What Do Secretariat And Sarah Palin Have In Common?


Yesterday, we went to see the Disney film ‘Secretariat’ starring Diane Lane and John Malkovich.

It is fairly schmaltzy but true story chronicling the journey of a racehorse, the 1973 Triple Crown winner, and his owner who, as a housewife and mother in the 1960’s, decides to face down her critics, put her faith in a horse, and ride home to success.

The film itself was OK.

Diane Lane, while ethereal and beautiful with an elegant wardrobe, looked a little tired for the part. And at two hours, it was too long for me. But it was good family watching and ne’er a love interest in sight.

Save the horse, of course.

What struck me though was this was a film that celebrated a woman who diverted her attention from her four children to continue her father’s legacy by taking a colt to racing success, and ultimately, fame and riches.

To bring this horse to the racecourse, Penny Chenery had to leave her family behind to be at her family’s farm, traveling Kentucky to New York and more. The film shows how she missed major family events and her conflict over that. The family seem fine with it, however.

Save her husband who wasn’t happy about it at all.

This being Disney, the film plots the fates of the humans riding on hooves of a horse. Disaster is predicted if Secretariat fails and the cynics circling around Penny Chenery were plenty and exclusively male.

The overarching theme is that she was a heroine, a fighter who held her beliefs and held them tightly. And in so doing, taught stronger lessons to her children by setting this example than if she had been at home with them.

Hmmm. I haven’t yet been convinced of this argument.

This particular story took place in the ’60’s and 70’s when strong female role models were hard to come by. A woman breaking from the mold of family and home was truly notable.

But, I wonder to myself, is it really worth it today to compromise family in order to follow a dream? Or are things as the film suggests – what is created in place is just different?

All high achieving women have made this decision to some extent. Time away from home, missing events and simply time with their families. Many women with regular lives do the same. My life has unfolded differently.  Partly because of the choices I’ve made. And I’ve struck compromises that other women would balk at.

That fact makes it difficult for me to assess this question objectively.

I simply can’t understand why a woman would leave their months old baby with Down Syndrome to go on the campaign trail like Sarah Palin. I couldn’t understand why Princess Diana would walk across a landmine field or dispense with security when she had two young sons. Veronica Guerin, an Irish journalist with a young family, refused to accept she was putting her family in danger with her investigations and was eventually murdered.

These are extreme examples but this subject does beg the question, what are we willing to sacrifice for our families? What choices do we make and what stories do we tell ourselves to justify them?

Intriguing thoughts…

Are these women reckless gamblers with their priorities wrong? Or are they fearless leaders to be admired? Does it matter that these are mothers when men have done these kinds of things since time began? What do you think?

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I am participating in a Blog Every Day For 30 Days Challenge advocated by Chris Brogan. I am doing this with the lovely Mary Ulrich who writes for Parents and Caregivers of Adults with Disabilities at Climbing Every Mountain. Check her out!

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary E. Ulrich
October 17, 2010 at 7:34 pm

You have tweet button failure, don’t know exactly how that works but it made me laugh. Kind of like belly-button failure?

Now, Got to say Alison. This post raised your blogging to another level. Thoughtful, and no answers in sight. I don’t understand SP at all. Especially since she was also raising her grandson. Plus, I don’t think she has a clue about disability issues. But, being rich and the governor she probably didn’t have to beg and search for services like the rest of us. Oh well.

I know the choices I made about being with my kids was the right decision for me. I guess each person has to make their own choices. I remember seeing a special on Loretta Lynn and basically she did the same thing. Whatever choices we make, we live with the consequences.

I wish I had a magic wand.
Mary E. Ulrich recently posted..Drinking Beer and the Dignity of RiskMy Profile


Alison Golden October 17, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Yes, Mary. I am, indeed, having performance issues on the site. I have someone working on it.

Thank you for your comment. I so appreciate it. it’s a little different tack from my normal fare but something I continually reflect and ponder over.


Alison Golden October 17, 2010 at 9:17 pm

BTW, what *is* belly button failure? 🙂


El Edwards October 17, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Thought provoking stuff Alison. The extreme examples are ones that I too have pondered. Nothing will give those children their mother back and the fact that they have the option to remember mum as some superhero figure won’t make it hurt any less when they break up with their first teenage crush or when planning their wedding.

That said, I think it’s equally selfish and irresponsible when dads choose to do it too. It’s a tough one because I’m all for taking a stand and making a difference and without key figures in history being willing to put family second we’d be living on a very different planet I suspect but it’s like ‘not in my back yard’ isn’t it? We want to see change but we don’t like to think of the realities of it.

And then I think about where you draw the line. There are occasions (many if I’m going to be brutally honest) when I’ve allowed my three an extra half hour of kid’s TV on a Saturday morning so that I can finish whatever work thing I’m doing. In an ideal world I should be doing all the work stuff when they’re sleeping or in school but the reality is, that’s not always possible.

Does that make me a worse mother than one who devotes every waking moment of her time to her household? Probably but it’s about balance isn’t it? – Says she, trying to justify herself because she comes to this discussion with her own biased view too 😉
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Alison Golden October 19, 2010 at 9:17 am

Hi El:

You make a good point about needing role models in history. Today I see precious few people around who I wish to emulate. Maybe small parts of certain people but I wish there was someone about whom I could go – I want to be just like them. And there’s no-one 🙁 We certainly live in a more complicated time. More choices, supposedly more freedom, more complex.


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