Striking the Work-Life Balance with Campbell Brown

By Christine Cupaiuolo — December 3, 2008

Television newcomer Rachel Maddow is the best thing to happen to cable television this year. Campbell Brown, veteran political reporter, is a close second.

During the campaign, Brown took on sexist treatment of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Before that, she held the line during an interview with Tucker Bounds, spokesman for the McCain campaign, about Palin’s lack of foreign policy experience. That interview made me an eternal fan.

On “No Bias, No Bull,” a daily show on politics, Brown calls it like she sees it. And more often than anyone else on television, she’s sees the sexist comments and attitudes that seem to escape most political reporters and pundits (not surprising, since most of them are men and some have been known to tilt sexist themselves).

Brown latest commentary addresses assumptions about women and work, prompted by some not-so-smart comments Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell made about the selection of Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano’s to lead Homeland Security. Here’s what Rendell said during a casual conversation held next to an open microphone:

Janet’s perfect for that job. Because for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19-20 hours a day to it.

Which prompted Brown to respond:

Wow. Now, I’m sure Gov. Napolitano has many qualifications for the job beyond having no family, and therefore the ability to devote 20 hours a day to the job.

But it is fascinating to me that that is the quality being highlighted here as so perfect. C’mon. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is married with two grown children. His predecessor, Tom Ridge, had a family. Anybody remember a debate about whether they would have trouble balancing the demands of work and family?

While Rendell got his lesson in mic etiquette, Brown also made sure the governor and anyone else who assumes women with families aren’t capable of taking on demanding jobs, and women without families have no life, understand how those assumptions hurt everyone. Watch the video (if you’re an IE user; can’t get it to work in Firefox, though you can view it at CNN) — another excerpt from the transcript is below.

Question one: If a man had been Obama’s choice for the job, would having a family or not having a family ever even have been an issue? Would it have ever prompted a comment? Probably not. We all know the assumption tends to be that with a man, there is almost always a wife in the wings managing those family concerns.

Question two: As a woman, hearing this, it is hard not to wonder if we are counted out for certain jobs, certain opportunities, because we do have a family or because we are in our child-bearing years. Are we? It is a fair question.

Three: If you are a childless, single woman with suspicions that you get stuck working holidays, weekends and the more burdensome shifts more often than your colleagues with families, are those suspicions well-founded? Probably so. Is there an assumption that if you’re family free then you have no life? By some, yes.

Again Gov. Rendell, I don’t mean to rake you over the coals. I know what you meant to say. But your comments do perpetuate stereotypes that put us in boxes, both mothers and single women. In government and beyond, men have been given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to striking the right work-life balance. Women are owed the same consideration.

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