For women on both sides of the working mother/stay-at-home mother (SAHM) divide, Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen's infamous comment about Ann Romney last night on CNN opened up old wounds. While the powers that be are using this as a political football, the issue isn't politics but the value of women's work and what qualifies as work.
If you haven't heard the story, Rosen was on Anderson Cooper 360 Wednesday night and took issue with the idea that presumed GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney was looking to his wife for advice on issues facing women.
Rosen, a mother of two who has felt the push-pull conflict of balancing family and career, expressed her opinion that because Ann Romney never worked outside the home for a paycheck, she did not reflect the majority of women's lives in this country. The sentence uttered by Rosen that's been taken out of context and tweeted and repeated across the blogosphere is "His wife has actually never worked a day in her life."
The choice of words is the issue. By not recognizing childrearing as "work" she inadvertently belittled those women who devote 24/7 to this kind of labor, and this slip was gleefully picked up as an example of how the Democrats regarded SAHMs.
As any of us who've raised children know, child-rearing is some of the hardest work any parent -- regardless of gender -- will ever do. Yet it takes a certain level of economic security for a woman capable of earning a paycheck to be able to stay at home and focus on her family. Those who are heavily in debt, head up single-parent households, are food insecure or don't have another source of income to rely on cannot make this choice.
This is what Hilary Rosen was trying to communicate, but in doing so she came dangerously close to a tender spot that makes many SAHMs bristle: why are women who stay home with children held in lower regard by society than women who work outside the home? Why do these women feel compelled to defend their choice?
Rosen was not attacking SAHMs. She was merely trying to point out that it's probably not the wisest decision for a wealthy candidate to rely on his privileged spouse to provide guidance on issues that face typical American women who are employed outside the home earning a paycheck that is essential to the economic survival of their families. But in this day of Twitter, Facebook, and instantaneous reactions, it's the sound bite that prevails, not the larger argument wrapped around that soundbite.
For the record and to set things straight, here's the full transcript of what Hilary Rosen actually said (which I transcribed from the CNN clip of the discussion):
With respect to economic issues, I think actually that Mitt Romney is right, that ultimately women care more about the economic well-being of their families and the like. But he doesn't connect on that issue either. 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. 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.
So I think that, yes, it's about these positions and yes, I think there will be a war of words about the positions. But there's something much more fundamental about Mitt Romney. He just seems so old-fashioned when it comes to women and I think that comes across and I think that that's going to hurt him over the long term. He just doesn't really see us as equal.
Having read the complete transcript, what do you think? Was Hilary Rosen justified in making her point, or was she attacking SAHMs? It's interesting to note that Ann Romney actually signed up on Twitter to respond to Rosen's comments (she had not had an account prior to this) and tweet her thoughts.
I'm not saying that being on Twitter is the be-all and the end-all, but with estimates as high as a quarter of a billion registered Twitter users back in 2011, perhaps Ann Romney is a bit behind the curve. If her husband is looking to her to accurately gauge the pulse of the American woman, perhaps she needs to up her social media game just a bit.