...I'm okay with being REALITY-based.

Thursday, February 05, 2004
      ( 9:08 AM )
Judy Judy Judy

Katha Pollit has a fabulous article in this week's Nation about Dr. Judith Steinberg (Howard Dean's wife). It is fabulous because for all us women who are moms and wives but also find that we have goals and dreams to fulfill our own career destinies, she is someone we can truly look up to. But the media can't help but tear her down because she doesn't fit into their neat little pigeonholes - see, in media world, women are still stuck in the 50's - their only appropriate role being loving servant of husband and home. Not Judy Steinberg. Read Pollit's whole article, it will make you laugh out loud and also really think about the upside down world women have to contend with these days.

I used to think we should get rid of First Ladies. Plenty
of countries manage without a national wife: Cherie Blair
aside (and how long would Britain's answer to Hillary
have lasted over here?), can you name the spouse of
the man who leads France, Germany, China, Canada
or Russia? And no, "Mrs. Putin" doesn't count as a
correct answer. Is Lula married? What about Ariel Sharon?
Is there a Mrs. General Musharraf ready with a nice
cup of tea when her man comes home after walking the
nuclear weapons? Do you care? The ongoing public
inquest into Dr. Judith Steinberg makes me see, however,
that we need First Ladies: Without them, American
women might actually believe that they are liberated,
that modern marriage is an equal partnership, that the
work they are trained for and paid to do is important
whether or not they are married, and that it is socially
acceptable for adult women in the year 2004 to possess
distinct personalities
--even quirks!


The attack on Dr. Judy began on the front page of
the New York Times (you know, the ultraliberal paper)
with a January 13 feature by Jodi Wilgoren, full of
catty remarks about her "sensible slipper flats and
no makeup or earrings" and fatuous observations
from such academic eminences as Myra Gutin, "who
has taught a course on first ladies at Rider University
in New Jersey for 20 years." It seems that Dr.
Steinberg "fits nowhere" in Professor Gutin's
categorizations. Given that she counts Pat Nixon as
an "emerging spokeswoman," maybe that's not such
a bad thing. "The doctors Dean seem to be in need
of some tips on togetherness and building a healthy
political marriage," opined Maureen Dowd, a single
woman who, even if she weds tomorrow, will be in
a nursing home by the time she's been married for
twenty-three years like the Deans.

Beautiful. Pollit then goes into discussing the Diane Sawyer interview where, out of 96 questions asked, 90 of them were negatively aimed at their marriage and Dean's supposed "anger." Sawyer just couldn't seem to grasp a woman who was neither tied up with consumerism or who didn't find it necessary to exploit her husband's political position or make herself out to be any more than she feels she is.

Blinking and nodding like a kindly nurse coaxing a
lunatic off a window ledge, Sawyer acted as if she
wanted to understand Dr. Judy's bizarre behavior:
She keeps her maiden name professionally (just
like, um, Diane Sawyer, a k a Mrs. Mike Nichols); she
doesn't follow the day-to-day of politics (like, what,
90 percent of Americans?); she enjoyed getting a
rhododendron from Howard for her birthday.
Throughout this sexist inquisition, Dr. Steinberg
remained as gentle as a fawn, polite and unassuming
--herself. "I'm not a very 'thing' person," she said
when Sawyer pressed too close on that all-important
rhododendron. She allowed as how she was not
too interested in clothes--whereupon Sawyer cut
to a photo of Laura Bush, smiling placidly in a red
ball gown.

I don't think Dr. Judy is weird at all. She's leading a
normal, modern, middle-class-professional life. She
has been married forever. She has two children. She
likes camping and bike riding and picnics. She
volunteers. She has work she loves, as a community
physician--not, you'll note, as a cold-hearted status-
obsessed selfish careerist user, as professional
women are always accused of being.

And it's such a double standard too. As Pollit points out, much is made of Dr. Steinberg not slogging through the mud and snow to stand by her man and gaze at him lovingly at 100s of stump speeches - yet when Elizabeth Dole ran for president, no one critizized Bob Dole for giving money to her rival, John McCain, or for not knocking himself out to stand by her side as she did when he campaigned four years earlier. What a shocker - a candidate has a wife who is independent and he supports her as equally as she supports him! And as Dr. Steinberg pointed out to Diane Sawyer, she can't just leave her patients to trot off for a month. As Pollit puts it: "Imagine that, Tina [Brown], Diane [Sawyer], Maureen [Dowd]--a job where if you don't show up, it matters!"

Here's a shocking idea:

What if the media tried on for size the notion
that having an independent wife says something
good about a candidate? For example, maybe,
if his wife is not at his beck and call, he won't
assume the sun rises because he wants to get
up; maybe, if his wife has her own goals in life,
her own path to tread, he won't think women
were put on earth to further his ambitions;
maybe, if he and his wife are true partners--
which is not the same as her pouring herself
into his career and his being genuinely grateful,
the best-case scenario of the traditional political
marriage--he may even see women as equals.

One thing is clear this election cycle. The media, more than ever, is trying to prove (to whom, I don't know) that IT is the political power broker in this nation. They've proved they can make or break candidates with their coverage (compare the soft, contemplative picture of Kerry on Time this week and the picture of Dean when he was on the cover), and they've manipulated stories to their own advantages (ratings). The spin on Dr. Steinberg is only one example. So far, the voting public seems to be falling for it. I'm not surprised, it fell for Shock and Awe. In these times of media saturation, it's a wonder at all that there is a chance for a grassroots movement of change to even get legs in this country. Or that women like Dr. Steinberg, or even ones of humbler station, like myself, are able to continue to believe that we have just as much right to be the complete human beings we were meant to be and do the things we want to do with our lives as do men. Funny that we should even have to wonder at that anymore. But we do.

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