Flashpoint for women’s issues

Very interesting article in the NYT (Dean’s Wife Shuns Politics) about Dr. Steinberg, Howard Dean’s wife, during all his campaign efforts. It seems to me that the writer was drawing attention to how strange it seemed that a wife could be so removed from such an important part of a husband’s life.

Lots of issues abound here.

1. It’s a blow for feminism. Great that a woman can be successful career mom and mother. Does that mean a wife couldn’t also support her husband’s goals. He’s running for the President of the US and is the leading Democratic nominee for crying out loud.
2. Blow against traditionalism. How is it that a woman balancing personal, professional life can not also support her husband’s personal and professional goals? Dr. Steinberg is quoted: “I think a lot of couples are like us, where they have two career-couples, and both careers are very important to the individuals,” Dr. Steinberg, 50, said in an interview this fall. “Each individual has to do what works for her. What works best for me, and what I’m best at, is being a doctor.”

Yes, but the perception is there is no visible support for Dean’s husband’s presidential efforts . How does that play out when you’re asking voters to support Howard Dean but his own wife stays at home? See John Kerry and Terry Heinz. Slate had an article questioning why Heinz wasn’t supporting her husband financially when he was trailing so badly in the polls. Seems like a case of too little too late for them now. Kerry is going down like a Gore, career politician going down and who will never be president.

In today’s age, balancing two careers, family and personal needs is really hard (I think life has gotten a lot more complex than past generations). I think this is an example of the balance being out-of-whack. Dr Steinberg comes across the article as overly self-centered on her own needs. Being a politician and running for office, this she-goes-her-way, I-go-my-way doesn’t fly well. It’s a big sacrifice for everyone and everyone needs to be on the same wagon pulling the same horses.

Latest polls claim that Clark and Dean are neck and neck and both liked by the Dems. We’ll see how it goes. Looks like the Dean express has hit some bumps. Clark is becoming a viable candidate and alternative to Dean who still comes across to me as being too slick and untrustworthy.


0 thoughts on “Flashpoint for women’s issues”

  1. I read the article too. I thought that being a first lady in the late 20th and 21st centuries is just tough. It’s very much a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. It’s like with Hilary Clinton – she was Hilary Rodham until the voters of Arkansas expected her to take her husband’s name. She was a high powered attorney, but had the whole why-didn’t-I-stay-home-and-bake cookies thing. She polarized people when she stood by her man and seemed like his equal (should it even matter what the spouse is necessarily going to do?, especially considering when we’re voting for the candidate, not for first spouse; we’re stuck with the first spouse whether we like it or not). Drs. Steinberg and Dean aren’t having it easy in a changing world (I thought it was disturbing that the article made their home life a little too facile; “Dean goes home 4 times a year since the campaign started; Steinberg focuses on the laundry.” Gee whiz, it painted too pretty a “picture” for me). Sounds to me that Steinberg gave up a lot to go with Dean to Vermont in the first place; and of course, her not campaigning with him would seem self-centered (all for the sake of appearances – it just doesn’t look right for her – it raises questions – ex’s., “does she resent his political career?/does she care about the world?/what?”). But, as a doctor who maintains that she is a doctor, she owes it to her patients to stick around or else she’d face criticism for being selfish in another direction – this is a no win situation. (I thought it was amusing that the article referred to “West Wing” with its doctor first lady – who long ago complained that she could longer see patients). Maybe Steinberg-Dean want to maintain their privacy or maybe they’re (or all of us are) just kidding themselves in thinking that they can still draw a line between the personal and political spheres. Teresa Heinz Kerry and John Kerry surely know it too. It would also suggest why a married woman president won’t have any easier a time either; voters would question what a candidate’s husband is doing – or maybe they won’t (perhaps it’s easily taken for granted that a man would have and keep his career; I can see the double standard). A lot of food for thought, no easy answers.

  2. According to the article the picture painted sounds a lot like two independent people who just so happened to be attached by a piece of paper and kids. Without those ties, they’d might as well be professional colleagues or strangers.

    There’s a reasonable expectation that spouses support one another in important family events. The picture the reporter paints is that Dr Steinberg doesn’t even care to pretend there’s support (e.g. finding his brother’s body from Vietnam but not being there for Howard, campaign milestones); rather maybe it’s a case where she sacrified already and didn’t want to anymore and so Howard, good luck-wish-you-the-best, but you’re on your own and I’ll play doctor because I don’t like or care about politics and no one will make me do what I don’t want to do, even if it is important to you, hubby. Which is fine on a personal level if that’s their marital arrangement, I suppose, but not good for the Elect-Dean-for-President efforts.


  3. Good article. I thought this particular line in the article on Elizabeth Edwards was a little off-putting:

    “‘[Edwards] is like Hillary [Clinton], but she had some things that Hillary doesn’t have,’ said Harriet Hamilton, a retired artist in Des Moines who heard Mrs. Edwards speak recently on everything from rearing children to the USA Patriot Act. ‘She had a tenderness that I don’t always see in Hillary.'”

    Hmm. Must one be “tender” when talking about the USA Patriot Act, particularly if one is female? One doesn’t expect this if the speaker is, well, male. Also, if Ms. Edwards were still a practicing attorney, would people feel as warmly as they would toward her? I like that she seems fascinating and strong-willed (heck, she’d be a good candidate for senatorship herself, really, but for other goals she has), but it’s not like I expect another Hillary. Just my two cents, that’s all; may not mean much.

    And, boy, are people really getting on about John Edwards’ looks! Let’s get back to listening to what the man says (which, actually, doesn’t sound so bad either).

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