Okay, now, how bad is this? Rendell's getting ripped for being a big old sexist, but does he deserve it?
He was caught speaking casually, using the jocose expression "no life," which may not be as insulting as it sounds to some people. I don't think he meant anything like: She's not much of a woman (or human being) because she has no husband or children/she must be emotionally unfulfilled/cold/stunted.
I hear this as: She will be able to give absolutely the entirety of her attention and energy to a job that truly requires it.
Now, this may upset some people who want to believe that everyone has to live a life in which work is leavened and enriched with time in the warm embrace of a family. What's worse is the idea that a job requires all of a person's attention, so that anyone with a family is disqualified. And of course, there's one terrible implication: That men can have a family and a highly demanding job, but women cannot.
Did Rendell's statement contain that terrible implication? Perhaps! I do get a little whiff of: Normally, you don't send a woman to do a man's job, but that doesn't apply to Janet Napolitano. It's not that she has "no life," but that she has no female life. She can run with the men. I hear a bit of that.
But perhaps Rendell meant to boost opinion of Napolitano, to rebuff accusations that her lack of a family would make the job too tough for her. Remember when Laura Bush said this about Condoleezza Rice?
"Dr. Rice, who I think would be a really good candidate (for President), is not interested. Probably because she is single, her parents are no longer living, she's an only child. You need a very supportive family and supportive friends to have this job."It could be that Rendell knew the way not having a family is used against women and he wanted to get out in front of that criticism to help Napolitano. There's sexism in that, but it's not Rendell's sexism. He's proactively defending her from attacks. Now, I might concede that it's better feminism to behave as if sexism does not exist, and maybe Rendell's proactive defense against sexism unwittingly promotes it in some ways, but I'm inclined to give him a pass.