What is a working mother?

19 Apr

In the past two weeks a media firestorm has erupted over the predicament, culture and job description of “working moms.” Though the term was likely created as a description of a mother who worked outside of the home, in the past couple of decades it has become a descriptor for all moms, generally. It has now become a no-brainer that any woman who has children works–whether it be outside of the home or within it.

So, Democratic opionizer Hillary Rosen created a shitstorm when she opined that Ann Romney had “never worked a day in her life.” The Obama campaign ran itself into circles decrying her statements, disassociating itself from Rosen at all costs, and the Romney campaign gleefully grabbed at the only real potentially incendiary anti-woman position that has availed itself from the other side, during this Republican War on Women.

Pundits of all (2) sides clamored over themselves to decry Rosen and her anti-feminist statements. Last Sunday, Frank Bruni dedicated his op-ed piece to his mother, “who didn’t punch a clock or get a paycheck or any of that”: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/opinion/sunday/bruni-working-and-women.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

The following day the NYTimes ran a front page article on the demographics of the stay-at-home mother, citing the statistic that 65% of mothers who stay-at-home are in households earning less than $75,000 a year, with 18% of these women lacking a high school diploma: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/16/us/politics/ann-romneys-choice-not-typical-of-stay-at-home-mothers.html

These are all to suggest that Rosen, whatever feminist, lesbian, elitist drug she be smoking, is not “one of us.” Not a Democrat, not a NYTimes staffer, not one of those feminist who understands.

This seemed suspicious to me. Granted, Rosen undoubtedly stepped in it here, but her point makes sense. To me, Rosen is not attempting to suggest that she is familiar with Ann Romney’s quotidian mothering, or even that she is qualified to judge the quality of Romney’s mothering; instead, Rosen is asserting that, because of the Romney family’s status in the millionaires’ club, Ann Romney could not possibly understand, sympathize or align herself with mothers who live, belong, and work in a daily world comprised of constant financial hardships and struggles. These women may have jobs outside of the home, or they may not; they may have chosen to stay at home because the cost of day care overrides any benefits that a job outside the home could provide; they may stay at home because the emotional and intellectual costs of sending their children to substandard public schools are too great, necessitating the home-schooling of their children; they may stay at home because their time of pregnancy and maternity leave produced too difficult a hurdle for re-entry into the workforce; or, they may have stayed at home because they have chosen to bring up their children, deciding that it is their most important task.

Whatever the choice may be, all must be considered, supported and provided for within a feminist, humanist and democratic society. Rosen was not suggesting that Ann Romney is a substandard woman, nor is Rosen anti-woman; instead, Rosen was attempting (albeit inarticulately) to highlight the dramatically disparate, contradictory and cynical pathways that all women who are mothers must navigate upon giving birth.

It is not that Ann Romney “never worked a day in her life,” it is instead that it appears that Ann Romney has lived a charmed life free of the very hard choices that the majority of other American women who choose to become mothers are forced to make. In the clamor to decry Rosen’s words, there has not been one comment attempting to critique the extravagant costs of daycare and lack of support for parental leave that prevail in this country. The average maternal leave granted to mothers in this country is 2 months, with one of those months paid at most. The average costs of day care in this country run from $500 to $1000 monthly. The average blue collar, working-class wages do not cover health insurance. In many states, women make 75 cents to the dollar of their working male counterparts. Shouldn’t these be the issues we are talking about?


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