about the mommy schtick. Yet, as a feminist and a partisan Democrat, I'm not going to complain. As Amanda argued several week ago, Nancy Pelosi's in-your-face parenthood seems to be reaching a lot of women who might otherwise feel alienated by Democrats.

Electoral politics is about symbolism, not syllogism. It's like the Village People. Everyone needs to play a character.

Veterans don't necessarily make better legislators. Nobody said that John Kerry should have been president because he was a decorated Vietnam vet. On the other hand, his service was a powerful symbol of his patriotism and evidence of his leadership abilities. That's why Karl Rove hit so hard with the Swiftboat Liars.

Motherhood is a powerful metaphor, too. Nobody would say that Nancy Pelosi deserves to be Speaker of the House because she's a woman. On the other hand, if she can use her life experiences to market her very real talents, I don't have a problem with it.

Besides, good child-rearing is an achievement. If you've raised kids, that's an important part of your life's work. If it's acceptable to run as a cowboy, or an entrepreneur, or soldier, why not as a Mom?


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