Did you see the New York Times page one photo of newly-elected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, gavel in hand, celebrating the start of the 110th Congress surrounded by a swarm of her grandchildren as well as other Congressional members’ offspring? What did you think when you saw it?
I’m still sorting out my feelings–but I feel conflicted.
I wonder why Pelosi, a woman I admire, seemed so keen to use her first day as Speaker to portray herself as a traditional, family-first kind of woman? Sure, it was fun to see children working a room usually used for adults (who too often act like babies). But why not use those first, symbolic hours to surround yourself with all the Democratic women in the House–including the newly elected eight–and signal that this is “The Year of the Democratic Woman?” (That image would have also shown those newly elected alpha males, macho Dems the power women have in the new House!)
Where were the many images of the tough and shrewd politico, now the most powerful woman in American history, two heartbeats away from the presidency, who finally cracked what she calls “the marble ceiling” of the Capitol? What about the woman of impeccable style (though her suit certainly fit the bill) and doggedness who’s been likened (not on the style quotient) to the late majority leader Tip O’Neill? What about the ambitious leader who’s worked tenaciously to advance full equality and justice for women–of all kinds–not just moms.
But, maybe, as veteran women’s rights activist Gloria Feldt put it, “like Nixon going to China, it takes what looks like a traditional woman to make lasting, radical changes in public policy.” And it’s not as if the image of Pelosi as mother figure isn’t authentic; she’s the only speaker whose first career was as a stay-at-home mom. She’s led a multidimensional life–as do so many women today. In her case, she’s now not only the leader of 233 Democrats, she’s a mother of 5 and a grandmother of 6. And certainly her ascension means that little girls have a new role model–something the photo clearly signaled. As Congresswoman Rosa de Lauro, put it, “for every little girl who has wondered what she can be when she grows up the glass ceiling in this institution has been shattered forever.”