Thursday, October 21, 2004

Teresa Heinz Kerry vs. Laura Bush (sort of)

A quick note: My name is Amy, and Jay was nice enough to invite me to post here. I don't know if this is quite what he had in mind, but I'm going for it.

I don't know if it was late last night or early this morning that I found out about the latest "controversy" coming out of comments made by Teresa Heinz Kerry. Just a quick recap, in case you haven't followed the story:

Heinz Kerry stated in an interview with USA Today that:
"Well, you know, I don't know Laura Bush. But she seems to be calm, and she has a sparkle in her eye, which is good. But I don't know that she's ever had a real job -- I mean, since she's been grown up."
This (understandably) stirred things up quite a bit, which lead to this "apology" from Heinz Kerry:
"I had forgotten that Mrs. Bush had worked as a schoolteacher and librarian, and there couldn't be a more important job than teaching our children. As someone who has been both a full time mom and full time in the workforce, I know we all have valuable experiences that shape who we are. I appreciate and honor Mrs. Bush's service to the country as first lady, and am sincerely sorry I had not remembered her important work in the past."

This, of course, is actually worse than the first comment she made, at least from a strategic point of view. Naturally, the Bush team (in the form of Karen Hughes, who famously left the administration to spend more time with her family - or so the story goes) jumped all over this. They made the case that it would appear that Heinz Kerry doesn't count being a wife and a mother of twins as a job at all. The assumption is that all of us Americans believe through and through that being a mom is actually the toughest job of them all (we hear that over and over), and only some heartless harpy like Heinz Kerry would ever imply otherwise.

Now, as someone who has grown accustomed to cringing whenever Heinz Kerry opens her mouth, I will admit that I physically recoiled upon reading her retraction and that it initially offended me. It seemed, on first read, like a wholly un-feminist remark of the highest divide-and-conquer degree (pitting moms who work outside the home against those who don't) until I thought about it some more.

But after spending much of the day ruminating on this, I've come to the conclusion that Teresa was, in fact, correct - although maybe not in the way she intended. Being a wife and mother isn't a job at all. It isn't even anything close to a job. A job is something like flipping burgers or filing papers or selling real estate. Being a wife and a mother (or a husband, a father, a friend, a lover, a son or daughter, or whatever) is something so much more important, something so unquantifiable, to even equate it to a job is to insult its importance.

Our culture at this point in time seems so invaded by corporate culture and capitalism that we no longer seem to value that which doesn't come with a pricetag. The first question you ask someone when you meet them is invariably, "What do you do?" The implicit questions are "How important are you?" and "How much do you make?" (maybe in that order and maybe reversed).

And while the tangent of capitalism invading all over our lives is out there, we're ignoring another issue: jobs are positively fucking demoralizing. Even well-paid jobs that are reasonably fun and interesting take us away from our families, our friends, and the people we love. (One of my favorite comments that I ever heard about the horror of 9/11 came from a friend of mine who pointed out that the attacks raised the awful spectre of dying at work.) They force us to put a pricetag on our time and our abilities, to sell ourselves to the highest bidder.

Bob Black makes the interesting analogy that seems to explain the situation well. He asks us to consider whatever it is we like doing the most in this world - be it having sex, eating a great meal, anything - and then picture doing that thing eight hours a day, five days a week, for fifty years. Immediately, you see how that really great thing become monotony, and how it quickly loses all fun almost immediately.

But I'm actually not writing this to go off on some No Work Movement rant. I'm actually getting at something a little different - that I had great hopes that we in this country, post-9/11, might take some time to reflect on some of the real issues that effect us as a culture. I am mightily disappointed to see that even in a time when people seem more engaged in the processes that effect us, more plugged into the world around us, that we are still ignoring the much bigger issues out there. I'm disappointed that the idea of Kerry-as-President seems to have overwhelmed many of the minds I respect, taking the place of perhaps a better and more wholistic interpretation of what a better world might be. We're all lining up and taking sides and fighting for our candidates bitterly, but all around us much bigger issues loom.

For me, personally, it stops here - my complicity in this culture, that is. Yes, on November 2nd, I will march to the polls and vote for Kerry, because I feel that that is my duty as a person who loves her country. But after that, I plan on going out and chasing utopia for a while; I don't really know what that means, but I'll keep you posted.

Yeah, so anyway, I'm Amy and I guess this is my introduction.


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