Beyond the Romney/Rosen Catfightby Leslie Morgan Steiner
Despite the 3.5 million news stories about the Hilary Rosen/Ann Romney cataclysm, a surprising number of critical issues affecting working and stay-at-homes moms DIDN'T get covered as both Democratic and Republican political machines postured endlessly about American motherhood today.
Now, like a lot of people, I have been frothing at the mouth since hearing Hilary Rosen’s mean-spirited, inflammatory quote: “Ann Romney never worked a day in her life." What struck a nerve with me -- perhaps with a lot of moms -- is that no matter what my choices are, I hate to hear moms publicly disparaged.
We are all working hard, one way or another. I have more respect for what Ann Romney accomplished than any of the male political candidates, including her husband. Raising five kids with an ambitious husband who was rarely home is far harder than raising capital, creating a company, running a state, or running for president. But I don't actually disagree with Hilary Rosen. Ann Romney is probably not the best advisor on economic issues facing the average working mom.
So why all the fuss if there wasn’t a real issue here, beyond a pundit’s gaffe?
Well, for starters, the skirmishes served to distract voters from the real, and fixable, issues facing women in America today. Why dig deep if you can skim the surface and make your opponents look foolish?
Here is a short list of the far more important, nonpartisan “women’s issues” NOT discussed last week:
The Mommy Wars Are Not Between Working and At-Home Moms
The women writing in Mommy Wars make clear that while surface tension simmers between some working and at-home moms, most do not care how other moms raise their kids, as long as no abuse occurs. I doubt Hilary Rosen really frets over how Ann Romney prioritized work and family, and vice versa.
We all worry far more deeply about what other people think of us. Are we good moms? Have we made wise choices about how to juggle work and family? Why doesn't anyone ever tell us we are doing a good job? Why isn’t there more substantial societal and governmental support when it comes to motherhood?
This lack of positive feedback and true backing in policies, legal enforcement, and incentives leads some of us to be thin-skinned about criticism, and to disparage moms who have made different choices. Instead we should be pointing our fingers at a country that worships moms while offering woefully little to help us be the best we can. This is the real mommy wars in our country - the lack of support for moms at every level of the income spectrum.
The Majority of Moms Have Far Too Few Choices About Everything
It also pained me that so much was made of an elite issue. Both Hilary Rosen and Ann Romney have many choices in terms of work, childcare and husbands. What about the moms who don't have choices? Who’s frothing at the mouth about the issues that stop average women from achieving greater financial parity with men, from being the best moms they can be, about the lack of leverage they have at work, at home, in our courts and on our streets?
Why didn’t we hear about solutions to the following critical, fixable issues?
- The dearth of affordable, high-quality childcare
- Discrimination against moms in the workplace
- Incentives for companies to offer employee flex-time
- Class complications (e.g, life is a lot worse for moms who are lower paid than Rosen and Romney)
- Violence afflicting women and children
At the same time, it also hurt to hear Ann Romney dissed for being a privileged mother. It is a special form of discrimination to write off a woman's opinions based on how much or how little money her husband earns. Well-educated, financially secure moms make easy targets; no one feels sorry for them. Paradoxically, privileged and accomplished men usually have no trouble being heard. Special vitriol is reserved for educated, successful women with "choices" - probably because they present the biggest economic and societal threat to the lucrative jobs and societal leadership roles held by white men.
The Good News - Everyone Is Talking About Moms
Politics aside, there is one great marker following Rosen’s blunder: the immediate and widespread outrage from both genders.
Six years ago, when I was writing Mommy Wars, moms understood the book’s scope in two seconds. But when I told men I was researching a book about the challenges facing working and stay at home moms, they would say, "Huh, could you write a whole book about THAT?"
Today, men I've talked to and men responding to the comments online seem equally incensed that anyone would suggest that raising five children is not "work."
We've come a long way in the mommy wars if men now fully understand how very hard motherhood is, whether you work for a paycheck or your husband supports you economically.
The Mommy Wars Are Everyone’s Wars
The emotional reactions (and overreactions) show how raw the subject of women’s choices - and lack of choices - are today. These “women's issues” will continue as the campaigns unfold, because female votes are clearly going to be very important in this year’s presidential race. Substantial problems - access to birth control, jobs for women, daycare and educational options, the gender pay gap - could be spotlighted in new, in-depth ways.
Yes, there may be the inevitable foot-in-mouth awkwardness and quivering-lip reactions. Which are not necessarily bad, as long as we force politicians and journalists to get beyond the working vs. at-home mom catfights. We don’t have to let the “mommy wars” headlines mask the far more grave bias and discrimination derailing many moms today.
Improving standards, rights and opportunities for women constitutes a public good that benefits everyone - like sidewalks, highways, and local fire stations. Options and security for all moms means choices and opportunity for all children: everyone’s future. Make all moms feel good about their choices - give them real support at work, at home, and in the media - and the “mommy wars” tensions will dissipate. Improving life for moms improves life for everyone in this country - in fact, in any country - now and into the future.
It just doesn’t make quite as intriguing a headline.