I know, I know, everybody’s talking about O-calm-a and John McBlinky, about William Ayers and Joe the Plumber, about whose attack ads are more negative, whose campaigns are more corrupt, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I’m sick of all of it. There’s two weeks to go until this election, and I’m ready to start talking about what’s really important: Sarah Palin’s baby snuggler. I’m talking about that harness thing she wears to carry her baby around when she’s on the campaign trail. This may be the one nice thing I ever say about Sarah Palin, but I think her snuggler is awesome.
The first time I saw an image of Palin with the snuggler was last week, on the Nightly News. It was just a brief few seconds of footage; Palin and McCain at a campaign event, both of them on a big stage, in black suits, he with a red power tie, she with…a big old baby in a sling. The accompanying story had nothing to do with the snuggler – the newcaster didn’t even mention it – and that’s what struck me as so remarkable. It seems to me that, up until now, when powerful women have had babies, the accepted wisdom has been that you do your best to hide them, and any evidence of them. After all, women want to be Taken Seriously in the workplace, and babies are Not Serious. So you check your jacket to make sure there aren’t any stains from when the baby spit up this morning; you cover those dark circles under your eyes from being up all night. On your desk, a small picture of your little guy or girl is acceptable, but a collage on one wall, or a screensaver on your computer, is not. And please, when you’re at the watercooler, don’t talk about your baby, don’t complain about your husband, and if you must pump, do it in the bathroom, where nobody has to know about it. The message is, and has always been, that you do your juggling act at home, because at work, you’re a worker, and nothing else. Don’t ask me who made these rules, or who declared these judgments, because I don’t know. But my guess is that they got started in the ‘80s, when women wore shoulder pads and floppy bowties to the office, in the hopes of looking more like men.
But then cut to: Sarah Palin, with her six month-old asleep against her chest while she shakes hands and talks to supporters. Far from hiding her baby, McCain’s would-be Vice-President has him out there, on full display. This is who I am, she seems to be saying. Take me or leave me. Of course, I’m not so naïve as to think that Palin’s accessory of choice wasn’t orchestrated by a team of campaign strategists, in the hopes of helping her to connect with those ever-important women voters. But still, that the strategists don’t think that Palin’s baby snuggler makes her look weak, or like her attention is divided, is astounding all by itself. Try to imagine Geraldine Ferraro with a baby strapped to her chest in 1984. Try to imagine Hillary Clinton – not even running for president, but just a potential first lady – in 1992. It would never have happened. If this were ten years ago, or even four years ago, Palin would have been instructed to nanny up and leave the kid in Alaska, and maybe do a photo spread with him in Vanity Fair.
But okay – let’s get to the real question: what do Palin and her snuggler mean for the rest of us? Are we suddenly going to see female executives showing up for meetings with their babies in slings around their necks, or in papooses on their backs? Probably not. But what if one of them did? What if the nanny called in sick on the day of a big presentation, or the baby got a cough and couldn’t go to daycare on the morning that a huge deal was supposed to close, and some mom said to herself, screw it, if Sarah Palin can show up for work with her baby in a snuggler, then so can I? Would it really be so shocking, now that we’ve all seen it on tv? Would people think any less of her, because she admitted to her workplace that her baby exists? Somehow, I don’t think so.
As we all know, this is a historic election. We’re either going to have an African American President or a female Vice President. We’ve seen a woman come damn close to becoming the Presidential nominee for a major political party. But a baby snuggler on the campaign trail? Now that’s real progress.