Not since Hillary Clinton's infamous remark during the 1992 presidential campaign -- "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas" -- has a prominent Democratic woman so insulted full-time homemakers. Speaking on CNN Wednesday, Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen said that Ann Romney has "never worked a day in her life" and, therefore, can't understand the struggles of most women.
Rather than apologize for sticking her thumb in the eyes of millions of American homemakers, Rosen doubled down when critics responded. "This isn't about whether Ann Romney or I or other women of some means can afford to make a choice to stay home and raise kids," she said. Talk about a "war on women"; this sounds like a war on work-at-home moms. In Rosen's view, they're either lazy or privileged.
Nothing about Rosen's comments surprises me. I know her slightly -- we are both frequent panelists on PBS' all-female public affairs program, "To the Contrary" -- and she's a perfectly nice woman. But she's also a hard-core feminist -- and that's the problem.
Feminism as ideology eschews individual choice. Women must fit a certain mold; if they don't, they're either deemed in need of having their consciousness raised or dismissed as frivolous ninnies.
Ann Romney, who raised fives sons, has defended herself against Rosen's accusation by saying Rosen should have come to her "house when those five boys were causing so much trouble. It wasn't so easy." Frankly, Romney would be better off not dignifying Rosen's attack by responding.
Anyone who has spent a day caring for a toddler -- much less trying to handle five boys at one time -- knows that motherhood is hard, full-time work. The fact that many mothers choose to work outside the home, as I did, does not mean that those who choose to stay at home are taking the easy way out.
Nor is it true, as Rosen and other feminists assert, that most mothers "have to work." Certainly, most single mothers must work to support themselves and their children, which is why their labor force participation rates are higher than those of married mothers, 75 percent compared with 69 percent. But many married women work primarily because they want to. There's nothing wrong with that, so why pretend it is out of necessity?
When you factor in the actual costs of working outside the home, it might not make great economic sense for a mother of young children to work. Out of her wages, she must pay for child care, transportation, a work wardrobe and work lunches, plus the extra cost of convenience foods or eating out when she doesn't have time to prepare family meals, not to mention higher family taxes. Those expenses add up and, for some lower-income women, might outweigh the financial benefit of the extra paycheck.
Even if working outside the home is not born out of necessity or particularly remunerative, many women still would choose to do so because they find it personally rewarding. And our economy has benefited greatly by having so many more productive workers added to the labor force. Almost no one today argues that women shouldn't have the right to seek employment outside the home.
The same can't be said about attitudes toward women who choose to work at being mothers and homemakers. For the Hilary Rosens of the world, these women are fair game to be sneered at, insulted, demeaned and belittled. Their achievements raising children and being supportive wives, good housekeepers and community volunteers are dismissed.
Feminists believe that the only legitimate role models for young girls are women whose lives mirror their own. Feminists don't want to expand choices available to young women so much as they want to limit the options to feminist-approved categories, and full-time homemaker clearly isn't on the list.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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