Workers, wives and mothers

Marilyn Quayle

September 14, 1992|By Marilyn Quayle

HAVE you ever wondered why most politicians speak in saf cliches?

I've recently learned the answer. The great hazard in stating one's views publicly, in one's own words, is that they will be misunderstood or, for political reasons, deliberately misconstrued.

Since my speech to the Republican convention I have had an experience akin to looking in a fun-house mirror, watching my words come back at me in grotesque, often unrecognizable forms. It's time to set the record straight.

The accusation that astonished me most is that I implied that women who work are somehow less admirable than women who stay home with their children.

This is nonsense. I never said that, and I never implied it. We all FTC know that many women work because they have to and two decades of social progress and a decade of economic growth have created more, higher-paying options for women than ever before.

Some women work by choice. Many take less demanding jobs at lower pay in order to have more time at home. Still others, often at great financial sacrifice, choose not to work outside the home at all.

I worked for several years as a lawyer; but 15 years ago, when we moved to Washington with young children, I was fortunate to be able to choose to stay at home.

My full-time job became our three children and volunteer work -- coaching soccer, directing school plays, assisting with school fund-raisers. And, yes, I helped with my husband's career.

As the wife of the vice president for the last four years, I have had the unique opportunity to highlight issues important to me -- disaster relief and the fight against breast cancer. I've tried to be there for my children too.

These were the choices I made. They were right for me. I do not hold them up as right for every woman. It never crossed my mind to do so.

Making choices concerning work and family has become a constant in women's lives. My generation has been privileged to have had many more opportunities than women before us.

With this, however, have come conflicts -- conflicting ambitions, desires, responsibilities -- that women handle differently according to individual circumstances.

Many women, particularly those with young children, have experienced conflicting emotions as they have made their choices -- whether to work full time or not, to take the more demanding job or the less, to stay at home. Most of us try to shape our lives in ways that make sense for us, our mates and our children.

Women deserve credit for their professional work and for their successful juggling of responsibilities. And women also deserve credit for staying home and raising children in a society that often gives little status to the stay-at-home mother.

One statement of mine has been subject to particularly wild and hostile interpretation. I said that I sometimes think liberals are angry, because it turns out that most women do not wish to be liberated from their essential natures as women.

The people who have objected most vehemently to this sought to construe this phrase as an argument for keeping women tied to the home. This is puzzling because central tenets of feminist thought spring from writings by Carol Gilligan and Betty Friedan.

They have made the case that women and men are different, especially in their approach to relations with others, and that liberation wouldn't be worthwhile if it simply turned women into clones of men.

Today women don't have to dress or act like men to advance in the professional world previously dominated by men.

We don't have to reject the prospect of marriage and children to succeed. We don't have to reject our essential natures as women to prosper in what was once the domain of men. It is no longer an either-or situation.

The novelist Tom Wolfe has called our era "the great relearning." That applies to many in my generation who have relearned the old verities: the value of responsibility, integrity, morality, industry, compassion and charity.

These enduring truths -- needed by men and women and children -- are what traditional values are all about. We can apply those truths in different ways toward our goals, such as strong family life based on mutual respect and commitment; and such as development of our God-given talents, whether in a career outside the home or in it or both.

Perhaps all this is too delicate to discuss in a political year, when the natural tendency is to polarize views. But let's not underestimate American women.

The ones I know, who can just as well see a dozen different shades of white in their laundry as spot the flaw in a long legal contract, can also tell the difference between what I've said and how others have twisted it.

Marilyn Quayle wrote this for the New York Times.

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