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Kristina Brittenham

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Backwards and in High Heels: Thoughts on Madame Speaker

Posted: 01/04/07 04:14 PM ET

"Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels." So said Ann Richards, who was honored and remembered at yesterday's tea in celebration of Nancy Pelosi's new job. Earlier that morning, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter commented that she doesn't know how Nancy does it, running around in high heels all day. But she does, literally and figuratively, in her two roles as Speaker of the House and devoted wife and mother of a large family.

Throughout the tea, and last night's dinner at the Italian embassy in Pelosi's honor, the recurring theme was Pelosi's double life. Pelosi is just as likely to take a phone call from one of her daughters as from the President. She devotes as much time to her family as to her constituents. Insert similar phrase here, and repeat a few more times. To be sure, Pelosi should be commended for honoring her many commitments with such balance and grace. Yet all of the accolades leave me asking: when will a similar reaction accompany the election of a man? When will men be expected to work two jobs, as women who work outside the home always have? Or, ideally, when will work/life balance be something that families achieve together, with both partners committed to their children and each other as well as their careers? When will that be the norm and not the exception?

Like the "black tax"--the idea that African-Americans have to work twice as hard as whites to get to the same place--women have to work twice as hard at their two jobs if they have families (or even just high-maintenance husbands), unless they have exceptional support. Pelosi will do everything Dennis Hastert did, albeit with infinitely greater integrity, but backwards and in high heels. She is a rock star this week: flexing her bicep in a Rosie the Riveter pose, punching her fist straight through the marble ceiling. Her husband, Paul Pelosi, undoubtedly has contributed to her new status as the most powerful woman in America with his support. Perhaps his example, as well as hers, is one that others will follow.

Change is in the air when we have a woman Speaker and the bulk of the Democratic presidential nominee buzz is about another woman and an African-American. As Pelosi commented at the tea, little girls in this country can be anything they want when they grow up now. Here's hoping that they can wear flats if they choose, or at least have a steady hand to make the dancing a little bit easier.