In this election, putting gender first

The Baltimore Sun

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin knows what it is like to be a woman, a mother, a daughter, a sister - things the two men on the Democratic ticket can never fully understand. She knows what it is like to grow up invisible in an incredibly sexist society, to be stared at, groped and sexually harassed. She knows what it's like to worry that you are pregnant when you don't want to be or that you are not pregnant when you want to be.

Sarah Palin knows what it is to experience the joys and sorrows of motherhood, to nurse a baby while holding down a job, to leave for work in the morning with a toddler tugging at your pant leg, and to have your children calling you at work to defuse squabbles or ask for help with homework. She knows that once you get to work, you have to speak twice as loud and twice as often to be heard, and work twice a hard to go half as far.

Gender is the most fundamental human characteristic. From the nursery room to the board room, boys and girls are given different messages about their respective roles in the world. This differentiation extends through school, where girls are given less attention, picked less frequently to answer questions and placed less often in advanced science and math classes. Once in the work force, women are steered into lower-paying careers, paid less for the same work and forced to juggle the responsibilities of work and home.

You can't learn what it is to be a woman unless you are one. You can't have a government essentially devoid of women that knows what's best for women.

After the Democratic primaries, I and a small group of Hillary Clinton supporters met with Sen. John McCain. I explained to him that women comprise more than half of the population, yet are underrepresented in every branch of government. I asked him to choose a woman for the vice presidential slot and to increase the number of women in the Cabinet and on the Supreme Court. Mr. McCain listened respectfully to my request.

After the Democratic Primary, I was contacted by a member of Sen. Barack Obama's Finance Committee, and we had numerous contentious conversations. I finally told him I would be happy to vote for Mr. Obama and rally other Hillary Clinton supporters, but in return I wanted Mr. Obama to pledge gender parity in the Cabinet.

"What if there aren't qualified women - you still expect us to appoint half women to the Cabinet?" he replied. "There are 300 million people in this country; you're telling me you can't find 10 qualified women?" I said.

He responded, "You can't have that." We had no further conversations.

Yes, policy is important, but who decides and delivers that policy is even more important. Children incorporate many of their perceptions about gender by age 5. Little girls won't understand if Sarah Palin is pro-life or pro-choice, believes in gun control or is a member of the NRA, but they will know the vice president of the United States is a girl - and that alone will alter their perceptions of themselves.

I have given my loyalty to the Democratic Party for decades. My party, which is comprised primarily of women, has not put a woman on a presidential ticket for 24 years. My party stood silently by as Hillary Clinton was eviscerated by the mainstream media. My party and its candidate gave their tacit approval for the attacks on Mrs. Clinton (and, consequently, women in general).

I can vote for my party and its candidates, which have demonstrated a blatant disrespect for women and a fundamental lack of integrity. Or I can vote for the Republican ticket, which has heard our concerns and put a woman on the ticket, but with which I fundamentally don't agree on most issues.

Right now, for me, gender trumps everything else. If Democratic women wait for the perfect woman to come along, we will never elect a woman. I will vote for McCain-Palin. I urge other women to do the same. I promise to be the first person knocking on her door if Roe v. Wade or any other legislation that goes against the rights of women is threatened. But in Governor Palin, I find a woman of integrity, who not only talks the talk but walks the walk. I can work with that. I will work with that.

Lynette Long is a psychologist in Bethesda

and the author of 20 books. Her e-mail is

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