Walsh writes, "An aggrieved Ann Romney even told Fox News, 'I will tell you that Mitt said to me more times than I can imagine, Ann, your job is more important than mine...'" An "aggrieved" Ann Romney? I would have been aggrieved if someone said I’d never worked a day in my life, but as it turns out, Mrs. Romney chose to be gracious and thoughtful in her response.
Walsh goes on, "The point Rosen was making was, and is, valid: Mitt Romney repeatedly refers to his wife, Ann, in lordly terms, ‘reporting’ to him what matters to women. Reporting to him, like she’s an employee, or maybe a translator... He should stop referring to his wife’s ‘reports’ about women’s issues, sounding like Thurston Howell III. Ann Romney... is a woman of great privilege. Most mothers don’t have the ‘choice’ to stay home full time with their kids; they need a paycheck. Meanwhile, her husband supports the Paul Ryan budget, which cuts nutrition programs for pregnant women and new moms and their kids. It cuts Medicaid for poor women and children. It slashes food stamp funding, when women and children make up two-thirds of the people who get food stamps. He wants to get rid of Planned Parenthood, which provides not just contraception but breast cancer and cervical cancer screenings for millions of low-income women."
Walsh is muddling her critical opinion of Mitt Romney's policy positions, (an opinion I certainly share,) with Rosen's very telling disrespect for Ann Romney's life choices. It is simply shallow for us to say, "well, maybe Rosen shouldn't have said that, BUT...." so that we can greedily get to our own (critically important but pretty easy to make) points about the Republican approach to women's issues. Liberals are in no danger of losing the trust of American women. Real policy speaks louder than words. We don't need to cram a lot of words into the reactionary moment of this particular quote.
Rosen just shouldn't have said what she said. And the ugliest part about it was she meant it. In the latest contribution to the bad apologies epidemic, Rosen made clear in her later commentsthat this wasn’t a gaffe. She reinforced the points she wanted to make, using a discussion of Ann Romney’s life choice as a vehicle to criticize her husband’s positions.
Unfortunately, the low-hanging fruit here is the opportunity to exploit the complex feelings women have about other women's choices. This isn't just an "upper-class problem", like Walsh complains. If you want to classify it, literally, it is also a middle-class dilemma and distressful for low-income families. There is a wide range of economic status that allows for some sort of choice in this area. For some women, work outside the home would be preferable but their education and professional experience don't qualify them for positions that pay enough to cover childcare. Conversely, some women who are high-earners sacrifice significant material comforts so they can stay at home. There are multiple options, constraints, and desires in this area, and families make different decisions over the tenure of their child-rearing years, always vulnerable to the judgement of others.
Walsh simplistically says in the clip, “feminists learned 20 years ago that this is a dumb argument.” But in fact, it’s a perennial topic, it’s not “dumb” or easy, and each generation of women must confront it anew. It’s been a quarrel at times, and we won’t get anywhere by jumping all over each other or rolling our eyes about it.
As a phenomenon, the question of “working” women crept into the collective conscious on a wide scale in the mid-20th century when women who had been called to work outside the home during WWII found they wanted to keep doing so after the war. It bubbled up as a more intensely debated issue in the 60's and early 70's, creating painful division among feminists. The discord came to head in the 80's, when there were both improving professional opportunities for women, and increasing acceptance of the idea of the enlightened stay-at-home mom. Playgroups and "mother's morning out" sessions popped up, and there were countless news pieces about the educated, liberated women who were leaving the workforce in droves to raise their kids. They had three or four kids, home-schooled, grew their own food, and maintained an active civic life. Psychologists and social scientists debated how children were affected by growing up in daycare centers. Marriage counselors worked with couples who were struggling with confusion about the new expectations of men, obsolete expectations of women, and the division of labor in the home.
Apparently it’s time to talk about it as a nation again, but let’s take care to separate out the issues.
One discussion we should have is about the rush to polarized outrage when a partisan public figure says something stupid or offensive. That’s about modern politics and cable news.
Another discussion should be about whether women who work at home are valued as much by society as women in the workforce, which is complex cultural question.
The plight of women who want to stay home and raise their kids but can't afford to – that’s a discussion about the economy.
The plight of women who have to stay at home, existing on welfare food stamps, WIC, and Medicaid, is a discussion about conservative disdain for funding birth control, childcare, education, and job training.
Yet another discussion is about which presidential candidate has the better interests of women at heart. That one is about health care, equal pay for equal work, (really, America? still?), reproductive rights, equal status, (really, Augusta?) domestic violence and sexual harassment, and more.
Democrats need not get that last one confused with the Rosen issue. There will be more than enough time to talk about it before November, and Republicans don't hold a candle to Democrats in this area. We are the force behind decades of progress on these issues, and no one is seriously confused about the who's who on that one. Right-wing Republicans are hard at work today trying to reverse these accomplishments.
The Romney campaign wants to pretend that the off-base comments of a random pundit have uncovered some larger truth, like the Democratic Party's real feelings about women's issues. That’s bogus of course, but it’s just as intellectually dishonest for liberal analysts (notably not being joined by the White House) to blather on about the right blathering on. Give them their time: their First Lady-hopeful was brashly, inaccurately insulted.
Just don’t let them confuse the issues.