During the week, I covered the debate sparked by Hilary Rosen’s commentary on Mitt Romney’s reliance on his wife’s counsel to understand the struggles female Americans face today.
Rosen (albeit somewhat hamfistedly) remarked incredulously that Ann Romney “has not worked a day in her life,” in a comment that drew rebuke not only from the Romney camp (expected), but also from fellow Democrats and even the White House. In the resultant fallout, even First Lady Michelle Obama commented on her Twitter account that “all moms work,” attempting to quell the firestorm of rage that erupted.
What happened next was incredibly frustrating to those of us who fully understood Rosen’s remarks and wished that Romney’s opponents insisted on moving the conversation forward rather than standing for an inaccurate reframing of the commentary. What is true is that contrasted with the daily lives of Jane American, Ann Romney has never worked a day in her life.
While we all bear the economic consequences of the actions of men like Mitt Romney, a “vulture capitalist” who lightheartedly jokes about layoffs that financially devastate families forever, women like Ann Romney lead an existence of ease that we will never experience.
Which naturally sparks the same tired, reductive argument about envy- several commenters indicated that those who criticize the car-elevator-owning Romneys for purporting to be just-folks are just jealous. Basically, the political equivalent of “you sound fat,” an attempt to silence the legitimate debate sparked by implying those who rightly criticize the idea Ann Romney understands average Americans are simply poor and angry about that fact.
But while you may be trying desperately to work out how to keep your job since every daycare closes at 6 and your train doesn’t get in until 6:23, here is an example of Ann Romney’s reminiscence of hard financial times. While hundreds of thousands Americans struggle to obtain affordable insurance and face the choice of eating or paying rent or a mortgage, Romney explains her family’s struggles when Mittens was just a poor grad school student- and inadvertently reveals that she herself didn’t fully “choose” to be a stay-at-home mom:
“Mitt was still in school and we had no income except the stock we were chipping away at. We were living on the edge, not entertaining. No, I did not work. Mitt thought it was important for me to stay home with the children, and I was delighted.”
Not entertaining. So while you sit there mulling over yet another insurance denial for your child’s essential medicine, remember that the Romneys went through a period where they weren’t able to host expensive dinner parties. Totally the same thing.
It seems clear with even a modicum of reflection that the attempts to refocus the narrative on whether moms “work” or not is so disingenuous as to be insulting, but it has worked remarkably well (the Romney campaign even rushed to sell the “moms drive the economy” bumper sticker, above.) But in any meaningful sense of the word, Ann Romney has never worked.
Even if the campaign’s insistence that Romney never employed a nanny are true, could you imagine how different even a stay-at-home mom’s life would be with just a maid? Someone to do the laundry? Someone to take the car in for inspections and to handle the home maintenance and make it so you never had to toil away at simple tasks while your children want mommy (or daddy) to come read them a story instead of work, work working all the time?
No, when 73% of mothers have no choice about staying home at all, the issue is not whether or not being a homemaker is work. We know it is- but we also know it is work that most of us are forced to do in addition to work outside the home- and to pretend otherwise for campaign traction so successfully is just 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.