Ann Romney, class, and the mommy wars

With Mitt Romney promoting his wife Ann as his source of knowledge about what women want, a pundit was asked on CNN what she thought of that.

Hilary Rosen replied, “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 women in this country are facing in terms of how do we feed our kids? How do we send them to school? And why we worry about their future?”

Now there is a big blow-up about this comment, particularly focusing on the statement that Ann Romney “never worked a day in her life,” with the claim that this is insulting to women who stay home to raise kids.  Ann was a stay-at-home mom to five boys.

What’s going on is a continuation of the “mommy wars” in the context of highly polarized politics and a presidential campaign. But the brouhaha also brings up issues of class and public policy.

The term “mommy wars” refers to disputes about what mothers should do and what choices are positive, legitimate, and not positive.  Most mothers work outside of the home. Some would not do it any other way. Some would not do so if they could afford it. Some stay-at-home moms make large financial sacrifices to be able to do so. Many would love it if policies allowed more flexibility.

Unfortunately, women — and others — can judge each other’s choices too harshly.

Ann Romney certainly worked as a stay-at-home mother.

BUT this should be a starting point for further conversation. Consider the following:

– Ann Romney’s work as a mother is fundamentally unlike that of the vast majority of American mothers.  She was extremely rich and likely had a staff doing household labor. My friends who are stay-at-home mothers are taking care of their kids while also cooking, cleaning, gardening, doing household repairs, and sometimes remodeling.  Some stay-at-home moms don’t have health insurance.

– On the other end of the income spectrum, there are moms who are taking care of their children but have no income and thus must rely on welfare and food  assistance. Do the Romneys believe they are also working? And what do they think of the welfare reform program that required them to have paying jobs?

– What sort of help does Ann and Mitt Romney think all mothers deserve? Should insurance companies be required to include care for pregnancy and childbirth and well-child care? What about help in educating their children, so they don’t end up with a lot of student loan debt? Ann had had major health issues, but she had insurance. Her kids didn’t have to worry about paying for college.

As Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren said

I did not read Hilary’s comments to in anyway take away from the hard chore of raising children or staying at home and raising them and not working outside the family.  I read it to mean that raising children without financial pressure is easier than having financial pressure. This is not to take away from Mrs. Romney – she has done an absolutely spectacular job raising 5 great sons – but to face the reality that financial pressure does make it harder to raise a family.

All mothers deserve respect, whether they are very wealthy or very poor or, like most of us, in-between. Taking care of kids is hard and important work. Politics should be about what policies the United States should have to demonstrate it truly values mothers, children, and everyone else.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.