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Hilary Rosen's Criticism of Ann Romney Really About Privilege

Francesca Bessey |
April 15, 2012 | 9:05 p.m. PDT

Staff Contributor

(BU Interactive News, Creative Commons)
(BU Interactive News, Creative Commons)
I can distinctly remember, at the age of nine or ten, feeling vaguely envious of the strange coalition of classmates who had really committed stay-at-home moms. They were the kids whose moms chaperoned every field trip, who got to organize card-signing and gift-giving for the teacher at the end of the year, who always had a cake or cupcakes for the class on their birthdays.

Years later, a friend and I discussed what we had been too young to realize at the time: with her mom working a full-time job and mine pushing herself through nursing school, we had been exposed to a special type of female privilege that, like any largely class-based phenomenon, left some of us shortchanged.

Having witnessed firsthand what it means to have no choice but to be a working mother, I get a little irritated at the public outcry over Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen's attempt to point out this very reality. Her comments on CNN last week were not an affront against Ann Romney for her role as a stay-at-home mother; rather they were a criticism of Mrs. Romney's expertise on women's economic issues, when she herself has lived a life of nothing but economic privilege.

In her apology to those she had offended with her comments, Rosen acknowledged that her words regarding Mrs. Romney had been “poorly chosen.” Indeed, they were poorly chosen, but not because they were inaccurate, but because she should have known that they would be misinterpreted by those utterly blind to the real problem at hand.

Rosen's comments during the CNN interview came after a question about women and the economy. When she claimed that Mrs. Romney “has never worked a day in her life,” she was was not trying to suggest, as she was accused, that raising children is not hard work. She was using “worked” in the colloquial sense, as in having a job, a meaning which the economic context of the question dictated in the first place.

Rosen took issue with the fact that Mitt Romney has been “using his wife as an economic surrogate.” Romney's recent campaign speeches have included repeated assurances that he understands women's economic issues because of the perspective he has on them thanks to his wife. I, like Rosen, find it difficult to believe, however, that Ann Romney can provide all that much perspective on a woman struggling in today's economy while married to a multimillionaire.

Undeniably, Ann Romney has faced struggles in her life. She has battled breast cancer and multiple sclerosis. She has brought up children, which any parent will tell you is incredibly difficult. She has lived as a woman in a world still moving toward equality between the sexes. But she has never faced these struggles while also working a full-time job. She has never had to worry about pay discrimination or sexual harassment in the workplace. And she is not looking for work in an economy where employment for men has returned much more quickly than employment for women.

Rosen's legitimate concern is that a policy on women's economic issues based on this particular woman's experience is not nearly as comprehensive as it needs to be. It will not take into account, for example, a single working mother whose daycare funding is slashed by Romney's new budget, or the plight of a woman who knows she cannot afford another mouth to feed, but whose husband refuses on religious or moral grounds to use contraceptives.

What Rosen did on CNN last week was express a frustration held by a lot of women with stay-at-home moms who think that they face the same problems as working mothers do. Raising kids is tough. Raising kids while working, and while worrying if you can pay the rent next week, is tougher. While not all women who choose “mother” as a career do so because of financial wiggle room, those that do should remember that most women in America can't afford to make that kind of choice. And so should Mitt Romney.



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