Around Washington, people often mistake me for Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Yes, her hair is much curlier (and blonder) than mine. But other than that, we're identical.
You didn't know that? We're the same age (basically), we spent our early lives in Forest Hills (that's in Queens for you non-New Yorkers), we grew up on Long Island (and left it), we're Jewish, we're Democrats, we're pro-choice, anti-gun, and in favor of health care reform. And we've both been described as, well, "feisty." Plus, our first names have that perky "ee" sound at the end.
I am, of course, joking about any real resemblance. Appearances aside, Debbie is a four-term Congresswoman from Florida and a rising political star. She will, in the next few weeks, become the powerful chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), leading the party for the 2012 elections. I'm one of thousands of federal government lawyers. (And an occasional blogger.)
But we are alike in one other important way. We're both working moms with school-aged kids. In fact, we each have a 7-year-old daughter. (Wasserman Schultz has two other kids, I have one more.)
So, as someone who is similarly situated, and a fan of the Congresswoman, I had more than a passing interest in the profile of Wasserman Schultz -- In a Life Filled with Firsts, One More -- published in The New York Timesearlier this week. I was looking forward to learning more about Wasserman Schultz's many accomplishments.
Unfortunately, the Times profile was more about disempowerment and less about the DNC's new power broker.
Now, I have to admit that I'm curious about how Wasserman Schultz makes it all work. Especially, when she's about to take on a second, highly public, demanding job. (The answer: she "married a great guy.")
And I recognize that the Times' portrayal of Wasserman Schultz as Representative/Chairman Mom plays into the Democrats' interest in positioning the party to appeal to working women in 2012. Wasserman Schultz acknowledges this dynamic in the article, explaining: "As a woman today, it’s very different living through raising children and balancing work and family. It’s [the DNC chairmanship] an opportunity to reach out to so many families. And women who work outside the family can say Democrats get it."
But it still seems to me that the slant of the Times' story was simply another example of the media reinforcing the harried working mom myth. And perpetuating the new momism, which (as I've observed before) links female politician's competence with their childbearing capacity to make them less threatening to the body politic.
If this was a fluffy profile piece for the Style section or one of the traditional women’s magazines, I’d be less annoyed. There are many women in general, and mothers in particular, for whom Wasserman Shultz’s story will resonate. . . . [But] [p]ublishing an article in ostensibly the biggest newspaper in the country that begins with a description of stereotypical mom duties and places Wasserman Schultz’s professional responsibilities at the end of a list that starts with typical mommy chores does exactly what you would assume — it insinuates that it’s OK for women to move up the ladder of political power, as long as they’ve packed the lunch boxes and washed the gym uniforms.
And, as Bamberger also noted, you'd never see this article about a man: the press never commented on previous DNC chief Tim Kaine's fatherhood status, daily family duties, or three kids.
Still, as someone who thinks and writes about work and family issues a lot, I guess its better for society as a whole for the Timesto show a powerful, talented women like Wasserman Schulz with her husband and kids, instead of sweeping them under the rug or pretending that there are no tradeoffs. But please, New York Times, can you lay off the harried working mother thing?