Has enough been made of the Hilary Rosen “stay-home-moms-don’t-work” calamity? Maybe yes, maybe no, but as a college-educated full-time mother of seven, I am not about to let it go without comment. (I wish I could have weighed in a bit sooner, but, well, I was busy with family activities.)
Ms Rosen (pictured) took a lot of heat for her remark about Anne Romney, from all sides of the political spectrum: fellow Democrats scrambled to distance themselves; even Mrs. Obama tweeted her displeasure. Far from censuring Ms Rosen, however,the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto says she deserves thanks for being an “honest feminist”.
Taranto points out that, beginning approximately with Freud’s influence, the denigration of motherhood has been an ongoing “major theme in American culture”. If the disparagement of motherhood (especially the full-time variety) is a socio-political creed, then feminism is its prophet and the Democratic party, despite its avowals to the contrary, its church-home base.
From Hillary Clinton’s 1992 condescending “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas” to the present day, the Democrat-feminist complex (can I call it the Dem-fem to save time?) has been clear on how it regards the choices of women who don’t march in lockstep with their agenda.
Heritage Foundation’s Jennifer Marshal believes that Mrs Clinton’s remark was consistent with comments made by feminist matriarch Betty Friedan in her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique: “I am convinced there is something about the housewife state itself that is dangerous,” wrote Friedan, describing the homemaker as consigned to “a comfortable concentration camp”.
Who knew that wiping noses, driving kids to soccer, dusting the furniture, and catching up on the school day over a plate of freshly baked brownies constituted living dangerously?
And why, decades after Friedan raised the alarm, are so many women refusing to buy into feminism’s brand of salvation? As Marshall points out, most young women today still view marriage and motherhood as desirable life goals. When they achieve that aspiration, nearly 70 per cent of full-time working mothers with children under 18 claim that they would prefer to work part time or not at all (Pew Research Center report, 2007).
Feminism continues to tout “choice” ad nauseam while excoriating women who make the “wrong” choices according to the Dem-fem creed. Marshall calls this the “feminist mystique”, which (ironically) fails to treat women as intelligent individuals capable of making their own choices, but instead demands conformity to a “feminist norm”. She notes that feminists still make the mistake of categorizing women as a class.
You still hear politicians, male and female, talk about the “women’s vote” or “women’s issues”. When was the last time (or the first time?) anyone talked about “men’s issues” or the “men’s vote”? Treating women as a voting bloc is in itself a bizarre form of condescension, where we are seen, not as individual human beings, but as a homogeneous special interest group, and one with permanent victim status.
Frankly, a lot of people (and not just stay-home moms) are sick of this condescension. Hence the pushback. New York Times Sunday op-ed columnist Frank Bruni, defends his own late mother:
I know that she was proud of how she spent her time and chafed mightily at any career woman who in any way insinuated that she was performing a servile or trivial function. And since she’s no longer around, I’ll chafe for her. What Rosen said was inaccurate, gratuitous and a sad example of the way politics is practiced today.
Bruni argues, however, that Rosen’s remark ultimately generated too much political hay since her comments did not represent the Obama administration. Many mainstream media pundits likewise called the story a “non-controversy”. I beg to differ. The Dem’s reaction (to Rosen’s statement) was mere damage control: the fact that it’s an election year requires the Dem-fems to repress their true feelings about homemakers’ choices. And repression is never a good thing, is it, ladies?
As WSJ’s James Taranto points out, Rosen’s attitude does reflect feminist thought on the subject, which also tends to coincide with Democrat policy. Neither movement is a friend of traditional families and/or gender roles. Few dare suggest (with certain cultural exceptions) that such roles should be enforced or even promoted, but in the current climate they are not even respected or given equal shrift—even when traditional roles and attitudes are chosen by many Americans.
This is perhaps because the logistics surrounding such choices are not always clearly understood. Taranto, for example, says: “[A]n increasing number of women are choosing domestic life, finding it a liberating alternative to working for a boss. But to do so requires a husband with considerable means.”
Mr Taranto, you disappoint. This is buying into Rosen’s back-pedaling, class warfare-inducing view that Mrs Romney was able to stay home and raise her children only because her husband is a millionaire. Families — and there are many — who make great personal sacrifices (career, financial) to have one parent at home are weary of hearing that full-time parenthood is a luxury. For many working class families, moreover, spousal education levels, stagnant wages and punitive tax regimes make it frankly (and ironically) financially unappealing for the wife to work outside the home. A New York Times report in the wake of the Rosen-Romney fracas refuted the stay-home-mom-as-luxury myth, noting that 65 per cent of stay-at-home, married mothers of children under 18 live in a household with an annual income below $75,000.
The vast majority of stay-home moms, regardless of income or social status, choose to stay home because home and family is where we find fulfillment. Betty Friedan wasn’t right about much, but she was certainly correct that such women are dangerous: we repudiate the feminist world-view, and find self-actualization in (brace yourself) loving and serving our families.
Many of us are college educated. We think, we read, we discuss, we protest, and we vote. (Thanks, Suffragettes!) As National Post’s Marni Soupcoff observes, many homemakers indeed joined a tea party, but not quite the one Hillary Clinton had in mind. In this, we potentially threaten the existence of feminist political power; thus, feminism cannot validate our choices. Evidently, this has not yet occurred to Frank Bruni, who still seems naïvely befuddled by the Rosen debacle:
What’s most bothersome about Rosen’s comment… was its betrayal of what the Democratic Party and feminism at their best are supposed to be about: recognizing the full diversity of human experience and empowering everyone along that spectrum to walk successfully down the path of his or her choosing, so long as it poses no clear harm to anyone else.
Well said, but he misses a big fat irony: in the view of many persons (male and female) with traditional values, the Dem-fems are constantly and relentlessly advancing an anti-life, anti-marriage, anti-family, anti-human, anti-freedom agenda, which poses a clear threat, not only to individuals, but to the fabric of society and by extension, the future of the nation itself.
Bruni remembers how his own mother was vexed by the feminist notion that full-time motherhood somehow meant “turning your back” on your college education: ‘“I haven’t turned my back on my education,” she continued, adding that she used it daily “to make my home the center of learning it should be.”
And there, perhaps, we hit on the chief danger posed by traditional motherhood: if moms and dads are influencing their children, there is less chance they’ll succumb to the Dem-fem worldview. Taranto notes:
Fifty years ago, Ann Romney’s life would have made her just a regular woman. Today, she is a countercultural figure–someone who lives in a way that the dominant culture regards with a hostile disdain. And she has chosen to live that way, which is why Hilary Rosen, as an intellectual heiress to Betty Friedan, regards her as a villain rather than a victim.
Of course, smart moms know who the real villains are, and we’re teaching our children (future voters and taxpayers) to recognize them too. Living dangerously? Bring it on.
Mariette Ulrich writes from western Canada. She blogs on Family Edge.