Scott Olson/Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife Ann Romney greet supporters during an Illinois GOP primary victory party March 20, 2012 in Schaumburg, Illinois.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife Ann Romney greet supporters during an Illinois GOP primary victory party March 20, 2012 in Schaumburg, Illinois. Scott Olson/Getty Images
Jessica Valenti is the founder of Feministing.com.
Yesterday, the homepage of Fox News featured a huge picture of the Romney family with the headline: "5 Kids, 16 Grandkids, and Dem Adviser Charges Ann Romney Has 'Never Worked a Day in Her Life.' " The outrage, which has spanned across mainstream media, Twitter, Facebook and beyond, is over Hilary Rosen's comments to Anderson Cooper yesterday that Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, has "never worked a day in her life."
There's no doubt that Rosen, a CNN contributor and Democratic political consultant, made a gaffe in providing such a juicy sound bite. But her message — in context — was right on.
Rosen was responding to Mitt Romney's constant trotting out of Ann when he gets a question on women's issues:
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 how do we — why do we worry about their future?
There's nothing there about stay-at-home moms, or the idea that that raising children isn't work. Rosen was referring to the fact that Ann Romney — an incredibly rich and elite woman — likely does not understand the economic concerns of most American women. Again, it was unfortunate choice of words — but she wasn't wrong.
The Romney campaign, predictably, has grabbed onto this "controversy" in an attempt to divert attention from their missteps around equal pay and the war on women yesterday. Ann Romney joined Twitter, and her first two messages were about the flap, writing that "all moms are entitled to choose their path" and that she "made a choice to stay home and raise five boys."
Since all moms are "entitled" to "choose" their path, I'm very much looking forward to the Romney's plan for national mandated paid parental leave. I'm also wondering, since they believe that women's domestic labor is valuable and real work, when they will come out in support of wages for said work. (Or perhaps women are only entitled to make their "choice" when they have the financial means to do so.)
Focusing on this slip-up just brings more attention to the way in which a Romney presidency wouldn't support mothers. Because empty platitudes about motherhood "being the hardest job in the world" doesn't change the reality of most moms' lives, or make their job any easier.
But it's not just that Romney is bad for women (whether they work outside the home or not). What's being lost in this conversation is the incredibly facile and insulting notion that just because a woman made the decision to marry Romney and occasionally talk to him about other women, that he is somehow well-informed on women's issues. Ann Romney is not an expert on women's issues just because she happens to be one. And she's not an expert in what mothers need just because she has children. Believing otherwise is infantilizing and reduces women's very important and complex concerns to beauty parlor chitchat.
If Romney cares about motherhood he should show us some policies that prove it. And if cares about women, he should talk to some women other than those in his immediate vicinity. It may be a tad inconvenient, so I won't hold my breath.