Political blogs have been having a field day with the supposed cat fight between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Senator Barbara Boxer. Bloggers have been reducing these two professional women to the political equivalent of Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump, which in itself is more entertaining than objectionable. What IS objectionable is that bloggers claim to be taking sides in this ridiculous squabble in the name of feminism. Amidst all the name calling, who knows what really happened? Well, as best I can tell . . .
It all started last Thursday during a Senate hearing, when Boxer asked Rice: “Who pays the price [in Iraq]? I’m not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old and my grandchild is too young. You’re not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, with an immediate family. So who pays the price? The American military and their families. And I just want to bring us back to that fact.”
The next day a wide array of media outlets covered these remarks as a vicious attack against Rice, single women, childless women, and black women. The White House spokesman, Tony Snow, said in an interview on Fox news that Senator Boxer may not have been “intentionally tacky,” but that her comments were “a great leap backward for feminism.” In an interview with the New York Times, Secretary Rice seemed to agree:

“I thought it was O.K. to be single,” Rice said. “I thought it was O.K. to not have children, and I thought you could still make good decisions on behalf of the country if you were single and didn’t have children.”

When Senator Boxer was interviewed, she said her comments were being deliberately misrepresented. “What I was trying to do in this exchange was to find common ground with Condi Rice,” she said. “My whole point was to focus on the military families who pay the price.” SBoxer added: “I’m saying, she’s like me, we do not have families who are in the military. What they are doing is a really tortured way to attack a United States senator who voted against the war.”
The White House had a vested interest in turning attention away from the real story at the hearings: that they showed almost unanimous opposition against the President’s plan to send 21,500 more American soldiers to Iraq. But conservative bloggers and pundits seem to have taken up the issue purely for sport. Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show: “Here you have a rich white chick with a huge, big mouth, trying to lynch this, an African-American woman, right before Martin Luther King Day, hitting below the ovaries here,”
Then Kausfiles, a political blog on Slate, brought Laura Bush into the story. Citing an interview that President and Laura Bush gave to ABC News in December, ostensibly about Mary Cheney’s pregnancy, Kausfiles argued that Laura Bush was anti-feminist for having this to say:

“Dr. Rice, who I think would be a really good candidate [for President], is not interested. Probably because she is single, her parents are no longer living, she’s an only child. You need a very supportive family and supportive friends to have this job.”

Kausfiles compared these and Senator Boxer’s comments as two examples of a “powerful subconscious urge of married mothers to condescend to single women” but later found that although Laura Bush suggests that both single women and single men would find it difficult to be President, Bush’s comments were “snarkiest” for implying that Rice has no “supportive friends.”
But Kausfiles doesn’t let Senator Boxer off the hook. He calls Boxer’s questions about “who pays the price” irrelevant because, with American’s volunteer military, even if Boxer and Rice had children of fighting age they most likely still wouldn’t be in the armed services, and suggests that Boxer hoped to “advertise her motherhood in line with the reigning mommy-rhetoric of the Pelosi Era, in which ‘the gavel’ is in ‘the hands of America’s children.’”
It seems that the attacks against Pelosi for being Speaker of the House at the same time that she is a mother and grandmother have officially begun. More generally what this media storm has shown is how people who aren’t normally feminists (ahem, Rush Limbaugh) suddenly take up the mantel if it will help them score points against their opponents.
What I can’t help but wonder is if Rice’s reaction was purely a political calculation, or if she was genuinely offended that her status as a single childless woman had become a focus of attention. In her interview with the Times, Rice said that she’d “been through things like this before,” ostensibly referring to the skepticism on the Hill. But I would not be surprised if throughout her career she has struggled to be accepted as a single woman, one who is perfectly content to not have kids, nor would I be surprised if Senator Boxer’s words felt like the last straw. I confess that when I first heard about the quarrel I instinctively sympathized with Rice, on the grounds that no woman’s family status should be a subject of critique. Isn’t that one of feminism’s goals? Then I read what Boxer had actually said and my sympathy vanished like smoke. I mean come on Condi, what is the big deal?
– Katharine Wells, IWPR member