Every week in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.
Last week, Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen invoked outrage left and right with the statement that Ann Romney “has never worked a day in her life.” Rosen eventually apologized for this remark (largely viewed as an attack on stay-at-home-mothers) and attempted to clarify her position that Romney, because of her wealth, cannot relate to the economic concerns of many women constituents. Rosen’s remarks raised continued concern that this election—at both ends of the political spectrum—needs to grapple seriously with women’s issues and yet has little idea how to actually do that. The so-called “mommy wars” supposedly resurrected by Rosen’s initial claim illustrate the problem with the way women voters are consistently, and falsely, viewed as monolithic.
Within this conversation, there are critical underlying points about socioeconomic status; repeatedly, I read the assumption that only wealthy women, like Romney, can afford to be stay-at-home mothers. That’s simply not true. There are many women who choose to stay home and sacrifice amenities that would be available with a second salary. Reasons abound for making that choice, including a lack of accessible, affordable, high quality childcare and a sense of vocation to make motherhood one’s primary calling. There are also many women who are primarily stay-at-home who work flexible and part-time jobs—for reasons as varied as economic assistance and personal fulfillment. The mothers who stay home, in full or in part, face different challenges than women who participate full time in the work force. But those differences aren’t about virtue; they’re about availability of options (real or perceived) and mothers of all stripes striving to make good decisions for their families.
The dichotomy between mothers who work outside the home and those who don’t is false, unnecessarily divisive, and intentionally distracting. It’s a red herring that makes the conversation about feminine virtue (real or perceived) when women face actual, everyday concerns about the health and financial security of their families. It’s unproductive to pretend that all women share these concerns in the same way, just as it’s unproductive to pretend that all mothers can be easily divided into two irreconcilable groups. What the debate surrounding Rosen and Romney ignores is that all mothers work (of course), but not all mothers work the same way or for the same reasons or with the same level of choice in determining the futures of their families. That’s a conversation that would acknowledge women and mothers as diverse groups with different interests, and it’s a conversation that cannot take place in the artificial context of the “mommy wars.”