Silence on Santorum's Family Situation: Same Old Sexism?

Why aren't political dads scrutinized the way moms are?

In 2008, Trig Palin’s mother stepped into the limelight. The boy, who had been prenatally diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome, was just an infant at the time. The youngest of five in the Palin family, he couldn’t comprehend where his Mama Grizzly was headed or who they were rubbing elbows with at campaign stops. Still, he quickly became a target for political commentators who pondered publicly whether or not his mom, vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, could hold down the second highest office in the land with a special needs child, plus four others tugging at her skirt.

Of course, we all know where that story went. The McCain-Palin bid for the Oval Office was unsuccessful, “Sarah Barracuda” went back to Alaska and resigned from her post as governor, Trig’s oldest sister made national headlines with her teen pregnancy, and four years later we’re still captivated by the helicopter-hunting maverick who was, before her VP tap, largely unknown to the nation.

Now, in the middle of another election season, I have to wonder where all that family rhetoric went. The large-family-with-a-special-needs-sibling story is hardly ancient political history. Bella Santorum, who was born with the genetic disorder Trisomy 18, has acted as her dad’s campaign mascot since late last year and no one ever questioned Rick Santorum’s ability to lead the free world -- with not just a special needs child and four more, but a special needs child and six others tugging at his slacks. As if that weren’t enough, the media have remained eerily silent on the topic even after the former presidential hopeful suspended his campaign on the heels of a long weekend in the hospital with his daughter.

Rick has Karen Santorum to care for Bella so no one thought to wonder whether or not he could handle the White House, but Sarah had her husband Todd and she was still doubted. I’d like to believe the lopsided criticism is confined to the elite offices of the nation’s capitol and the country’s largest corporations, but as a working mother among the ranks of America’s average citizens I know better.

I’ve endured the public’s misconceptions, as well as snide remarks from my own family and friends. I’ve listened to accusations that I’ve abandoned my children for business trips, heard passive-aggressive remarks that implied that I think I’m somehow better than stay-at-home moms, and fielded charges that my priorities are skewed. Meanwhile, the mommy wars rage again following comments made by a liberal political commentator accusing Ann Romney, a homemaker and mother, of never having worked a day in her life. Over a week into a media cycle where we're still talking about stay-at-home moms vs. working mothers, it seems we women -- regardless of our political persuasion -- are left with nothing but a heaping dose of frustration at the same old sexism.

Diana Prichard is a red-leaning freelance writer living and working in a blue state. She authors Cultivating the Art of Sustenance. Follow her on Twitter: @diana_prichard.

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