- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 12, 2006

What do feminist leaders have against being a “stay-at-home” mom? Those leading the feminist movement would have women in the work force believe choosing to put their family before their career would keep them from climbing the corporate ladder.

This year when Elizabeth Vargas, co-anchor of ABC’s “World News Tonight” announced she was taking an extended maternity leave, feminists’ organizations such as the Feminist Majority Foundation, the National Council of Women’s Organizations and the National Organization for Women (NOW) were outraged, claiming Miss Vargas’ announcement was a cover-up of a demotion based on sexual discrimination.

It is true that when Miss Vargas returns from maternity leave to ABC in the fall to co-anchor “20/20,” she will no longer be co-anchor of “World News Tonight” as well. But Miss Vargas said, “It’s one thing to say, ‘I’m willing to work a 75-hour work week, be on airplanes and travel the world.’ It’s another thing to ask your children to pay the price for that.”

In reaction to Miss Vargas’ decision, NOW President Kim Gandy mockingly said, “It seems unlikely to me, having survived and thrived through her first pregnancy, that she would logically give up the job in TV a few months out, anticipating she couldn’t handle it. It just doesn’t strike me as a logical explanation. I don’t think there are too many men who would be happy to be removed from the anchor chair.”

How many of these feminists are mothers? And you would think Mrs. Gandy, the mother of two, would be more sympathetic to the dilemma of juggling family and career. Anyone with more than one child can tell you having another makes life more chaotic, not easier. It’s like saying juggling one orange is just as easy as juggling three or five oranges at once.

Miss Vargas also said, “Every woman has the right to make that decision for herself and her family without anybody judging it. … It’s just what’s right for me now. … I would hesitate to draw any large conclusions about working women or working mothers.”

To which Kim Gandy questioned, “If she can’t have it all, who among us could?”

Hmm, let’s ponder that fallible logic for a minute.

Matea Gold of the Los Angeles Times reminds us some women in the media do juggle career and family while remaining part of the top brass in the industry.

In her article “Vargas’ pregnant pause reignites debate,” Ms. Gold said, “CNN’s Soledad O’Brien has four children, including 20-month-old twins. Katie Couric, who has two daughters, was pregnant with her first when she was named co-anchor of NBC’s ‘Today’ show 15 years ago.”

And Michelle Easton, president of the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute said, “It makes no sense. Look at Margaret Thatcher, Clare Boothe Luce, Jeane Kirkpatrick, all of who had brilliant careers and wonderful family lives. They all had great marriages. They are great women. To suggest that one rules out the other is absurd.”

So it’s not a matter of whether a woman can do it all — it is a personal choice for each woman (and her husband) how she juggles family and a career. And sometimes when deciding family is more important than a career, a woman decides to lessen her focus on her career or chooses a job that allows her to spend more time with her family. What’s wrong with that? Why did feminist leaders react in such an insensitive manner to the Miss Vargas’ decision? Because feminist leaders really are not pro-family and in more ways than one are not pro-women either.

So what kind of role models for women is NOW seeking to support?

In a recent online post, Ms. Gandy wrote of her disappointment of “ABC’s failure to renew ‘Commander in Chief’… in which Geena Davis portrayed the first female president.” NOW also patted itself on the back for helping to “retain ‘Judging Amy’ for another season.” For anyone who has watched either “Judging Amy” or “Commander in Chief” it is clear the main female characters hold high places of influence in the workplace.

But does NOW note that the relationship these fictional female characters had with their fictional families was somewhat dysfunctional? No.

Nor do they mention that the main character of “Judging Amy” gave up an opportunity for a federal court nomination because she realized she would have even less time to spend at home with her fictional daughter.

Why is NOW encouraging women to find positive role models in fictional female TV personalities? If history is any indication, Hollywood rarely provides good role models for anything relating to a functional marriage or family life.

In her address to the 1990 graduating class of Wellesley College, first lady Barbara Bush said, “Your success as a family, our success as a society, depends not on what happens at the White House but on what happens inside your house.”

So in the words of my wise father, the greatest legacy you can leave in this life is with your children.

CHENOA MCKNIGHT

Assistant to the president at the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute.

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