Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant is Not Sexist

Phil_BryantPhil Bryant is the Republican Governor of Mississippi. If those three things weren’t enough to put a nail in his coffin with progressives, then wading into the news that women are the new face of breadwinning for the modern family definitely sealed his grave.

But he may actually have a point about what happens to children’s education when kids don’t have at least one parent who is the “stay at home” mom or dad.

Bryant was invited to speak at a recent Washington Post Live event on helping to ensure that children read before finishing the third grade. When asked why the educational outcomes for America’s children are “so mediocre,” he responded by saying:

“I think both parents started working. And the mom is in the work place.”

The honesty in his answer gave him pause as he immediately noted all the “e-mails” he would receive and clarified his statement with this: “[B]oth parents are so pressured.”
When the Associated Press reached out to Bryant later, he responded to his initial comments by saying, “We’re so busy in today’s society. Moms are working, dads are working. … Anybody that thinks I would blame working mothers for failures in education is just ridiculous.”

Critics have taken the stance that Bryant made a major political faux pas. But I’m taking what Bryant said sincerely. I don’t believe for a second that he was placing blame on women for working and selfishly leaving their children to their educational detriment – which is how I see the media spinning his statement, implying what they think he meant. He was, quite frankly, taking note that many children today do not have the luxury of one parent at home regardless of the gender of that parent. That, in a nutshell, makes Bryant correct when you strip away his southern and Republican roots — which, as I said, is like digging a grave when the subject of anything pertaining to women arrives by anyone who’s backed or affiliated, however loosely, with the Tea Party. And, at this point, what Republican isn’t?

Bryant’s wife, Deborah, worked outside of the home for 38 years including when their two children were young. To take such a stance as bold as some are suggesting — that mothers who work outside the home are somehow derelict in their parenting duties — would amount not only to Bryant dissing working women, but also his wife and, by extension, his own family’s choices. Obviously, that makes no sense both personally (he has to go home sometime) and professionally (hello, re-election campaign).

Women in the workplace and how that reality affects the educational outcomes of our children is a real discussion that deserves more than a sound-bite flogging. Mothers who stay at home to care for young children are no longer the norm. Working women – in fact breadwinning women – far outnumber our stay-at-home peers, yet the corporate structure of today’s working environment continues to assume that employees have wives at home to do school pick up and drop off, make meals and tend to homework, study guides and story time and sick children.

I didn’t even mention cleaning, paying bills, shopping for household items or the various afterthoughts that go into raising a family that becomes harder with two working parents – which is also a luxury, as single mothers make up the vast majority of breadwinning women. Not to mention the unsexy topics of unpaid maternity leave, a daycare system that looks like hell and stagnant wages.

If we want to believe that June Cleaver was a thing of fiction and continually call out politicians for thinking she still exists and lives next door, then we need to dial back our own assumptions that every southern governor needs a hefty dose of a clue.

There is more truth than fiction in Phil Bryant’s comments than many of us would like to admit and none of them are sexist.

Contributor Liz Henry raises hell and wins awards for it. She’s the voice behind The Six Year Itch and was voted a BlogHer Voice of the Year in 2012. Her writing will be featured in a forthcoming book from Seal Press later this year. Liz lives in Philadelphia.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/NOAA

  • Jen

    Yes, Yes, and Yes! Thank you for this article which looks beyond political lines (trust me, as a liberal Democrat living in AL that isn’t easy to do) and gets at the heart of what isn’t just a women’s issue but a family issue and in turn, a community/country-wide issue.

    What no one really wants to admit is that the real “problem” is our economy. To earn a living wage and support a family, BOTH parents must be willing to sell their soul to a corporation and that corporation cares nothing for the worker and only about the bottom line.

    We are all implicit in this cycle (me included) when we buy throwaway clothes from Old Navy (or Wal-Mart or Target) when we eat food that’s been processed and shipped from around the world instead of from our own gardens/CSAs/local farmers. When we invest our money in companies that do all their manufacturing outside of the U.S. we are essentially saying that we don’t care either. That what these companies are doing is fine and that they should just keep up the status quo.

    It’s the major problem I have with this entire “Lean In” dogma. Sandberg’s theories do nothing to address the systemic changes that must take place in this country to ensure that women AND men can rise up in the corporate structure while also raising a family.

    Currently, the system is set up so that the only way to rise up is to either have no children, have a spouse who is willing to sacrifice their career to raise those children, or make enough that someone else (nanny, grandparent, babysitters) can raise your children. When you aspire to the top of the corporate ladder, there is no taking off at 5PM every day to eat dinner with your family. Once you’re at the top, that might work (or you can just build a nursery next to your office) but getting there is a different story.

  • Yessss!!!! This is the post I wanted to write! Fantastic, Liz. I also thought those pronouncements about his remarks were unfair. Well done!

  • Lib

    Liz kills it again.

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