BY UNAI MONTES-IRUESTE
What a difference a day makes in the much hyped Mommy Wars.
From Wednesday to Thursday of last week, Hilary Rosen, a Democratic pundit, went from stating that Ann Romney’s status as a wealthy woman without a professional career nullified her ability to advise Mitt Romney on women’s viewpoints regarding economic issues, to being completely thrown under the bus despite her clarifying comments and public apology.
From Thursday to Friday, Ann Romney went from pivoting away from Hilary Rosen’s comments in an attempt to refocus media attention on anemic macroeconomic indicators, to embracing the circus of the “Mommy Wars,” as well as deliberately using the coded language right-wing strategists have used in an attempt to distance women from “special interest” entities like Planned Parenthood, organized labor, and social/racial/economic justice advocacy groups.
By Saturday, an email blast from Romney campaign Senior Advisor, Beth Meyers, went out, labeling Hilary Rosen an “Obama adviser,” and promoting the online sale of “Moms drive the economy” bumper stickers.
As Zerlina Maxwell wrote on Feministing: “Moms who are praised tend to be white and suburban… I would be hard pressed to find anyone, particularly on the right praising a woman of color for being a ‘stay at home’ mom. I hear a lot of ‘welfare queen’ language or that our current president is a ‘food stamp’ president but nothing about how wonderful it is that so many women of color are choosing to stay at home and raise their kids. More likely women of color who are ‘stay at home’ moms would be viewed as ‘lazy’ or ‘poor role models’ for their children.”
When a caller on Rush Limbaugh’s show asked, “If the Democrats can criticize Mrs. Romney for not working outside the home, then why don’t the Democrats criticize women on welfare for not working outside the home?,” Jack Kemp took this incendiary question and converted it into a full length piece for the American Thinker, “If you are a woman not on welfare—and especially if you are wealthy today—your past and current efforts and (at times) struggles to raise a family at home is illegit [sic]… That is, unless you have a seemingly no-show job at the U. of Chicago Hospital and your name is Michelle Obama.”
Mitt Romney and his supporters, after repeatedly accusing President Obama of (socioeconomic) “class warfare,” are ignoring Hilary Rosen’s apology, and focusing on the controversy generated by her original statement in an attempt to create a wedge between women, based not only on pocketbook considerations, but also on the basis of racially charged stereotypes. This strategy is a win-win for Republicans seeking victory in November, especially in a national climate of heightened sensitivity with respect to racial biases. One possible outcome is a reduction in the “gender gap,” a.k.a. the polling advantage that President Obama enjoys with female voters. Another is the dissuasion of women’s participation in the electorate, as occurred when Republicans made historic gains in 1994.
On Friday, a woman who identified herself as “Juanita,” a former Romney family cook and babysitter, called Stephanie Miller’s show claiming Ann Romney truly “never worked.” This not only added fuel to the fire of this already heated exchange, but also reminded those paying attention of past Romney family controversies: including the decisions to pay their four maids barely half of the lowest range in average housekeeper salaries, and twice hire low-wage undocumented workers to perform landscaping services.
While these are real issues, they are not at the heart of what generated this controversy in the first place.
In the late 1950s, the poverty rate for all Americans was 22.4%. By 1973, it was 11.1%. The poverty rate rose again, reaching 15.1% by 1993. It declined to 11.3% by 2000, but rose to 15.1% by 2010. Yet these numbers do not paint a complete picture of poverty in America. 40% of female-headed households live in poverty. Women are poorer than men regardless of racial/ethnic group, and Latinas and African American women are the poorest of all.
If we reasonably assume that men and women are both equally capable of being parents, and have an equal responsibility for both unpaid work as homemakers and caregivers, as well as economic support, then our public policies must facilitate equally shared parenting, without penalty to employment, advancement, benefits, and so forth. Single women currently incur all of the consequences when their sexual behavior results in pregnancy. Single men do not. It’s time to establish paternity and legally require fathers to contribute their time and money toward the clothing, feeding, housing, care, education, and development of their children. When fathers are unable to pay, or when their contributions fail to raise the household out of poverty, the government must step in with effective programs providing everything from financial support to high quality public education—from Early Childhood Education in daycares/preschools that promote school readiness, to K-12 systems that eradicate achievement gaps and afford all students a college and career path, to systems of higher education that do not trap students in years of schooling and decades of debt repayment without degree or job prospect guarantees.
Because the politics of gender collide so completely with the realities of race, the role of education must ultimately embrace a curriculum that comprehensively addresses current—not just the historic—inequalities, ambiguities, and uncertainties that lead to the overpopulation of women and people of color in poverty.