If you’ve been in a coma for the past two days or were on vacay in a remote part of the world (or dreamt you were on vacay while in a coma), you may have missed the news that Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen fanned the flames of the Mommy Wars when she told Anderson Cooper at CNN that Mitt Romney’s wife Ann Romney has “never worked a day in her life.” Mrs. Romney, a mother of five, fired back on Twitter, “I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work.”
I had the opportunity to appear briefly on Fox News this afternoon on a panel with other mothers during America Live with Megyn Kelly. And what I told America when I was asked my opinion about this debacle is that while I think Rosen’s words were chosen poorly, I don’t want to have to feel sorry for some rich lady who has five kids, five maids and six houses. I’m not saying Ann Romney hasn’t worked hard in her life, because she’s got a husband who requires unzipping every day, and that would be a huge burden on anybody.
What I didn’t get to say on air is that I totally respect a woman’s right to choose to stay home if that’s what she wishes to do. But let’s be honest here and not deny that there’s a difference between a true choice – a sacrifice, even – and a luxury. Many women in this country stay home, making a financial sacrifice in order to raise their children. Others stay home because the reality is that the cost of childcare makes it prohibitive to go out and work. (As my friend Meredith Morgenstern Lopez just said to me, “We weighed the cost of full-time child care versus how much I could actually be expected to make if I went back to work and it almost evened out.” I was in the same position when my daughter was born.) But when you’re a millionaire, staying home isn’t really a choice. It’s a luxury. It’s almost an imperative. I mean, who wouldn’t just lounge around all day if they could afford to? I’m not saying Ann Romney isn’t an accomplished woman; I’m sure she’s done lots of charity work, and God knows she’s had plenty of time to read. But nobody wakes up from a nap on their yacht and says, “This ennui is killing me. What I really need is a job in retail.”
Ann Romney resents the accusation that she can’t relate to regular folks, and I understand that. After all, rich people don’t like to be told they can’t do something. But honesty, Ann, you can’t relate. Mrs. Romney insists, “I know what it’s like to struggle. Maybe I haven’t struggled as much financially as some people have,” she said. “I can tell you and promise you that I’ve had struggles in my life.” That’s certainly true; Mrs. Romney has battled both breast cancer and MS, a fate you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. But if you are going to battle two crippling diseases, being a millionaire with access to the world’s best healthcare certainly equips you to do it. What about those of us mothers that are working and are still uninsured? (Points finger at self.)
Let’s get down to brass tacks, here: it’s clear that Rosen, when she made those comments on CNN, wasn’t trying to insult SAHMs or suggest that SAHMs don’t work. Rosen’s comment wasn’t about SAHMs, it was about Ann Romney being a child of privilege. If you look at the second (and so far fairly ignored) part of her commentary about the Romneys, Rosen said, “She’s never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing, in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them to school, and why do we worry about their future.” That’s not conjecture, that’s a fact. And it’s not just SAHMs that have been offended in this crossfire; moms of all stripes and even my childless friends have expressed outrage about Ann Romney’s assertion that she raised her kids at all, given that she has had an immense staff to do all of her dirty work. As my friend Lisa Germ so astutely put it:
In one of Ann Romney’s quotes she mentioned how difficult it was to manage the staffs of several homes, including several NANNIES…I have serious doubts that she ever changed a diaper or wiped any of her kids’ asses or noses. If she was a stay-at-home ‘mom’ and had a staff of people to cook, clean, grocery shop, do the laundry and yard work, clean the pool, why did she need ANY nannies? She would have had the luxury to fully devote all her time to her children. They are SO out of touch from what the AVERAGE person has to endure it’s disgusting. It’s like listening to the Queen of England talk about how difficult it was for her to be a working mother. Give me a break!
Now, to be fair, I can’t find an Ann Romney quote where she talks about managing nannies, and according to the International Business Times she didn’t hire any. Additionally, none of us was there while Ann Romney was raising her children, so I suppose it’s not fair to make assumptions about what body parts of theirs she did or didn’t wipe, but … it’s supremely clear that Ann Romney’s experience with motherhood is vastly different than that of most American women. (It has been confirmed that the Romney’s had five maids in 2010.) And Rosen was trying to speak for the American women who simply cannot afford to stay home, even though they might like to.
An extremely important point that I think has been largely missing from this discussion was thankfully brought up yesterday by Erica C. Barnett at Publicola. Barnett writes, “How many times have Republicans demonized single black or Latina moms for “leaching off the system,” for being “welfare queens” by having babies out of wedlock? If Romney’s decision to have five kids and stay at home to raise them is a “choice,” it’s a choice Republicans would deny to low-income and minority women, precisely because of their lack of privilege.” Boom. I certainly couldn’t have said it better, and honestly was so distracted by the media’s “Mommy Wars” angle on this issue to even think about the rights of poor mothers at all. In this country, of course, poor people don’t have the rights that rich people do. Ann Romney needs to admit that growing up rich and marrying even richer is what has given her the right to choose “career motherhood.”
Judith Warner for TIME and Ruth Markus at The Washington Post hit the nail on the head when they call this an issue of semantics. Warner writes, “Rosen’s only real fault, in the Anderson Cooper exchange, lay in forgetting to use the politically correct phrase “work outside the home” instead of the politically toxic word work to describe the remunerative activity Romney didn’t have to engage in.” Because if Rosen had said work outside the home, what would Ann Romney have countered with? She may have countered with the same “I chose motherhood” argument, but it wouldn’t have packed the same punch.
The good news is, women aren’t dumb enough to fall for this distraction tactic. Women of every political stripe agreed on the Fox panel today that we don’t want to be pitted against one another. Ann Romney has a right to do with her life whatever she chooses, but she shouldn’t try to paint herself as a woman who can relate to the plight of the average broad. If the Romney’s are going to gain any level of likability, they’re going to have to admit sooner or later that they’re filthy, stinking rich and that even though they can’t relate to the rest of us, they sure do know how to boss us around.
Photo via Flickr / by Gage Skidmore