Upcoming book will explore Sarah Palin’s impact on women and mothering

Love her or hate her, US Republican party vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, made an impression and sparked an international debate about women and mothers at the political top. It is this discussion that York Professor Andrea O’Reilly wants to continue in an upcoming book – The Palin Factor: Political Mothers and Public Motherhood in the 21st Century – a collection of papers delving into Palin’s efect on women, motherhood and politics.

Left: Sarah Palin. Wikimedia Commons

Is Palin a champion of women or an embarrassment? Did she further the cause or set it back? Her nomination initiated a public conversation about the meaning and depiction of Palin and her role as a publiclyelected, working hockey mom, says O’Reilly, founder and director of York’s Association for Research on Mothering (ARM). Despite her active embrace of her hockey mom image, Palin’s public motherhood remains enigmatic.

“The book will focus on the important first nature of Palin’s candidacy, as a mother of young children, for women and politics around the world; its transformational potential or, perhaps of potential transformation lost; how this marks a truly 21st century shift in the status of women; the complexity of how we understand public figures and private mothering; and the need to analyze her phenomenon from multiple perspectives and across multiple disciplinary voices,” says O’Reilly, co-editor with Deirdre Condit of Virginia Commonwealth University.

As a national candidate, Palin has sparked a public and academic discourse about what it means to be an elected and public representative of wage-earning mothers, says O’Reilly. This edited collection seeks to inaugurate a timely, interdisciplinary, theoretical and critical discussion of the Palin phenomenon as an iconic representation of public motherhood.

It has been a central goal of the women’s movement to see women elected to public office and to have the voices and experiences of women and mothers represented in government. Palin is what O’Reilly calls a breakthrough figure for public women with small chldren.

Right: Andrea O’Reilly

“Whether one finds her compelling or abject as a politician, as a public mother, as a media icon, she is compellingly first,” says O’Reilly. “She represents a new generation of working women with small children; one who is potentially empowered to bring issues of motherhood into public policy in a new, and oft-called-for way. Whether or not she does that is, in some sense, one of the questions of this book.”

Currently, there is a call for papers for The Palin Factor on a wide range of topics including media representations, interpretations or responses to Palin’s motherhood; public discourse on Palin balancing her work as governor or vice-presidential candidate and being a mother; her role as a public mother of a child with disabilities; the impact of her as a wage-working mother on voters; her status as a policy-making mother on disability policy; and Palin as an icon for conservative.

Some of the other topics up for discussion include Christian-identified non-wage working mothers; the evident conflict between Palin’s self-identification as a Christian conservative whose values include traditional gender roles and the juxtaposition of her evident work and family life style; the sexualization of Palin among white, conservative, working men and its impact on their discourses about mothers and motherhood; her transformational role as the head of the family and her husband’s public transformation as the little man at home; and the conflicting responses among liberal women’s groups concerning Palin’s status as a working-mother feminist.

In addition, O’Reilly is hoping to include an interview with Palin in the book.

For information on further topics potentially explored by The Palin Factor, visit the ARM Web site. Those interested in contributing to the collected work should e-mail a 250-word abstract and a 50-word bio by Feb. 1, 2009 to aoreilly@yorku.ca. The Palin Factor will be published by Demeter Press, the publishing division of ARM.

By Sandra McLean, YFile writer.