Since announcing he would run for Speaker of the House under five conditions, Rep. Paul Ryan has received backlash for his "family time" requirement. Although his refusal to sidestep his family seemed simple compared to his other requests — which included gaining full party support and changing the rules about removing a Speaker — many have pointed out the unique hypocrisy of his request. But as intense as these reactions have been, let's consider another angle to this story: Imagine if Ryan was a woman.
Family is extremely important to Ryan, who has three children and a wife in Wisconsin that he flies home to visit every weekend. Being the "family guy" is part of his likability — but as the Internet quickly pointed out, he hasn't always fought for families. Almost immediately, the nation was reminded that in 2009 Ryan voted against an effort for paid paternity leave. And he is a leader in a party that has proudly blocked President Obama's efforts to require paid paternity leave.
Ryan's reluctance to give up family weekends likely stems from a fear that he'll be expected to live up to John Boehner's legacy in terms of fundraising and campaigning. As Speaker, Boehner was able to raise an unprecedented amount of donations for the party, and was — for lack of a better word — a workaholic.
The reaction to Ryan's condition has been astounding. In addition to facing criticism for being a hypocrite, he's also been called lazy by many who feel that being a Speaker — or politician — isn't a 9 to 5 job. He's been accused of wanting to put in as little effort as possible, for wanting to prioritize time with his children. The assumption here is that spending weekends with family equates to time off — which completely ignores the rigors and stress of raising three children.
So, let's return to the beginning: Imagine if a female politician put out a list of requirements that must be met before she would run for Speaker, and imagine that one of those conditions was that she wouldn't give up family time. Being called a hypocrite or lazy would be the worst of her problems. The backlash to her statement would likely be so visceral that she wouldn't even win the nomination.
A large part of this reason is because a female politician wouldn't be able to place conditions on her run. She'd have nothing to leverage, because her position wouldn't be guaranteed. Instead of referring to her requirements as "conditions" they would be "demands." She would be accused of blackmailing the party for her position. She would be seen as presumptuous, bossy, and weak.
Almost immediately, every detail of her family life — good and bad — would be broadcast across the media. Think pieces would be written about the time she left her children for a two-week vacation three years ago. And by worrying about her family life, she would face ire on all sides — from those who feel a woman is too busy parenting to govern, and from those who would feel betrayed, claiming she "set feminism back."
And while all of this is presumption, it's a pretty safe bet as to what would happen. Female politicians are constantly having to deal with probing questions about their family lives, and defend themselves about placing a priority on children or husbands. As The Huffington Post pointed out, Sarah Palin repeatedly dealt with questions about how she could handle raising her kids and being vice president while running beside John McCain. And Sen. Heidi Heitkamp was constantly asked about how old her children were while running for governor of North Dakota in 2000.
And Nancy Pelosi — the first and only female Speaker of the House — faced constant vitriol surrounding every aspect of her life. But none was as derisive as the comments about her home life. Pelosi — who didn't run for office until well into her 40s — rarely spoke out about her work-life balance. But when she spoke on the value of having children and putting family before career, she was called a 1950s housewife.
The fact of the matter is that no matter what his voting record is, Ryan has the right to prioritize his family. It's what is important to him, and no one has the right to tell him he's wrong. But Ryan should use his position and dedication to his family to help Americans who can't make the same bargain when entering into their jobs. If Ryan is truly a "family man," he'll work to overcome his past voting history, and help remove the stigma of prioritizing family — for both genders.