One of the strange things about America’s class differences is how protective we are of the privileged, and how reluctant we are to acknowledge uncomfortable truths when they’re staring us in the face- as is illustrated in Ann Romney’s Twitter debate with Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen.
Rosen had appeared on AC360 earlier this week, saying something the vast majority of Americans know to be unequivocally true- that most of us cannot afford (as in don’t even have the choice) to be focused stay-at-home mothers. The economic reality does not exist for the lion’s share of American families, so the dichotomy presented of the “choice” to be a stay-at-home mother and “work harder than most people do at their jobs” just isn’t there.
Rosen was calling out the Romney campaign’s recent focus on women in an attempt to soften the 18 point gap between Romney and President Obama among women voters. Romney- who has said he would “get rid of” Planned Parenthood in a somewhat ironically amusing turn of phrase- has been pointing to counsel from his wife Ann on the matter, and Rosen rightly pointed out that an Ann Romney does not at any level understand the reality of an average American woman or mother’s life.
Rosen originally remarked on the show:
“What you have is Mitt Romney running around the country, saying, ‘Well, you know, my wife tells me that what women really care about are economic issues, and when I listen to my wife, that’s what I’m hearing.’ Guess what? His wife has actually never worked a day in her life.”
The working-versus-staying-at-home debate has in the past been extremely contentious, and is perhaps more so given how few families truly have that choice nowadays. Not surprisingly, Mrs. Romney had no answer for Rosen, instead falling back on the typical “being a mom IS work” argument, with her inaugural tweet:
“I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work.”
You know what, Ann? I believe you. You know why? Because I raise two kids, manage a household (not entirely well at times) and work full-time. So I did your job… and mine. Like many, many other mothers in America, the down economy, I didn’t have the “choice” to stay at home and only be a mom- which is nice work if you can get it. But let’s keep making this about women attacking other women for “choosing” to stay at home with their kids, instead of the fact that most of us have no choice but to do the same job Ann Romney did- but without a nanny, a maid, sometimes without a husband that sticks around and almost always while juggling a 40+ hour a week job that men like her husband try as hard as possible to erase all protections and benefits for.
It seems the Romney clan would do well to simply own up to this fact, and that is all Rosen seems to be saying. In response to the critique quickly lobbed at her by everyone from Camp Romney to the White House, Rosen sent a series of tweets backing up her original comments, and asking very true questions that cannot be ignored when it comes to the meat of the matter.
It’s nice to see that even under high-level pressure, Rosen didn’t back down, tweeting:
“When I said @AC360 Ann Romney never worked I meant she never had to care for her kids AND earn a paycheck like MOST American women! #Truth Mitt Romney is running for President, not Ann. He hired only 10% women at Bain; now makes up false concern for women’s economic struggle.”
Again, the Romney campaign’s falsehoods are highlighted with factual information, making Mrs. Romney’s dodge all the more disingenuous. Rosen continues:
“I’ve nothing against @AnnRomney. I just don’t want Mitt using her as an expert on women struggling $ to support their family. She isn’t. My point is that he should stop saying that she is his guide to women’s economic problems. She doesn’t have any.#IsntItObvious? When Mitt says he listens to her about women’s economic problems, it is fair to wonder why?”
Finally, she sums it up in a point directly to Ann Romney, to which Romney has yet to respond or even acknowledge:
“@AnnDRomney I am raising children too. But most young American women HAVE to BOTH earn a living AND raise children. You know that don’t u?”
In the wake of the debate, Obama’s advisors Jim Messina and David Axelrod both stepped in to distance the President from Rosen’s comments regarding Ann Romney, which, to American women like myself, feels like the exact wrong thing to do. Messina quickly tweeted out that he “could not disagree with Hilary Rosen any more strongly,” and added that “her comments were wrong and family should be off limits” and that “she should apologize.”
Axelrod too went into damage control mode, tweeting that he was “also disappointed in Hilary Rosen’s comments about Ann Romney,” adding that “they were inappropriate and offensive.” And true. The idea that merely pointing out the stark fact most women face a huger, taller, less scalable set of challenges than Ann Romney should not provoke such a whitewashing, invalidating response.
Because that is exactly how I feel watching the White House defend Ann Romney. Invalidated. As if there is no difference in work volume or generally lifestyle struggle between a woman like Ann Romney and a woman like me, a lowly web writer raising two children alone. Because as First Lady Michelle Obama tweeted in response as well:
“Every mother works hard, and every woman deserves to be respected.”
But it should also be acknowledged that more women than not face a longer road, with more rocks, more setbacks, lower pay, and no vulture capitalist out in the horse-shed bringing home a multi-million dollar paycheck because they exited the right vagina. Instead, we allow the Ann Romneys of the world to be the victims in this narrative, and it feels like another example of how far we haven’t come.
“How Far We Haven’t Come” is a twice-weekly series by Kim LaCapria, examining the sorry state of women’s issues in America in the current political climate.