No Family = Perfect Woman for the Job

December 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:

  1. If a man had been selected for the job, having or not having a family probably would never have been an issue.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?

Holly Kearl By:   |   December 04, 2008


  1. Marian says:

    Gov. Rendell’s remarks are not particularly sexist, but they are discriminatory toward single people. My daughter and her significant other are both single and get disproportionate work assignment, because they do not have a “family.”

  2. Jayne says:

    The remark was gender specific when he made it ; it is horrible that a governor even thinks this.

    I thought we had come further than that kind of thing. However, even those with a family are expected to make sacrifices today which are horrible for the children. Our daughter and son-in-law travel more now than in the past — and lose valuable contact with their children.

    I participated in a workplace seminar In 1994 where corporations promised to begin Childcare Eeducation Centers. This hasn’t been accomplished. It needs to be a priority to provide quality educational training for our next generation of leaders when their parents are expected to work abnormal hours.

    Sharing jobs that have a greater than normal time expectancy could also certainly be a step in the right direction.

    Nobody should be expected to spend 24 hours on a job at the neglect of their own “family” OR “life of their own”.

  3. Sandy Kirkpatrick says:

    Jayne brings up an important point. That’s why it seems to me that AAUW’s work is so important. On the one hand, we advocate for pay equity — that women are paid the same and have the same opportunities as men. On the other hand, we advocate for sane workplace conditions for ALL workers on issues like family leave, etc.

    That’s what makes our organization one that should appeal to all people, regardless of gender. Surely most men don’t aspire to a career that means they have no time for their families… or themselves!

    It shouldn’t matter whether a person is married with children or single and/or childless. Everyone needs a healthy balance between work and personal life, including national leaders.

  4. ThatitisEdward says:

    It isn’t sexist to think that an unattached person without children will commit more time to a job. Before being married and having kids (and regrettably even when the kids were babies) I routinely put in 70+ hours per week. That set my career up and got me ahead of less committed (or more family committed) colleagues. Now, however, the demands of family have me working a lot less – and my employer suffers for it.

  5. scipta says:

    I think this is male chauvinist because I don’t think the women who have children can pay less attention to her work. Today many women came out of their houses and manage their work and family very well.

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