"Mind your own business," She Replied

Here we go again. Or, is it still?

The whole woman's thing.

Jane Swift's reply to critics of her pregnancy, critics who think a woman can't be pregnant and work or run for office, and especially not run for lieutenant governor, was a simple, "Mind your own business."

Good for Jane.

One of my colleagues in the House started in with the old "she should stay home with the kid and not work" speech. But he lost his credibility when he admitted he and his wife have four kids under twelve, and his wife works. To his credit, he often babysits.

And, I'm sure Jane's husband, Chuck, will babysit as well.

I don't intend to impose my will on the world. If you're a mother who enjoys staying home with the kids, a mother who can stay home with the kids, great.

But some of us just don't operate that way. My mother always worked. I don't think I suffered for it.

And, I think I was a better mother for being able to go out into the world and work, which is what I wanted to do, even when my children were young. And, I don't think they suffered for it either. Neither is a drug addict, neither has been arrested, both are professionals, and quite independent.

Women aren't all alike. Women don't all think alike. And, as I've written before, so-called "women's issues" aren't necessarily my issues.

A lobbyist visited my office recently, assuming that I would oppose a particular piece of legislation, merely because I was a member of the legislature's Woman's Caucus. In fact, I had sponsored the legislation, supported the legislation, and there were only a few, very few, members of the Caucus that opposed it. He had made a very incorrect assumption.

Back to Jane, who was president of the Caucus two years ago, when she wad in the Senate. Most of the women in the caucus have children. The current president has had two children in the last three years. And no one complained. She serves her district admirably, children and all.

The Caucus encourages businesses in the state to help employees manage family and work responsibilities by sponsoring the View Awards, for Vision In Every Workplace. The Caucus wouldn't do this if all parents stayed home and didn't work, of course.

During budget week, two weeks ago, the Caucus spearheaded the drive to get several amendments approved, including an additional $5-million for after school programs, grants for licensed day are providers, a mandate to pay day care providers no less than they received last year, and a change in food stamp eligibility.

The Caucus has a variety of other legislation pending, including bills dealing with children, domestic violence, health, and economic security. All good issues. And, not just "women's issues."

But, I digress. Back to Jane Swift.

There's a book out, "Whatever happened to the Year of the Woman: Why Women Still Aren't Making it To the Top in Politics." It notes that Congress is about 90 percent male. At the current rate of increases, it will take 400 years to reach political parity.

And the author, Amy Handlin, points out that many times potentially strong female candidates run for office at inopportune times or under adverse circumstances.

Handlin argues that, because women continue to bear the biggest share of child care responsibilities, they wait to run for office until their children are independent. That means, less time to build seniority, fewer opportunities, diminished stamina. And, unlike men, women tend to enter politics circuitously, while men plan long term political careers.

Jane Swift, along with other leading female candidates for state wide office (Lois Pines, running for attorney general, and Easthampton's own Shannon O'Brien running for treasurer) have planned political careers. They're achieving their goals, just by being in the running, and by being taken seriously in a state that has had only one female statewide office holder.

Maybe you won't vote for them, because they're too Democratic, too Republican, too liberal, too conservative. Or because you don't agree with their stands on issues. But please don't withhold your vote because they are too short, too tall, too fat. Because you don't like their hairstyle. Or because they're pregnant.

Remember those old double standards. The family picture on his desk means his a responsible family man; the family picture on her desk means her family comes before career. If his desk is cluttered, he's a hard worker, but if her desk is cluttered, she's disorganized. If he's getting married, he'll become more settled, she'll get pregnant and leave. If he's going on a business trip, it's good for his career. If it's her, what will her husband think?

When we hear that, we all need the courage to repeat what Jane said, "Mind your own business."

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