I’ve spent the last few days mulling over this whole Hilary Rosen-Ann Romney kerfuffle. If you are unaware, Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen dismissed Mitt Romney’s statement that women “really care” about economic issues, not this silly war on women stuff. (I mean, come on ladies! There are real issues we need to be talking about. Manly issues, amirite?) Specifically, Rosen said, “His wife [Ann Romney] never worked a day in her life.”
This has been widely interpreted as a slight to stay at home moms. As if not having an outside job makes one inferior to those who do. But that’s not what Rosen was commenting on. The fact that Ann Romney is a stay-at-home-mom is not the point. The simple reality that the Romneys had enough money to make that a viable alternative is entirely the point.
The fact is that the Romneys are not your average American family. They are worth, roughly, 17 bazillion dollars (or $200 million. Whatever). Does anybody really believe that Ann Romney knows what it’s like to try to make ends meet with one average income? Perhaps mothers are more in touch with how much milk costs, or the price of gas. But if you have access to what is functionally an infinite amount of money, does any of that really matter?
You see, just because Ann Romney and I are both vagina-Americans, it would be foolish for me to think — economically speaking — that we are cut from the same cloth. Because we are not.
As Linda Hirshman explained in The Washington Post, middle- and working-class women, when it comes their economic interests, have much more in common with middle- and working-class men. People who work for a living have a vested interest in receiving fair pay. Stay-at-home moms do a crazy amount of work, it’s true. But they don’t have as much of an interest in making sure women are paid the same as men for similar work.
And let’s not forget that it’s Mitt and Ann Romney’s stance on economic issues Hilary Rosen was commenting on. I’m sure that women, like men, are concerned about the economy. (I know I am, given that I’m two years out of law school and still temping and writing ranty blog posts.) But do we have to pretend that, by virtue of having a vagina and raising children, I can speak for all stay-at-home mothers on issues relating to the economy?
All credit to the Romney campaign. They turned what was a valid criticism of Ann Romney’s ability to sympathize and connect with the average woman into a referendum on her choice to stay at home and raise children. Attempts to use this to start a discussion of the actual economic needs of women in this country have been giant fails.
Money separates us in ways that are deep and unfortunate, and we don’t always want to acknowledge the gulf. Ann Romney isn’t a bad person. She just has more privilege than I can even dream of. The greatest privilege you can have is the ability to ignore your privilege. The debate isn’t stay-at-home-moms vs. the world. The debate is how we can improve the lives of women, regardless of their choices or circumstances.
Barbara Bush actually said something sensible for once, “Forget it. Women who stay at home are wonderful. Women who go to work are wonderful. Whatever.”
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