While Hillary Clinton’s campaign as the first female major-party presidential nominee hardly represents the end of sexism as we know it, there is plenty of evidence of progress. As Clinton battles her opponent, courts donors, and presents informed policy positions, it becomes harder and harder to imagine a time when the world saw her political competence and ambition as an anomaly and preferred instead to focus on her cookie-baking skills.
But a recent side-eyed takedown of Chelsea Clinton in the Daily Mail for missing her daughter Charlotte’s first day of school suggests that the decline in interest in Hillary’s domestic bona fides may have less to do with evolving attitudes on the responsibilities of mothers, and more to do with the fact that the presidential nominee no longer has school-aged children at home.
The Mail’s story on Chelsea’s great transgression is an remarkably unselfconscious example of mom-shaming. Let’s begin with the headline: “It takes a village! Chelsea Clinton’s husband Marc and their nanny take Charlotte to her first day of preschool—which she misses to campaign for her sick mom.” You know who else Marc is besides Chelsea’s husband? Charlotte’s father, originator of half of her DNA, equal participant in her creation, and equal shareholder in her well-being.
The handy bullet points that the Mail places on top of their stories are written in the same “bad mommy!” spirit. In them, the tabloid emphasizes again that it was not-yet-two-year-old Charlotte’s apparently momentous first day of school. They then point out that Chelsea had to miss it because she is campaigning in North Carolina in place of her mother who “was also unable to join Charlotte or watch baby Aidan because she is recovering from pneumonia at her home in Chappaqua.” (Because if she wasn’t sick, of course Hillary would spend a Monday morning with her grandchildren seven weeks before the election.) They end their summary by making it quite clear as to why dads are no substitute for moms: “Marc was seen on his phone while he and the nanny took Charlotte to school” and “[a]fter dropping Charlotte off, Marc enjoyed lunch for an hour-and-a-half with a friend.” Later in the story, we learn that all this took place while son Aidan was “presumably home with another nanny.” Presumably, but with mom far away, grandma sick, and dad off palling around and sipping Diet Coke with one of his “boys,” we’ll never know for certain.
Earlier this morning, Fox 32 Chicago posted the Daily Mail story on their Facebook page, asking their readers to “sound off” on whether or not Chelsea Clinton should have been there for her daughter’s first day of school. Was that a major parenting miss, or “is it acceptable for one parent to drop the child off? The best responses will go on air!” Wisely, the station has since deleted the post, which leaves us without an answer to these particular queries, but does provide an answer to the larger question of whether or not anyone should be inquiring into such matters in the first place. They shouldn’t.
The fact is, this discussion would have never occurred in the first place if Chelsea were a guy. Male Chelsea’s absence at drop-off would simply not register as news, thanks to the fact that fathers have never been accountable for being there for their children at all times. Moms, on the other hand, are always accountable, even when not physically present. Trump’s announcement of a maternity leave policy, as opposed to a family leave policy, is a testament to the fact that such thinking is alive and well.
Also, as cute as all those first day of school pictures on Facebook are, this is not a milestone of grave importance that both parents need be present for—especially when their children are too young to understand what’s going on. There are so many milestones in a child’s life, and it’s a parent’s prerogative to choose the ones they want to be there for. Chelsea might have committed the irredeemably grave sin of missing her not-yet-two-year-old daughter’s first day of school, but she’s working towards a much bigger milestone that is likely to have a far deeper impact on little Charlotte in the future: the election of her mother, and Charlotte’s grandmother, as the first female president of the United States.