Saturday, January 24, 2009

The new U.S. Senator from N.Y. -- as mother

N.Y. Governor David Paterson hinted that the U.S. Senate seat for New York, held until recently by Hillary Rodham Clinton, has become a woman's seat when he announced yesterday that U.S. Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand will fill the position. Caroline Kennedy, considered by many the front runner, had withdrawn her candidacy a few days earlier.

There is a lot I could comment on regarding Ms. Gillibrand's politics, but I want to focus here on the media's portrayal of her as a mother because this is a topic that keeps cropping up in our discussions of gender and the 2008 Presidential election. It is deep in the NYT story by Michael Powell and Raymond Hernandez before we learn that Ms. Gillibrand is the mother of young children -- including an infant. Here's an excerpt:
Ms. Gillibrand is indisputably intense; a rising corporate lawyer before entering Congress, she worked until the day before she gave birth to her first son, Theodore, now 5 (and received a standing ovation on the floor of the House when she did the same before the birth of her second son, Henry, who is now 8 months old).
The accompanying slide show on the NYT site also includes two photos of Ms. Gillibrand as mother, but they are the final two in the group of ten images.

So, it seems, Ms. Gillibrand's status as a mother does not loom large, at least not in the NYT coverage.


Slice of Pink said...

I first heard of Ms. Gillibrand's selection on NPR News, where her status as mother was announced first thing.

It went something like this: "Kirsten Gillibrand, mother of two, was selected to fill the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton."

The article on NPR's website, on the other hand, does not mention her status as a mother at all.

swatsonucd said...

I find it interesting that the NYTs does not focus on the fact that she is a mother, but not surprising. Both Clinton and Palin in particular, were going to be holding very high office, which led to their family life and motherhood coming to the front lines. However, Gillibrand will be filling Clinton's senate seat, which I presume gives her more time with her family. Her family will be much less of a symbol than the first families are. Indeed, the Obama children are excellent examples of this. While the family has promised that they will not exploit their daughters, because Obama is arguable the most important political leader in the world, the family are in a very high position of power, and the daughters will unavoidably be subjected to the limelight. I doubt that Ms. Gillibrand's children will be subjected to such circumstances.

mjwong89 said...

Personally, I believe the selection of Kirsten Gillibrand was an excellent choice. I agree with swatsonucd that Gillibrand's children will not be subject to the same media treatment as the Obama children. While I support freedom of the press, I do not find is approvable to exploit the children of politicians. Let them be kids!

Thomas Travagli said...

I’m curious to see if the relatively insubstantial coverage of Gillibrand’s status as a mother (at least in the NYT, as you mentioned) compared to others, such as Michelle Obama, has to do with the fact that she will be occupying a lower office. In other words, I wonder if the amount of power a woman has accumulated is proportional to the media’s almost reflexive urge to focus on her role as a mother.

I might suspect an explanation like this, since positions of extreme control seem to be thought of as male-oriented (as described in the video of Judi McLean Parks), and so the media might plaster on traditional gender roles more thickly to women of higher power in an effort to sort of counter their unconventional standings. In any case, I also agree that the exposure of children to excessive media attention probably isn’t a good thing.

sdmalhi said...

I find it very interesting that even though news sources aren't portraying Kirsten Gillibrand's motherhood as a key issue, they keep on referring to her as Ms. Gillibrand, as if they are trying to point out the fact that she is a single mother. For example, in this article in the NY Times ( it seems like they are subtly trying to place the fact that she is a single mother in the limelight. Most women, even Hillary and Palin aren't referred to as Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Palin because they embody the "typical" female, married with children.

Lisa R. Pruitt said...

Contrary to what several of you have written, what I consider a disproportionate number of photos of Sen. Gillibrand and her 8-month-old have appeared in the NYT in recent weeks, as in coverage of her swearing in.

As for the Ms. v. Mrs. thing, I read in the NYT at some point during the Presidential race that the NYT's policy is to let each woman candidate decide if she wishes to be addressed as Ms. or Mrs. In light of this, I found it interesting that HRC chose "Mrs." and, if I am not mistaken, Palin -- and apparently Gillibrand-- chose "Ms."