Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mommy Wars: Divided We Fall

Sheesh. I feel like I was living under a rock the past day. While everyone is blowing up at Hilary's Rosen's comments about Ann Romney, I was under deadline for a big grant at work so I didn't have time to learn what was said, let alone get outraged. Anyhoo, the internet has caught me up, and thusly, here I am.

In case you're like me, the quick and dirty summary is this: Democratic strategist, Hilary Rosen, said that Ann Romney has "never worked a day in her life" and Ann Romney lashed back on twitter. People got outraged and defended Ann Romney (including the president). Talk turned to the topic of "mommy wars." Rosen apologized.

My reactions to this topic are so mixed, but what I keep coming back to is that it's simply not helpful for women to tear each other down.

Let me back up a bit.

I see the the mommy wars stuff play out way too frequently. Even in the feminist blogosphere where these discussions shouldn't be so highly contested (in theory) whenever topics of parenting come up, everyone gets up at arms. Usually in these debates, a whole lot of judgement is flung around on both sides. As I am not parenting (but plan to someday) I try to stay generally out of the debate, because it 1) does not currently affect me 2) seems to be a deeply personal decision 3) feels counterproductive to continuously criticize what other people choose to do.

So I don't even feel like hashing out the different sides of this debate, but I do want to mention a few things that I think are helpful to keep in mind, from the feminist perspective:

-The solution to sexism is not devaluing what is stereotypically considered feminine.
Hilary Rosen clearly made a really big mistake in suggesting that raising five sons is not "work." Women's freedom to seek employment outside the home was a huge victory in the battle against sexism, but it's only half of the full picture. To truly end sexism, we cannot continue the devaluation of stereotypically feminine things. We must accept that home-related tasks (cooking, cleaning, child rearing) do have a value in our society and that this type of work is important for us all, which leads me to my next point...

-It is sexist and heterosexist to frame this as exclusively a "mommy" problem.
As long as we call this debate "mommy wars" we perpetuate the myth that these tasks are only for women. It's like how every time "work/life balance" topics come up it's implied that we are only talking about heterosexual moms. If we want to strive for equality, we must shift our collective understanding of housework and child rearing to include men.

-Asserting that mothering is the most important job a woman can have is not productive.
When we hear someone say something shitty like "raising kids isn't real work!" the solution isn't to come back and say "raising kids IS the only real work!" This erases the important things that childfree women provide our society and unnecessarily reduces the value of all women to their reproductive capabilities. If you want to advocate for the value that parenting provides society, do so on its own merits, not by implying other lifestyles are lesser than. (Protip: saying "Being a mother is my most important job," sounds similar to "The most important thing a woman can do is be a mom!" but they are actually very different statements.)

-Being a "stay at home mom" is simply NOT an option for everyone and not all "stay at home moms" are viewed equally.
This point is huge because many families depend upon female paychecks either for their sole or joint source of income therefore to assert that being a stay at home vs. working mom is always an easy "choice" is simply not true. As Zerlina at Feministing said:

While raising children is hard work whether you do that alone or whether you do it while working isn’t really the issue. Sure Ann made a choice but it was a choice she was free to make because of her economic status. Many American women would love to stay home and raise their kids and not have to work but they don’t have that luxury. 
...There is also an issue of how the “stay at home” moms who are praised tend to be white and suburban. While a certain level of economic success allows for these women to stay at home with their kids instead of also bringing in money to support their families and put food on the table, I would be very hard pressed to find anyone, particularly on the right praising a woman of color for being a “stay at home” mom. I hear a lot of “welfare queen” language or that our current president is a “food stamp” president but nothing about how wonderful it is that so many women of color are choosing to stay home and raise their kids. More likely women of color who are “stay at home” moms would be viewed as “lazy” or “poor role models” for their children.

-These discussions unnecessarily pit women against each other and distract us from bigger problems.
When Rosen made this initial statement, I feel that she was trying to open a discussion about how the Romney's are not in touch with the average American. That is a totally valid point to make. However, the way to do this is not by invoking sexism and the devaluation of motherhood. When we, as women, attack each other with gender based criticisms we, well, we only hurt ourselves. Divided we fall, right?

1 comment:

  1. Finally got logged on.

    Love this post! I wish I had more insight to comment, but you literally covered every major point to this debate. Love it!

    I particularly love the point you made about moms of color. Having worked with mothers (mostly of color) whose sole income is TANF, child support, etc... I can tell you it's not like they're getting rich off of it. These mothers many times do not have a choice but to not work because they don't have a partner, family, or support system to watch their kids. Or they don't have the financial means to put their child(ren) in day care and/or pay a babysitter. Further, some states have the dreadful Welfare to Work programs that require recipients of government assistance (which is usually only a few hundred dollars a month) to work at a company who contracts with the government so that they "earn" their welfare. In these cases, mothers (for the sake of this argument) are gone 8-12 hours a day in order to receive their government assistance check, which doesn't even come close to minimum wage. Talk about institutionalized discrimination.


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