CNN takes apart Vogue, Cindy McCain & Michelle Obama

May 28, 2008

Today’s political atmosphere has birthed inspired passion and obsessed acolytes at a time of economic shakiness and international frisson. As with any multiparty election system, there will be a portion of our people sorely disappointed no matter what the outcome of the second Tuesday in November. They will rail against the rules and bylaws and claim they were cheated by a system that was created before cars, the Internet or cell phones. And this will be true whether a Democrat or a Republican wins the highest seat in the land that day.

In this winter of discontent, new leaders must emerge and champion the social issues of the day, see funding for important projects through increasingly hostile Beltway waters and do what people are essentially sent here to do, govern a vastly diverse and complexly at odds country. These leaders will be men and women chosen by their constituencies for beliefs personal and political and actions political and personal. They will be judged by what they do, what they say, who they are seen with and who they are seen without, and for the driven women who people their ranks, they will be judged by the most inconsequential of all rulers, their clothes, their hair and their packaged look.

I have again had this double standard thrust before my eyes this week in the coverage of the two prominent potential First Ladies who have taken oaths to stand by their husbands, in sickness and health, in election years and political downtime, as CNN choose to cover the fashion choices of potential First Ladies, Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama. Do you ever wonder if they kick their husbands out of bed in the morning because all they really want is to sleep in and make waffles, as even the most career-minded person, man or woman, is wont to do occasionally? Oh, to be a fly on the wall when they want to be anywhere but the campaign bus. Really, I want to be there when they voice an opinion in a meeting they’re attending that is not well received, because to me, that’s the woman I want to know is going to stand by our next President or be our next President.

As fascinating as understanding the reasoning behind Cindy McCain’s choice of blue jeans in a Vogue spread versus Michelle Obama’s choice of a black dress and pearls in hers, what I am most curious about is where these women stand on the issues that their husbands and Sen. Clinton are campaigning on – and I don’t just want their canned responses that they support and share their husbands’ beliefs and positions. I want to know what Michelle Obama says when her daughters ask her about gay marriage – if they ask her at all. I want to know what Cindy McCain says when her children express concern about their father’s age and the brutal pace of the presidential campaign and then term in the White House. Do they think of their daughters when the topic of choice comes up on the trail? Do they think of their sons or nephews when people question whether a draft should be reinstated?

I question this because I feel like these are questions I know or at least have a good idea of answers for when women themselves run for office. Sen. Clinton may or may not win the nomination. She may or may not answer every question with candor and honesty – she is a politician – I don’t expect pure black and white from her or any of her colleagues frankly. But these are questions I want to ask women who hold political office or hope to hold political office.

I’ve read and been told that this is a step in the wrong direction. People don’t question a man’s family unless scandal is associated with him. They don’t ask him how he’ll raise the child his wife is ready to have any day now, but you can be sure that a pregnant political candidate is going to be asked how she plans on raising that child and holding an office at the same time. It’s just not a question men get.

I want these questions to be asked of all our political candidates because we are a world and a country in desperate need of mothers right now. People say that “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world,” and with more than 4,000 dead in Afghanistan and Iraq, bombings happening everyday between Israel and Palestine and correction facilities filling to the brim every year with convicts who seem younger and younger as they move from juvenile detention directly into the criminal system, I want leaders who recognize that to nurture is a strength, not a weakness. Leaders must know that the bigger gun will not always win against a cunning enemy, and that creating a world where we lessen the need for bigger guns every year is a goal we should all strive for in honor of our children and their children after them.

When did asking these questions become a weakness? Why have they stayed sexist? Couldn’t we turn the tables if we started asking these questions of men and of women? Would that not even the playing field just a little, while still getting answers to vital questions?

If these are questions we continue to shy away from because they weaken women by reminding voters of our inate ability to create and carry life, what’s the point of questioning politicians at all? Why do we bother with elections and campaigns? They could fill out a survey, distribute it and we could choose based on those answers, blindly. I suppose the media circus of today will never let that happen but I deeply hope that I see fewer stories dissecting wardrobe choices in our political candidates. I could care less if someone spends $400 on a hair cut or wears blue jeans or a black dress for a fashion spread. I want to know what they will do when eight proverbial balls are in the air and the famed red phone rings as they all start to fall. And I want to know, straight up, what kind of world they will leave for the children I will have someday. Those are the stories that matter and the rest is merely filler in a book that could use fewer words to relay its point.

-Rachael Berkey

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