When I was in the Air Force, I lived alone. I had a one bedroom apartment in a building that was about a football field’s length away from the Pentagon South Parking lot. I also held demanding positions that required long hours. And I spent two nights a week commuting to College Park for graduate school.
I’m pretty sure Gov. Rendell would have said I didn’t have a life and was therefore a perfect match for tough jobs, frequent TDY, and a heavy course load.
In fact, one of the senior NCOs made a similar comment when I announced I was leaving for the day (at 1630, after having been at work since 0630) to hit the gym. He was teasing, but he was right. If I wasn’t headed through DC to class or to the gym, I went home to mix up some Rice-a-Roni, steam some veggies, and watch a little TV — and I didn’t even have cable.
The fellow officers who had held the same positions before me had families. So did those who followed me, save one. And the officer with whom I commuted to graduate school did, too.
I admired them for taking on everything that they did. But I never questioned their capacity to do so.
Likewise, I never considered whether I was selected for the positions I held because I was single — or, after I got married, because my husband was assigned to another base and we did not live together. Or because I didn’t yet have children.
Just as I would have been disturbed to be selected for those positions based either wholly or in part on my gender, I would have been equally bothered if my "lack of a life" figured into my selection.
Gov. Rendell, unaware of his live microphone, commented last week regarding Gov. Napolitano (President-elect Obama’s choice for Homeland Security Secretary): "Janet’s perfect for that job. Because for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19-20 hours a day to it."
Although I marvel at how Gov. Rendell apparently thinks a person only needs 4-5 hours a day to eat, sleep, and shower, I believe his comments were meant to be complimentary, both to Gov. Napolitano and to women in general.
I believe that he meant to acknowledge an innate quality of most mothers that I recently wrote about on my personal site – the unrelenting drive to care for their children. But I disagree with his assumption that having no children allows a woman to focus on a job more closely than could a woman with children.
Mothers who work outside the home rarely do so merely as a hobby, particularly if they have young children. They either need their job to pay the bills, or they are devoted to their professional accomplishments. For many mothers, both of these cases are true. In neither case is it safe or fair to make a blanket assumption that work necessitates the sacrifice of family, or that family necessitates the sacrifice of work.
As Campbell Brown pointed out in her commentary, "If a man had been Obama’s choice for the job, would having a family or not having a family ever even have been an issue? Would it have ever prompted a comment? Probably not."
It’s true that any person, male or female, without a spouse or children (or parents or other extended family), is likely to have more free hours in their day to dedicate to whatever they choose — be it work, education, or hobbies. But why make the false assumption that a woman who fits this description will choose to spend all her waking hours at work?
Not only does such a conclusion perpetuate the idea that working mothers can’t possibly be dedicated to their jobs, it reinforces the idea that single women should make that choice if they want to be professionally successful.
Again, as Brown concluded, comments such as those made by Gov. Rendell "perpetuate stereotypes that put us in boxes, both mothers and single women."