warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

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.


Live On Twitter


Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.



Anonymous (not verified) on April 16, 2012 3:18 PM

Michelle Obama is not a stay at home mom, she is an attorney.

Anonymous (not verified) on April 16, 2012 12:06 AM

I'm sorry raising kids is not a hard job there ate no deadlines fear of be axed you don't work a full eight hours plus rich people hire maids and shit to do stuff her get your head out of asss people she also sent here kids to bording school for most their so no she didn't care of them all their lives one more thing your kids don't shoot back at like cops have tobdesl with on daily bases for 30000 dollars a year no that is s hard job

RickNSB (not verified) on April 15, 2012 10:15 PM

Nice to see some followup support for Rosen's comment. She was exactly right when she said it but the Romney campaign is so desperate for an issue with traction they'll try on any hat. Could the republicans this year address something substantial like Iran, North Korea, healthcare benefits for people who DON'T get to stay home to raise their kids. Rosen was exactly talking about the "work" of raising kids or managing the family AND dealIng with the pressures of outside employment. If Ann Romney had any clue to those travails, she wouldn't have been so quick to jump down Rosen's throat. I'm sure Romney's a nice person but she's a Mormon wife and that means her man is always right.

Anonymous (not verified) on April 15, 2012 10:14 PM

Michelle Obama is a stay at home mom, where's the out rage? I grow up with both parents working. I don't want that for my kids. Success is the American dream. Why can't you dopes get that through your think heads. Whats this whole thing got to do with running for president anyhow. Ann Romney's not running.

LongTom (not verified) on April 15, 2012 10:35 PM

There is nothing wrong with being a stay at home Mom. Ann isn't running, but Mitt pushed her forward as his adviser on women's economic issues. It was entirely appropriate to question what her experience/insights into these problems might be. Since the Republican policies toward issues important to women are, to put it gently, dictatorial, unsympathetic, and hostile, Ann's attitudes and experience are fair game for comment. And while it's true Michelle isn't working, she certainly has worked, and you know what? She, like most every American (and unlike Ann Romney) HAD to work! She hasn't led a sheltered and privileged life.

Anonymous (not verified) on April 15, 2012 10:14 PM

My wife is a stay at home mom and we have had many tough years financially but did it because we did not want strangers raising our children. We make our country better one generation at a time and the more stay at home mom's we have the better job we do of it. I have never met a liberal that believe in stay at home mom's they are all too me me type people. Raising children is much harder work than working a job.

LongTom (not verified) on April 15, 2012 10:37 PM

How many liberals have you met?

Anonymous (not verified) on April 15, 2012 10:10 PM

I'm a African-American Female raising a family. Working-class struggling. No opportunity to be stay at mom. If I did living on a social program. Mr. Romney would consider me lazy. But again we are not considered at all.:(. No silver spoon in my mouth.

Makingithappen (not verified) on April 15, 2012 10:10 PM

How ludicris... Who's husband won't let her use contraceptives??? Sounds like a bad decision has led to yet another decision & that would not be anyones business. And are you suggesting that we the people should pay to offer that birthcontrol and also allow for the excuse to continue with a relationship not based on respect?
Privilege could have also allowed her to send them off to boarding school... and it is quite offensive to women in general to yet again put conditions on what allows us to have intellect or the ability to understand needs & demographics. So, Ann Romney cannot nor can any other "privileged" woman understand the needs of underprivileged working mothers? Maybe those damn successful husbands of theirs ate their hearts to keep them able to be so evil for earning? Hey... Here's a thought... Why don't we as American's stop with the coming in at the backside of a problem? Why don't we all admit we all have the ability to think and Tackle a problem where we can nulify it instead of encouraging it's destructive option?

Anonymous (not verified) on April 15, 2012 10:09 PM

Sour grapes, that's all this is about. I'm not wealthy but my wife is stay at home and her work is very rigorous. Not every family can do that; I feel blessed to have her there. But what is happening here is a dedicated white hous driven campaign demonizing the American Dream. The white house has spread the idea that it's bad for America if people succeed and become wealthy through genius and industry. This country has been the envy of the world or two centuries because genius, hard work and some good luck can lead to substantial wealth an you don't have some political leader like Putin or Chavez trying to take it from you. Suddenly, it's a crime to be successful in this country. Unlike most of our politicians, we actually have a candidate that did something productive in the world, was a managerial an financial genius, retired, and now comes to the public sector. Most of our politicians are simply system parasites for life. If every politician had to demonstrate success in the real world before taking a try at running a country (think ALL of the founding fathers--these guys actually had jobs) this country would do a lot better. Stop criticizing the American dream. For all you mothers who can chose to stay at home to raise children, I celebrate you, I honor your enormous WORK. For those many who don't have this luxury, we need a president who understands the American dream, not someone who demonizes it.