WaPo Feminist Says Palin News Was Sexist, But Palin Children 'Tumbled Down the Stairs'

November 30th, 2009 12:00 AM

Washington Post staff writer Liza Mundy (author of a friendly book-length Michelle Obama biography) reviewed two books on women's history for the Sunday Post, one by New York Times columnist Gail Collins and one by GOP political consultant (and CNN regular) Leslie Sanchez.

Mundy wanted to admit that media coverage of Sarah Palin was sexist, but apparently that could not be acknowledged without suggesting she resembled a comically neglectful mother from Dickens in allowing her daughter to get pregnant:

Sanchez also argues that Palin was unfairly judged on whether she could be vice president and pay sufficient attention to her children. This is a rich point to ponder. I agree that there was a double standard at work in the 2008 campaign. If a woman politician spent as much time away from her young children as Barack Obama spent away from his daughters when he was running for the Senate and later for the White House, she would be widely viewed as a neglectful mother.

But Palin is not the perfect example. She chose to accept the tap for running mate at a time when a daughter was in a personal crisis. And because of the tabloid mess the family saga has devolved into, thanks to that classy Levi Johnston, fairly or unfairly it was sometimes hard not to think of Palin as Mrs. Jellyby in Bleak House, meditating on Africa -- or in Palin's case studying up on world geography -- while her children tumbled down the stairs.

The first question is: would Liza Mundy sound this judgmental about other politicians with troubled children? Al Gore, for example? Does she really know much of anything about Sarah Palin's parenting, or is she just projecting a feminist animus?

For people who haven't read Bleak House (or the Cliffs Notes version), here's a quick online summary of the character focused on Africa while her children tumble:

Mrs. Jellyby is convinced that no other undertaking in life is so worthwhile, or would solve so many problems at a stroke. Dickens's interest is not in the project, however, but rather in Mrs. Jellyby, who is so wedded to her work that she has no time for her several children, with the exception of Caddy, a daughter she has conscripted as her secretary. Ink-spattered Caddy puts in nearly as many hours as her mother in the daily task of answering letters and sending out literature about Borrioboola-Gha.

Caddy, however, has come to hate the very word "Africa" or any word that has the remotest suggestion of causes. For her, causes simply mean the ruin of family life. Mrs. Jellyby's husband eventually becomes suicidal and, though surviving despair, is last seen in the book with his head resting despondently on a wall.

Mundy's article began by discussing how she was fiercely feminist in grade school, which might explain why she's so quick to suggest Palin's a bad mother:  

In the early 1970s, I agitated along with two other girls to join our elementary school's all-boy patrol squad. We prevailed, sort of. The bureaucracy would not go so far as to permit girls to usher schoolchildren across the street, but it did let us hold the front doors open. It still felt like a victory, even on freezing mornings when we stood at our posts watching our breath.

The 1970s were enormously formative years for me personally: In junior high school, my friends and I engaged in debates over "women's lib" with a panel of boys who enjoyed baiting us. We argued our position with such vehemence that one day our social studies teacher kept us after class and asked, indulgently, "What am I going to do with you?"

It's amazing that the Post would be so upfront with its readers (unless they're assuming every Post reader is a liberal) that their political writers have a long-standing animus against traditional values. You can see it in how Mundy classifies progress (Roe vs. Wade) and backlash (Phyllis Schlafly).

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