Monday, December 8, 2008

Is this comment gendered?

I found Gail Collins' column regarding Gov. Ed Rendell's (PA) comment about Gov. Janet Napolitano (AZ) interesting in relation to stereotypes about women who don't marry -- and perhaps also those who do but do not have children. Apparently Rendell said something about Napolitano being “perfect” for homeland security “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.”

Collins comments:

This seemed to be the summation of Napolitano’s qualifications.

* * *

And it sure sounded as if he was saying that single people like Napolitano exist in a state so dark and barren that the empty hours can only be filled up by guarding the nation’s borders against terrorists and preparing for the next hurricane.
Collins goes on to discuss the work of Bella DePaulo, the author of “Singled Out.” De Paulo says that "singlism" is not limited to unmarried women, but Collins suggests that single women, who comprise between 43-51% of adult women, tend to be regarded as "folks with time on their hands." As a consequence, they are asked to cover for others and do more than their share of being dutiful daughter, sister, and worker. Collins asserts that they "often wind up portrayed as vestal virgins who live only to serve their chief exectutive," and she cites Condoleeza Rice as a prime example.
As someone who was single most of her adult life (to date), I found Collins' comment really resonated with me. I know that I have shared with many fem jur classes over the years my sense that employers often took advantage of my "singledom." That is, they took advantage of my apparent lack of "real" obligations to load on the extra work, including that which involved overnight travel. The "good news" in all of this is that it permitted me to be what Joan Williams has called the "ideal worker." The (additional) bad news is that singledom is often required for women to be seen as ideal workers, whereas men are more often permitted to "have it all."

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