WOMEN IN THE POLITICAL CROSSHAIRS

Why are the rules always different for women?

 
 
Texas State. Sen. Wendy Davis is running for governor.
Texas State. Sen. Wendy Davis is running for governor.
Eric Gay / AP

mao35@columbia.edu

Am I the only reader who talks to her newspaper? Who chokes on her steaming cup of café con leche and wonders out loud about fundamental issues of decency and fairness?

Why, oh, why do we continue reading that Wendy Davis, a state senator who wants to be the first Democratic governor of Texas in 20 years, left her daughters, then 2 and 8, with her then-husband, Jeff Davis, while she pursued a law degree at Harvard University?

Given that he is the father of one of those daughters and the stepfather of the other, it would make more sense to write that he stayed with their children, or that the children stayed home with their father.

And, given that no one disputes that fact or seems damaged by it, what is the big deal? What does it say about our society, about us, that we continue to penalize women, but not men, for pursuing their dreams?

Some say the issue is not what Davis did or didn’t do, as a mother and as a wife, but that she fudged on the details as she runs a campaign that heavily relies on the narrative of her private life: teenage bride, early divorce, single mother of one, brief stay in a trailer, married again, another child, law school, a husband who helped pay for her education, divorce after a long marriage.

It is true that the details were not exact, and she has admitted that, but she didn’t lie. Why would anybody want to dissect the domestic arrangements and financial decisions of a marriage of 17 years? Why does it matter if her daughters went to Boston with her while she finished her studies or if the daughters stayed with their Dad?

Davis, of course, is the poised and charismatic woman who dazzled — or infuriated, depending on your point of view — the nation with her 11-hour filibuster at the Texas Capitol last year against a law that would further restrict abortions.

This week, even her children, now 31 and 25, had to come to her defense. In a letter released Tuesday, the youngest, Dru, wrote: “I can tell you that my mom was a remarkable mother and continues to be so to this day.”

What a sad, sad day when daughters have to publicly defend their mothers for their choices and for their ambitions. As Davis said in a speech Tuesday night, “I pursued my education not instead of being a good mother but because being a good mother required that I build a better life for my family.”

About the partisan attacks against her — Sarah Palin’s daughter, Bristol, has joined the fracas — Davis said, “I don’t take it personally, but you should.” And I do.

We all should. Every single one of us who has had to hire full-time sitters so we could work or finish school, attend a conference across the state or fly to another country on a moment’s notice for a meeting or a story. So many of us have had to do that, not now, when technology allows us to keep in touch with relative ease, but years ago when saying good-bye at the door really meant good-bye. No texting about homework, no Skyping bedtime stories.

Here’s something else I read in the papers last week that I take personally: Some Americans are apparently upset because Cheerios is once again featuring a fictional interracial family in a 30-second commercial that is scheduled to be aired Sunday during the Super Bowl.

When the “family” — a black father, a white mother and their biracial child — was introduced in a commercial last May, there were so many hateful and racist comments on YouTube that General Mills, the cereal maker, had to disable the comments section.

Writing about it in The New York Times, the reporter asked several experts why they thought the commercial had struck such a chord. Here’s one possibility:

“Another theory held that the catalyst was giving a starring role to an interracial family in an ad for a mainstay brand like Cheerios, challenging some viewers’ vision of traditional values.”

What “traditional values” exactly are challenged by skin color?

It turns out that other commercials have ventured in this mined racial territory before, The Times reported, but they are mostly for “upscale products or brands with foreign origins.”

The issue here may be, according to one of the experts quoted, that Cheerios is a “wholesome, all-American, classic brand.” In other words, there is no place for diversity in this wholesome, classic, all-American place we call home. At least not during the Super Bowl. At least not that kind of diversity.

How inexplicably sad.

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