By Froma Harrop
We know that about 20,000 pseudo-, semi- and real journalists “cover” Washington. We know that mid-December is slow-time in the nation’s capital as the public turns its attention to the holidays. But big news or no, the scriveners tending political websites must still, as they say, “feed the beast” and take it out for a walk three times a day.
Hence the to-do about Vice President Joe Biden’s latest “gaffe,” an alleged sexist remark in Tokyo. Biden had asked women at an Internet company, “Do your husbands like you working full time?”
That was the length and breadth of it. I consider my sensitivity to patriarchal cuts fairly high-tuned, and honest, the comment would not have set off a bleep. After all, Japan remains a culture in which 60 percent of women leave their jobs when they have children. Presumably, their husbands are involved in the decision.
One imagines that husband-wife talks on whether a mother of young kids should work outside the house are held in Topeka, as well. The issue goes beyond concern about male dominance in decision-making. Rather, it centers on who will care for the little ones and create a civilized home life, which some people still care about.
It doesn’t have to be the woman. I was reading this weekend about female hotshots on Wall Street, flying out of the house before dawn and jetting off to every continent while their highly competent husbands stay at home, getting breakfast into the children and dropping them off at day care before they pick up the dry cleaning. There are about five of those.
Many more couples in this country perform a stressful balancing act for sharing the duties — both breadwinning and domestic. If the workplace offered more time flexibility and day care were easier to find, the quality of American family life would improve considerably.
The question Biden might ask women in Topeka is whether their husbands would mind their not working the job they do — in addition to handling most of the child care and homemaking. And that’s assuming there is a husband, which in America is more and more not the case for mothers of young children.
The chief reason for Biden’s trip to Tokyo was security-related, to help ease tensions among Japan, South Korea and China. The side trip to the Internet firm was to show support for a Japanese government plan to draw more women into the workplace.
Japan is experiencing a sharp drop in population, and women could ease the resulting labor shortage. Hence, the Japanese government has launched a program to help families balance the demands of parenting and outside work.
Which brings us back to Washington, passionately engaged in dissecting a “gaffe” unnoticed by about 99.9 percent of the American public. On CNN, Newt Gingrich denounced Biden for launching a “war on women,” and Democratic National Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz punched back with counter-accusations against Republicans.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post produced a fevered headline: “Out-of-context Biden comment to working women in Tokyo sparks firestorm back home.”
The quality of the umbrage was so flimsy that the political posters quickly employed the time-honored trick of finding significance in the fact that they were discussing something of no consequence. Fine, keeps them busy.
But the giant stresses of juggling home life with job life remain an enormous concern from Topeka to Tacoma, Tempe to Tampa. Highlighting a government plan for easing those strains was what brought Biden to meet female office workers in Tokyo.
Let’s make note of that plan — if only to fill the time as our political media wait to hear what crazy thing Joe Biden will say next.
Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal columnist. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.