Democratic strategist and DNC adviser Hilary Rosen got herself into a bit of hot water yesterday when she took a heavy "swipe" at Mitt Romney's wife on CNN Wednesday night, claiming that stay-at-home mother Ann Romney had "never worked a day in her life." Ouch.
Though the comment was clearly horribly worded and no one could possibly say otherwise -- raising five boys is no small task -- taken in the larger context, Rosen was correct, indeed. It is a real shame that because she did not choose her words more carefully, her message is lost.
Rosen's point is a good one. Ann Romney has never had to work outside the home, so to make her the outreach manager for Romney's campaign to get women's votes seems totally out to lunch.
Rosen was trying to raise the issue that the US does very, very little to support working moms. We have unbelievably bad maternity leave policies that leave women with horrible choices. Mothers either keep their jobs and pay exorbitant childcare fees ($2,400 a month where I live for full time care) or they quit and lose their careers and financial independence, not to mention their long term earning potential.
There is also little to no breastfeeding support for working moms and for many, it is virtually impossible to keep feeding their babies by breast. These are BAD things that our government could change. Obviously, attacking Ann Romney for staying at home is all wrong. But her point that most women in America need to work and that our government (and Mitt Romney, specifically) needs to support that is right on.
How can Ann Romney relate to working mothers when she herself has never had to fight that battle? She has no understanding of what it means to be a working mother and the compromises and challenges it brings up. Romney made his wife's experience relevant when he brought her into the campaign.
Ann responded with this:
I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work.
I am 100 percent certain that it WAS hard work. I was a stay at home mom myself for more than three years and, in many ways, the challenges were greater, the work harder and the rewards far less than after I went back to work.
But I also could not have pretended at the time that I had any idea what it was like to balance my job, my childcare, my time with my children and any semblance of a life with my husband (and forget about self-care) while I was beholden to a day job.
I am lucky and so is Ann Romney. We had choices and husbands who made enough to support our whole family. Not everyone has that and not everyone WANTS to stay home.
Ann Romney's voice is welcome at the table, but so are women of all different kinds -- moms who work from home, single moms, moms who stay home, moms who work part time, and moms who work full time and raise their children. It is not that Ann Romney needs to have every experience to speak to women. But she can't speak to the challenges average women face and Romney is expecting her to do so. As Rosen told CNN:
Why does this even matter? It matters purely because Mitt Romney put the issue of his wife's views squarely on the table...As Ruth Marcus noted in her column yesterday in the Washington Post, Romney, when asked last week about the gender gap, twice said he wished his wife could take the question: 'My wife has the occasion, as you know, to campaign on her own and also with me,' Romney told newspaper editors, "and she reports to me regularly that the issue women care about most is the economy.'
It seems to me that Ann Romney may not speak for all kinds of women and all kinds of mothers given her background and experience. Did she work? HELL yes, she did. She did important, difficult, challenging and crucial work. We need to value her kind of work more as a society and support ALL women. But was she a mother who worked in the office and brought home a pay check on which her family depended? No. She has never done that.
We need to support women more as a society and as a culture. We can do so, but the "mommy wars" have got to go. This is not a working mom versus stay at home mom thing. This is about all women with a breadth of experiences and backgrounds coming together to make REAL change. Is Ann Romney important? Indeed, she is. But so is the mother who works long hours to support her family because she HAS to. Not all women have choices.
So, while Rosen's words were misguided, her point was relevant and crucial and all women should be grateful someone had the courage to say it and now let's hope it is not lost in the "mommy wars" cacophony.
Do you think Ann Romney understands average women?
Image via BU Interactive News/Flickr