By now, most of us have heard the Hilary Rosen gaff that Ann Romney “never worked a day in her life,” and the shit storm that ensued.
And now, as usual, the coverage of the gaff itself has clouded the actual point that Hilary Rosen was trying to make.
You see, Ms. Rosen was not attempting to make the claim that mothering is not a legitimate and (for some people) rewarding life choice, as many of her critics allege. Instead, Ms. Rosen was pointing out the fallacy that Mitt Romney has fallen into, namely, holding up his wife as an example of an average American woman. Ann Romney may be a wonderful mother who has worked hard to become a wonderful mother to her five children (I have absolutely no means to know what kind of mother she is – also, THAT’S NOT THE POINT), but one thing she is not: average. Mrs. Romney may have informed opinions about the economy and how the government can best support women, but again, she is not a representative of the average American woman.
I appreciate the plight of the stay-at-home mom. I really do. I am a work-from-home mom myself, and so I understand that it is work – in the sense that staying at home with kids does not constitute sitting on the couch, eating bon-bons and watching questionable daytime television all day. It is exhausting and demanding and under appreciated and certainly not financially rewarding. (Imagine if mothering were covered, say, under the Ledbetter Act.)
The trouble I have with the media’s (and the online MOMMY WARS) response to Ms. Rosen’s gaff is that they are missing the fact that even the choice to stay at home with your kids is an incredibly privileged position. Most households require two incomes to really function. I work at home largely so that we don’t have to pay for child care. But between my income and David’s income, there are months when we squeak by. AND WE ARE NOT POOR. We’re just… doing okay. Mrs. Romney may have worked every day (the work of being a mother), but I guarantee that she never had to give up movie night with her husband because they couldn’t afford a babysitter. She never had to make a choice between sending a sick kid to day care or staying home and possibly getting fired from a job that she could not afford to lose. She never had to take her child to the emergency room and wonder how in the world she was going to pay for it.
[Also, (and I don’t mean to put too fine a point on it), Mrs. Romney responded to Ms. Rosen’s gaff by claiming that “motherhood” has been her “career.” In fact, this is not the case. You see, a career includes the possibility for advancement and/or progress. So, unless Mrs. Romney climbed the corporate ladder of her household to become the head wife and mother, then being a stay-at-home mother is not her career. It is her work, her vocation, her calling. But it is not her career.]
The problem here is that Ms. Rosen’s statement has been made (by the media and the Romney campaign) into a statement about motherhood. It was not. Ms. Rosen’s statement was actually a statement about economic disparity. Mitt Romney has been pointing to his wife not as an informed expert, but rather as a person who, because she is a woman, knows “women.” Ms. Rosen’s poor word choice does not change the fact that Mitt Romney’s wife does not actually stand in solidarity with women who have had to make impossible decisions for their families because their economic position does not allow them the luxury of real choice.
I’ve seen the phrase “Mothers need to stick together” splashed across the internet lately in response to this whole mess. And I think that is true to a certain extent. I believe that those of us who have the choice to take maternity leave or to stay at home with our kids or who never have to carry our sick kid to the emergency room knowing that we can’t pay for the treatment that they will get – we have the responsibility to stand in some kind of solidarity with the mothers who have to make the impossible decisions.
Mitt Romney and his campaign are proposing a budget that would cut programs like Medicaid and food stamps. This means that the mothers who have to make the impossible decisions will find themselves stranded. Mrs. Romney may be a mother, but she does not stand on the side of the mothers who really need support and solidarity.