A Women’s Place: The Choice Is Hers
Recently, the media’s been abuzz with a hot story that’s the talk of the town; celebrities, politicians, even the President of the United States and our First Lady have weighed in. No, it’s not Ashley Judd’s so-called puffy face, and it’s not childhood obesity—it’s the disparaging remark Hilary Rosen flung at Ann Romney, that she has “never worked a day in her life.”
The backlash was predictable, but it obscured some of the main underlying issues related to the attack. It’s true that Ann Romney has never worked a day in her life, in the sense that she’s never gotten paid; however, motherhood can be just as demanding as a day job, with little time off from responsibilities. Nevertheless, while Hilary Rosen clearly picked the wrong issue to tackle, Ann Romney falsely claimed to speak for all stay-at-home moms in her response. Frankly, her social class and race-related privilege separate her from a large group of full-time mothers who not only have to manage a household and care for their children, but must also make the most of a shoestring budget. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 65 percent of married women who stay at home and raise children under the age of 18 live in households that earn less than $75,000 in annual income.
Women have not always been allowed to work, and once they were, working became the only option for many lower-class women, regardless of whether they were also expected to raise a family. Simply put, many mothers cannot afford to stay at home, especially if they are the primary providers in their households. Accordingly, stay-at-home moms have inevitably become part of a debate in which full-time motherhood has been associated with the leisure class, older generations, antiquated gender roles, and the oppression of women, while working mothers have been associated with feminism, women’s rights, and even modern-day progress.
As long as full-time motherhood is a choice that is not forced upon women, I believe that it is a choice that deserves as much respect as the choice to work and raise a family, and the choice to work instead of raising a family. Politics should not become an excuse to put motherhood, in all its manifestations, up for debate. Given Romney’s bad track record on women’s issues, from fair pay to reproductive rights, the heightened attention that resulted from Ann Romney’s defense of stay-at-home moms seems too politically convenient, as it benefits her husband.
Mitt Romney has recently sought the support of women voters, in part to rectify the fact that, polling-wise, women strongly favor Obama over Romney. Recently, Romney has claimed that President Obama is anti-women, supposedly because most jobs lost under Obama were held by women. (According to Politico Fact, this statement is “mostly false.” Notably, it fails to take into account the types of jobs women tend to hold and percentage of women in the general workforce.) Ann Romney should not be setting herself up as an accidental pawn for the sake of her husband’s campaign, and she shouldn’t be lining up her fellow stay-at-home moms as pawns, either.
The issue of motherhood and employment does not carry as high stakes as issues like reproductive rights, domestic and sexual violence prevention, or gender-related workplace discrimination; however, like those other gender-related issues, it should not be determined in the political arena by a handful of would-be and actual decision-makers. It should not be infringed upon any more than the right to choose motherhood, and it certainly should not hinge on a high-profile fight between two high-profile women who offer elite outlooks on their positions of the issue.
Furthermore, no one except individual women themselves should be governing individual women’s personal lives, especially not members of a party that argues that the least amount of government interference leads to the greatest amount of citizen happiness, and especially not members of a party that claims to uphold a woman’s right to choose instead of making the choice for her. A woman’s place is wherever she wants to be, not where someone else puts her. Now, let’s end the debate on Ann Romney’s housewife politics, and let’s focus on more important issues affecting all women.