Rosen's Words About Ann Romney Fuel 'Mommy Wars'

Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen recently ignited a firestorm when she said that Ann Romney, the wife of GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, had "never worked a day in her life." Rosen also said the candidate shouldn't turn to his wife for advice on women's issues and the economy. Host Michel Martin speaks with a group of moms about the latest front in the "mommy wars."

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We turn now from the mom-in-chief to our regular moms panel. Every week, we check in with a diverse group of parents for their common sense and savvy advice.

Today, our moms are going to pick up on an issue that we touched on with the first lady, those comments made last week by democratic pundit strategist, Hilary Rosen. This is what Rosen had to say about Republican candidate Mitt Romney relying on his wife Ann to tell him what women voters care about.

HILARY ROSEN: 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.

MARTIN: Now, Rosen later apologized for her choice of words and she has been thoroughly chastised for them, even by folks on her side of the aisle. But others have defended her point that with her profile as a wealthy stay-at-home mom, Ann Romney really cannot or does not identify with the economic realities of most American mothers.

So was Rosen out of line or did she have a point? We thought we'd ask our panel of moms to weigh in.

I'm joined now by Leslie Morgan Steiner. She's one of our regular contributors to our parenting conversations. She's the editor, actually, of a book of essays called "Mommy Wars." She's an author and a freelance writer and a mom of three. Also with us, Michelle Bernard. She's president and CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy. That's an independent libertarian think tank. She's also the mom of two. And also with us, Monica Olivera. She is a stay-at-home mom of two who works in North Carolina. She's a freelance writer and she contributes to MommyVerse.com. That's a website for Latina moms and NBC Latina.

Welcome to you all. Thanks so much for joining us.

LESLIE MORGAN STEINER: Thank you.

MICHELLE BERNARD: Thank you.

MONICA OLIVERA: Thank you.

MARTIN: So, Leslie, I'll start with you because you started this book, "Mommy Wars." What are the Mommy Wars and was this kind of another chapter in the Mommy Wars?

STEINER: Yes. This is definitely another chapter and, from my view, a pretty refreshing chapter, actually, even though I've been frothing at the mouth myself since I heard Hilary Rosen's comments, because I think what struck a nerve with me - and perhaps with a lot of moms - is that, no matter what my choices are, I really hate to hear moms publicly disparaged, even though I don't actually disagree with Hilary Rosen.

It's technically true that Ann Romney is probably not the best advisor on economic issues facing working moms. But it's also true that, as a mother, Ann Romney has worked every day of her life.

And what I see going on - what I learned from writing "Mommy Wars" is that, though there's surface tension between working moms and stay-at-home moms, most women don't really care how other moms raise their kids, as long as there's no abuse occurring. What we all really care deeply about is - are we good moms? And, if we are, why doesn't anybody in this country ever tell us that our choices are good ones and that we're doing a great job?

MARTIN: Why refreshing, though? Tell me. You said...

STEINER: OK.

MARTIN: ...you thought this was refreshing. Why refreshing?

STEINER: I do find it refreshing because, when I wrote "Mommy Wars," it was a taboo subject and working and stay-at-home moms didn't really speak out about the good and bad things about their choices and men, in particular, were absolutely clueless about how important this issue was in women's lives. And in the six years since "Mommy Wars" came out, I have found that people talk about it all the time.

And, yes, we're really emotional about it. Sometimes, we overreact. Sometimes, we say stupid things, but what's good is that it's become an important part of public dialogue. And I think that's especially true this year because clearly women are turning out to be a really important voting bloc in this presidential election.

MARTIN: All right. Michelle, what about your take on this? Do you think it was a valid point? What do you think about the whole - what Hilary Rosen said, the response to it? What's your take on it?

BERNARD: You know, when I heard the initial soundbite without the sentence that came immediately after that, I was a little taken aback, only in the sense that - and I want to preface this by saying I know Hilary Rosen. I know her very well, so I know what she was thinking, but I was also thinking, when you only hear that initial soundbite, there is going to be some push-back because every stay-at-home mom is going to say, but what I do is work.

Now, that being said, when you go and you listen to the next sentence and Hilary talks about her perspective that Ann Romney really does not know the needs and concerns of women who work outside of the home, that's a perfectly valid point.

And I have to say, as an African-American woman, I did sort of laugh at the whole thing because in our community we've always had to work. I mean, the bottom line is there are very few African-American women that have the privileged wealth that you see in the Romney household and that can make a choice to stay at home and work at home or stay - or be out in the workforce. We, by and large, have to work. So I was actually thinking to myself, boy, I wonder what black women are thinking who are watching this because all of us say, wouldn't it be nice if we actually had the ability, you know, to say, shall we work at home? Will we - do we have the ability to stay at home and watch our kids or should we go ahead and take a look at our careers and work outside of the home?

MARTIN: Monica, what do you think? You are choosing to stay at home at the moment and you also home school them, but you're also running a business outside of your home. You're a freelance writer and I do think it's worth mentioning - do you mind if I mention that, before you decided to stay at home, what your career was?

OLIVERA: Sure. I actually was a zookeeper before I quit.

BERNARD: Oh, wow.

MARTIN: Coolest job ever. Coolest job ever, so I think it's worth mentioning that, you know, coolest job ever. So what do you make of all this?

OLIVERA: You know, I know that Rosen really made a foot-in-mouth comment and I think that most of us know that that is not what she meant, but she did choose her words very poorly, and she has apologized for that.

I think, as a stay-at-home mom, I know that moms - whether you stay at home or do not stay at home, you work hard all the time. I mean, you're constantly trying to put your kids first and decide what's going to be best for them. So, in terms of the specific comment of her never having worked a day in her life, I think that was obviously very wrong and inappropriate.

MARTIN: But what about the argument about whether she is actually well positioned to be an advisor, which is what Mitt Romney is saying she is to him, about issues of particular concern to women? I mean, do you think that she represents your concerns? Do you think that she would accurately represent your concerns to candidate Mitt Romney?

OLIVERA: Well, I would hope that anyone who was president would select a diverse group of people to help him or her understand who - the needs of everyone in the country because, as moms, our experiences are so incredibly diverse.

I know that my experience is very diverse from Ann Romney's and I'm a stay-at-home mom, and I heard a little comment here earlier about having the luxury of being able to stay home. Not all stay-at-home moms have husbands who are raking in $250 million or whatever a year, but you know, for me, when I decided to stay home, I decided to do that because I knew I only had a few years to really spend a lot of time with my kids before they started school because, at the time, I wasn't planning on home schooling.

And I know - it was really a fine line and a balancing act for us to decide. Can we afford to do this? And, in fact, the reason we left Texas and moved away from family to North Carolina was the fact that, if we had stayed there, I was going to have to go back to work.

So, you know, sometimes, it's a real challenge, but sometimes, moms don't have that option, or sometimes, they do. You know, that's the thing; is back in the '50s and '60s, moms were kind of expected to stay at home and then the '80s and '90s came and - boom - you're expected to go to work.

And now, here we are, 2012s, and we just have this wonderful opportunity to decide. You know, can I do it? Can I make it work? Can I stay home? Can I go to work? Can I work from home? Can I start a whole new business from home while I'm taking care of kids? So...

MARTIN: I'm talking with Monica Olivera, Michelle Bernard and Leslie Morgan Steiner about those comments that have made headlines and caused kind of a political firestorm sparked by democratic strategist, Hilary Rosen, who was talking about whether Ann Romney is really the best person to talk for the - talk about the issues of particular concern to American women.

Michelle?

BERNARD: I wanted to say, you know - just to go back for a second, in the '50s and '60s, white women were expected to stay home and raise their children. Black women really did not have that luxury and that was part of the point. And I don't want to say luxury because I know it's not a luxury.

I'm a mother of two. I was a stay-at-home mother for one year. It was not because I - you know, I could necessarily afford to do so. It was very difficult to do so and I only stayed home for a year because I had to go back to work. So I want to make it clear that it's not always a luxury and these are very, very difficult choices that most American families have to make and have to figure out a way to be able to scrape by and meet the needs of their children.

MARTIN: Michelle, what do you think would have happened, though, if Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin had said that they looked to their husbands for advice about male voters? I mean, I think - is it really the issue? Mitt Romney, rather than Ann Romney? I mean, I'm just sort of wondering how that would go. Would she say, gee, this whole auto bailout thing - I don't know. Let me ask my husband...

BERNARD: Well, I mean, I...

MARTIN: ...because he's a boy.

BERNARD: I know my immediate reaction would be, what happened to your brain? I mean, you obviously can figure this out on your own and we would have thought that these were women who were sort of denying their level of intelligence in order to sort of, you know, lift up their husbands. This really is about Mitt Romney. It's not about Ann Romney. If he's going to be president of the United States, he will be governing the entire nation, not just 50 percent of it.

MARTIN: That's a point that Ruth Marcus made in a column for the Washington Post. She said, note to candidate: women aren't a foreign country. You don't need an interpreter to talk about - can I just make one more point? Just a little sort of point. I covered Barbara Bush when she was, you know, first lady, the wife of George H.W. Bush, who I don't believe was in the paid labor force, you know, ever. And she had a very keen understanding of what was going on with the electorate. So I just sort of want to throw that out as kind of an alternate model. What makes the difference? I really don't know. I don't know.

So, Michelle Bernard, president and CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy. That's an independent libertarian think tank. She's a mom of two. She was here with me in Washington, D.C., along with Leslie Morgan Steiner, one of our regular contributors, author of the book, "Mommy Wars," and a mom of three. And with us from North Carolina, Monica Olivera. She is a stay-at-home mom of two, contributing writer to MommyVerse.com. That's a website for Latina moms and NBC Latino. She was with us from Durham, North Carolina.

Ladies, thank you.

STEINER: Thank you.

BERNARD: Thank you.

OLIVERA: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Up next...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Music finally returns to the historic Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C. after decades of silence. We hear stories of restoration and remembrance. That's up next on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: You take a car on a test drive before you buy it, so what's the harm in doing the same when it comes to marriage? More couples are taking their relationships for a spin by living together, sometimes for years before tying the knot. But are they getting a head start on a healthy marriage, or taking a fast track to a break-up? We'll ask the ladies in the Beauty Shop to weigh in next time on TELL ME MORE.

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