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October 28, 2008

Joe Biden Feminism Watch: The Biden Women

Joe Biden Feminism Watch #9

In a speech at the Women's Rally for Change in Virginia last month, Joe Biden introduced some of the women in his life and talked about being "surrounded by strong women". The November issue of Vogue has a profile of some of those strong Biden women, and an edited version of the piece is up on style.com.

You can check out the whole piece on style.com (or, if you're really dedicated, get the full version by buying the November Vogue), but here are a few highlights:

"Dr. Jill Biden—mother of three, political wife, college professor—exudes the confidence of a woman who has come into her own and is enjoying her moment."

"At the moment, CNN is setting up in the front yard to interview Valerie Biden Owens, Joe's younger sister, who has managed every campaign since his original Senate run in 1972. In the backyard, a Vogue crew is corralling all the other Biden women who are here today—granddaughters, sisters, daughters, wives, and mothers—for a portrait of the four generations of "The Women in Joe's Life." There are balloons on the floor from ten-year-old Finnegan's birthday party last night (she got her ears pierced), and the family's big golden Labradoodle, Brother, is running around with Finnegan's little sister, Maisy. There are hair dryers blowing; cell phones ringing; and Jill's staff all hover around in a near-constant state of alert-but-texting. All the while, Joe Biden's 91-year-old mother, Jean, known as Mom Mom, sits at the kitchen table, watching and smiling. "This house is always filled with family," says the Bidens' daughter-in-law Kathleen, mother of Finnegan, Maisy, and Naomi, who refers to the pool out back as "grandkid bait." "There are like 20 Bidens here, always. They have done a great job of creating this environment."'

"In 1980, [Jill] got pregnant with Ashley, but within two years she was itching to be more than just "the greatest mom." She went back to school and back to work and began her slow accumulation of degrees—five years in a psychiatric hospital teaching English to "middle-class kids who needed help," followed by a master's in English from Villanova, which overlapped with another three years of teaching at Claymont High School, which led to Delaware Technical and Community College and finally a doctorate in education from the University of Delaware.

All the while, she has remained a relatively nontraditional political wife, keeping out of the spotlight and campaigning only rarely, when Joe has really needed her. Though there are other political spouses who have big careers (Elizabeth Edwards comes to mind), they have sought the spotlight and approval from the electorate in a way that Jill Biden never has. As Valerie says of her sister-in-law, "She knows what matters, what's important. Every time she has needed to step up to the plate, she's done it, but with grace. There's nothing edgy or unpleasant about Jill—but she's not a pious little milquetoast. She's funny, she is fierce, she's irreverent. She's got a life! She's focused but not driven."'

"One day, Joe Biden calls me on the phone. He is in a car on his way to an event in Media, Pennsylvania, campaigning with the Obamas. "The real measure of strength and resolve is when someone does things that don't come naturally," he says. "But they do it because they think it's important. The thing about Jill that I find so amazing is that here's a woman who does not feel comfortable standing before a crowd of people and making a speech about presidential politics. But because it's me, and because she cares so much about it, that's exactly what she does. It would be like asking me to get up and sing, which I could never do. It's just amazing what she can do. I used to kid her when we first got married. She'd say, 'I don't think I can do this.' I would say, 'You remind me of a great sprinter who is running a 10.5-second 100 meters, and you're capable of running a 9.9. You have no idea how good you are!' I really mean that. It just absolutely blows me away." He pauses. "I'm obviously proud."'

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