Saturday, April 14, 2012

This Woman's Work: Thoughts on Motherhood, Money and Men

Last week Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen caused an uproar when she commented on CNN that Ann Romney was not qualified to advise her husband and presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney on women's economic concerns because she's "never worked a day in a her life." 

Ann Romney, a stay-at-home mom and mother of five, was so offended she took it to the tweets. She set up a Twitter account so she could tweet this response:

"I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work."

Meanwhile, outrage ensued as the "War on Women" took a new turn with conservatives claiming that Democrats don't respect the hard work that being a good mother requires.

There are so many problems with this faux girl fight I'm not sure where to begin. First of all, while Rosen's comment certainly lacked tact, her point was clearly not that SAHMs just sit around the house all day watching Lifetime. Let's face it, being a SAHM or dad is, for the most part, a privilege. Most families can't afford to have one spouse not work outside the home. And Ann Romney is certainly not a mom struggling to make ends meet since she's married to a gazillionaire. As Rosen said in the interview, "She's never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing." 

So, no, she should not be Mitt Romney's go-to person on the economic concerns of women raising families. Here's an idea: how about Romney actually ask financially struggling mothers what they need.

Secondly, I find it interesting that conservatives are using this as an opportunity to assure women voters that they believe motherhood is the most important job in the world yet few of them support federally-mandated maternity or paternity leave and other measures that would make the hard job of parenting a bit easier. And while they argue that a woman's choice to be a SAHM should be respected, women who are single or poor or women of color who want to stay home and parent are called "Welfare Queens." 

Third, I find it disturbing that this conversation about parenting centers on motherhood. What about fatherhood? Still in 2012 our society views the nurturing of children and the managing of household duties such a cooking and cleaning as woman's work. And the man's worth as a parent is directly tied to his paycheck. If you're bringing home the bacon you're a good father. If you're not, you're a dead beat dad. 

This attitude, I believe, is hurtful to both men and women. In a world where a man’s worth is determined by his income what happens in times of economic downturn? When Daddy loses his job does he also lose his manhood? And what about men who choose to be stay-at-home dads, are they not real men?

Furthermore, viewing household duties and caregiving as “woman’s work” is a burden for women, especially those who are mothers working outside the home. While many more men nowadays share in duties like cooking, cleaning, etc., in most households women are still expected to handle these duties alone even if they’re working 40+ hours a week outside the home.

All in all, let’s not let this spat between Rosen and Ann Romney revive the so-called Mommy Wars as this would just be a distraction from the real issues at hand such as making changes in our country’s policies (and our society’s attitudes) that will make it easier for women and men to provide healthy, happy lives for their children and for themselves. 

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