Routes to Power

So… now that serving as president of your child’s PTA is  being touted as a excellent qualification  for serving as Vice President of this country, it seems like as good a time as any to turn our attention to just that… the PTA.

It’s not like I’m an expert or anything.  Yeah, I’m a member of the PTA at Elder Girleen’s school but that’s mainly because all it required from us was writing a small check at the beginning of the school year.  I actually didn’t know we had a choice in the matter:  I thought membership in the PTA was mandatory until this year, when I found out that 20% of the families at our school have chosen to opt out.  As far as I could tell, being a member of the PTA once your children hit elementary school was a prerequisite of motherhood:  you wear sensible shoes, you keep baby wipes in your handbag, you join the PTA.  No questions about it.
Serving on the PTA in some official capacity, though… that’s another thing all together.  A year on the board of Elder Girleen’s preschool cured me of any impulses I might’ve had to volunteer for things like that, so as far as the inner workings of the PTA goes, I’m about as clueless as the average Joe, who until Sarah Palin gave her past presidency of a school’s PTA as a good reason to vote for the McCain/Palin ticket, never gave the PTA a second thought.
I won’t weigh in here the pros or cons of the organization itself (it’s always existed, so it has to be worthwhile, right?) — my interest is more in examining the idea of a position in the PTA as a route to power.
And for me, the most interesting thing about examining the PTA in that light is just how non-threatening it sounds.  Hey, our moms were in the PTA.  Some of us might’ve even had moms who served as president of the PTA. It’s as American as apple pie!  Whatever things the PTA actually undertakes, it also serves — and maybe this is its most important function? — as a very traditional, feminine way to have, or take, power.  Within its very codified structure, a woman can become very powerful… without neglecting her primary duties as mom (because it’s for the children, even though they may be at home with a babysitter during PTA meetings).  Serving as president of the PTA has none of the negative (ie, unfeminine) connotations of … what?  Community Organizer (sounds vaguely commie-pinko, doesn’t it?)  Human Rights Activist?  (ditto).
If I have little idea what the PTA really does, I have even less of one about what the PTA does at a national level.  But one thing I do know is that a PTA president is probably not making policy.
When I next need to sit down across the table from a potential employer, will I mention the fact that I served on the board of my child’s preschool and sat around conference tables at City Hall East attempting to win City functionaries over to the idea that our neighborhood deserved a park that served as more than a trash heap for malt liquor cans and a play structure that wasn’t being partially held together with plastic security webbing?  You bet.  Because whether the outside world chooses to recognize it or not, it’s work, and it’s important work. And it’s as difficult, or more so, than any job I received a paycheck for.
Whatever genius thought up the McCain/Palin strategy of highlighting Palin’s PTA presidency and status as hockey-mom is hoping women will focus on that and not much more.  Wondering what exactly those qualifications have to do with running a country makes you… what?  A sexist?  An elitist?  Someone denigrating women’s work?
But here are the facts:  the larger picture doesn’t really impact a PTA president.  Reasons a child might need reduced-price lunch, or a family might feel completely incapable of volunteering to organize a bake sale… or an auction… don’t have to matter to a PTA president. They might matter to some of them, but they don’t have to.   Heck, a PTA president doesn’t even need to understand that children or families which such issues exist.
I know, there are so many other scary things going on right now — but gosh, let’s be sure to add that one to the list.