Politicians have been talking a lot about the role of women in society. We might all benefit from considering a little history on this not-so-new topic.
Betty Friedan is credited with sparking the modern conversation on the role of women when she wrote The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963. Friedan described what she identified as a dissatisfaction plaguing middle-class American housewives because of the narrow role imposed on them by society. Friedan went so far as to compare the situation of housewives and moms to the plight of those in concentration camps.
Friedan wrote, “In a sense that is not as farfetched as it sounds, the women who ‘adjust’ as housewives, who grow up wanting to be ‘just a housewife,’ are in as much danger as the millions who walked to their own death in the concentration camps—and the millions more who refused to believe that the concentration camps existed.”
This is the beginning of what is known as the second wave feminist movement in America. As part of this movement, feminists held “consciousness-raising” sessions, seeking to make stay-at-home moms aware that they were being oppressed. But feminists of the 1960s failed to convince many that they were unwitting victims of an oppressive patriarchy for the same reason feminists struggle today—some women truly want to focus on being wives and raising children as stay-at-home moms. Many women actively make—or want to make—this choice.
Feminists were supposed to have learned this lesson and moved on to building greater respect for the contributions of women, regardless of occupation. Yet today, women who are stay-at-home moms are once again painted as uninformed and unenlightened.
The tension between stay-at-home moms and current feminists recently surfaced when democratic strategist Hilary Rosen said Ann Romney “has actually never worked a day in her life.” She continued, “She’s never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them to school and how do we — why we worry about their future.”
Ann Romney responded on Twitter, “I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work.”