The real war on moms

The Romneys and other Republicans have nothing to offer parents other than manufactured outrage

Topics: 2012 Elections, ,

The real war on moms

Welcome to the surreal phase of the campaign where Republicans, mindful of facing a gender gap – nay, a chasm – try to nominally out-feminist Democrats, but only insofar as it comes to respecting the right of a spectacularly wealthy woman to raise her children without a job outside the home (or, perhaps, to join an exclusive golf club). But make no mistake: This is not about the so-called Mommy Wars, where mothers with a paycheck sneer at the ones without one – a binary simply not reflected in women’s lived experience. It’s about class and about how government policy compounds its impact on households with kids.

The Romney campaign may not know what it’s getting into here, since this is where plenty of progressives live, which is how they had a bunch of substantive questions at the ready. “I will tell you that Mitt said to me more times than I can imagine, Ann, your job is more important than mine,” Ann Romney said on Fox News today. But is this about nominal celebration or actually helping parents? If the Romneys “value women’s domestic work so much,” tweeted feminist author Jessica Valenti, “when will they discuss their plan for national paid parental leave?” And Slate’s Matt Yglesias wondered, “Do Mitt & Ann Romney think unemployed single moms have a full-time job? Do such moms deserve a living wage?” Or healthcare? You could almost fantasize for a minute that this campaign season jockeying of faux outrage is going to somehow lead to a substantive conversation about those oft-neglected policy issues, which force women and men into unhappy choices about how they’re both going to provide for and care for their families.

“Choice” was the word on Ann Romney’s lips in her Fox News appearance this morning. “We need to respect the choices that women make,” she said several times, adding, “Mitt respects women that make different choices.” “Choice,” of course, is a word that represents in other contexts, like abortion rights, a negotiated truce on rights and liberties of women to live within and without their traditional roles. But Ann Romney’s use of it shows how limited it is as a trope: Is it a relevant “choice” for the vast majority of American women to decide whether to use their degree in French in the workforce or rationally rest on their husband’s millions to focus on five children – six, according to Ann, if you count mischievous Mitt?



The more pertinent “choice” involves a series of unappealing options when it comes to affordable childcare or workforce opportunities. According to the census, the proportion of mothers with a recent birth in the labor force increased during the recession, from 56 percent in 2006 to 61 percent in 2008. And another Census Bureau report suggests that most of the 5.6 million stay-at-home mothers, a minority among mothers, have little in common with Ann Romney. They tend to be younger, Latina and foreign-born – and they are less likely to have graduated from high school or attained a bachelor’s degree. These women face markedly different circumstances from the more publicly visible stakeholders in alleged Mommy Wars, the ones who opted out of the workforce and who have the ear of people making movies and writing novels, but the women with the luxury to live on a single income at their expected standard of living are a statistical and demographic blip. The bulk of stay-at-home moms have characteristics that correlate to lower earnings in the workforce, and for them, with the high cost and inaccessibility of childcare, the “free” childcare offered by staying at home is also a rational economic choice.

Did these women feel acknowledged when ultra-wealthy Ann Romney said on Fox News, “I know what it’s like to struggle,” if they heard her say it at all? The Romney campaign is counting on the fact that such women, and maybe other women who have felt the tug between home and the workplace, will be more moved by the unfortunate phrase “never worked a day in her life” than by the fact that the Republican Party’s policies disproportionately impact these lower-income mothers, from their access to reproductive healthcare to cutting the public-sector jobs that tend to be held by women. They hope that Obama will effectively be blamed for structural job losses to women, without being able to point to a single Democratic policy that drove it, even as women are supposed to be mad that an alleged Obama surrogate only values employment outside the home.

All of this started because Mitt Romney said that he knew what women care about because his wife had told him: “She reports to me regularly that the issue women care about most is the economy, and getting good jobs for their kids and for themselves,” he said last week. Apparently, he is unable to speak to these alien creatures himself, or to understand that women’s interest in the economy includes how to balance their economic responsibilities with their family ones – since the latter still disproportionately falls on women – or how controlling their fertility is an economic issue. But maybe there’s a policy prescription that’s to augment the elaborate umbrage at the alleged disrespect to Ann Romney and women everywhere. Let’s hear it.

Irin Carmon

Irin Carmon is a staff writer for Salon. Follow her on Twitter at @irincarmon or email her at icarmon@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>