13 April 2012

It's About Choice

Oh yay, it's the Mommy Wars redux! This time with added false Republican vs. Democrat dichotomy!

To recap, in case you hadn't heard: a Democratic strategist I never heard of before, named Hilary Rosen, is taking some heat because she said of Mitt Romney, in a CNN interview, “Guess what, his wife has actually never worked a day in her life. She’s never dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of women in this country are facing.”

What Rosen was saying, I believe, is the arguably true statement that Ann Romney, married for most of her adult life to a very rich man, doesn't exactly have experience with the pressing financial problems of parenting that many of us do. Instead the media picked up "Ann Romney has never worked a day in her life" and ran with the "stay-at-home moms don't really work, according to top Democratic strategist" angle.

So Hilary Rosen had to issue an apology, saying that as a mother, she knows “raising children is the hardest job there is.” OF COURSE SHE DOES. Any mother who is raising her children and doing even a half-ass job knows that parenting is a shit-ton of work. I sincerely doubt Rosen meant to argue that Ann Romney didn't work hard and likely do a fine job of raising her five sons.

Obama campaign advisers were quick to distance themselves from Rosen, of course, calling her comments "inappropriate" and "wrong." I would say, however, that they weren't wrong. Ok, fine, "never worked a day" was a cheap shot. But is it wrong to say that Ann Romney has "never dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of women in this country are facing?" I don't think that's wrong at all. I think it's spot on.

There's also the argument that, as President Obama said when he got dragged into this manufactured controversy, "I don’t have a lot of patience for commentary about the spouses of political candidates." Well, fine, but that's a little unrealistic. Ann Romney has been active in her husband's campaign, and Mitt Romney brought her into it when he said she was his "top adviser on women's issues." Since women are a pretty damn big part of the electorate, Romney's position on women's issues is important. And if his top advisor on women's issues has little experience with the type of issues most women are facing -- well, I think that's fair game for the Dems.

So when Ann Romney says on Twitter that she "made a choice to stay home and raise five boys," I can't imagine any mother -- up to and including Hilary Rosen -- who would argue that was not hard work. The point both the Romney and Obama campaigns, as well as the media in general, missed, or chose not to address, is that Rosen wasn't criticizing Ann Romney's choice to stay home. She was criticizing the Romney campaign's portrait of her as an expert on the economic issues facing women.

Ann Romney told Fox that her "career choice was to be a mother" and "we need to respect choices that women make." Again, true. And again, beside the point. Some will disagree, but again, I don't think Rosen was disrespecting Romney's choice to stay home. She was pointing up that unlike a lot of us, Ann Romney had the means to MAKE a choice.

See, however the campaigns want to frame it, this isn't WOHM-vs-SAHM. It's Ann Romney, or her advisors and strategists, pretending she can relate to any mom, working or not, who has ever had to prioritize buying groceries over paying the electric bill, or feel ashamed that her child is going to school in outgrown hand-me-downs, or who has to explain to her third-grader that he can't go on the field trip because Mom doesn't have the ten bucks to send to school that day. It's any politician, parent or not, thinking they know how that feels if they haven't been there. Don't tell me you understand me because you're a mother and so am I. It's not that easy.

The media might want to cast this as a working-outside-the-home versus a stay-at-home debate, but the truth is, most moms I know fought that war a long time ago and have achieved, if not peace, then some kind of wary d├ętente with it. Most of us are working outside the home, or working at home, or not working at a job we get paid for at all, with the knowledge that we are doing what we need to do for our families.

We might have "chosen" to work because even though our spouses make decent money, we find it fulfilling to go somewhere people are wearing shoes and having conversations with multisyllabic words. Or we might be working because kids do, after all, need to eat and wear clothes and have somewhere to sleep. We might be staying home because we can't imagine missing out on a moment of our progeny's childhood -- or maybe it's because we know that whatever we might make at a paid job wouldn't cover what it would cost to keep said progeny in halfway decent daycare.

I'd wager that among the moms I know, most of us have a lot more in common with each other, whether we work outside the home or not, than any of us do with Ann Romney, or Michelle Obama for that matter. What I would really like is for politicians to stop creating fake media wars that distract us from actual problems, and get back to work making this country a place where more of us actually have the choices they all take for granted.


  1. So say we all. Or so says me, anyway.

  2. Well said.

    I've been a stay at home parent more or less exclusively for the last five years. My job would cover the cost of child care (barely), but not child care plus pre-school so, since I wanted my kids to be able to go to pre-school, I stayed home. Did I choose to say home? Not really, no. Though I'm not sure that Ann Romney (and by the same extension Hilary Rosen) could understand that.

    But I also find it just beyond absurd to hear any Republicans conflating women and choice in the same new cycle. I mean really. Are they sure they want to go there?