No Family = Perfect Woman for the JobDecember 04, 2008
Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA) was caught on tape saying the following about Gov. Janet Napolitano (D-AZ), who was just nominated to lead the U.S. Department of Homeland Security: “Janet’s perfect for that job. Because for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19 to 20 hours a day to it.”
CNN anchor Campbell Brown rightly pointed out that surely Napolitano has many other qualifications besides having no family and therefore allegedly no life (which isn’t an actual qualification). She also points out that the current head of Homeland Security and his male predecessor both have families, yet they still perform their jobs.
Brown makes three more points that I think are right-on as we think about the barriers women still face in the workforce:
- If a man had been selected for the job, having or not having a family probably would never have been an issue.
- Hearing a governor make this comment illustrates how widespread these kinds of assumptions may be (if only in private), and it’s hard not to wonder how many women are discounted for certain jobs and certain opportunities because of their family or because they are in their childbearing years.
- If a woman is childless and/or single, does she end up working holidays, weekends, and the more burdensome shifts more often than her colleagues with families because it’s assumed that if you have no family responsibilities then you have no life?
As we work to overcome the barriers women face when trying to achieve a work-life-balance and reach high-level positions, we can use the laws we have — like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, and Equal Pay Act — to combat blatant discrimination and urge Congress to pass stronger laws.
However, it’s harder to know how to overcome the kind of subtle sexism that Gov. Rendell’s statements demonstrate. What are your ideas?