‘Mommy words’

Employment, not effort, is the political issue

The Mommy Wars usually slip into a de facto truce during economic downturns, just because choices are so difficult to come by. Last week, any truce that might have existed was broken by not only by tone-deaf statements by two women on opposite sides of the presidential race but by American women downplaying issues on the other side of the employment divide.

The kerfluffle started out with a legitimate topic. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that he relies upon his wife, Ann Romney, to help him understand women’s concerns, and that the economy tops the list.

Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen dismissively opined that Ann Romney had never worked a day in her life.

Ann Romney, wide eyed, responded that she chose to stay home and raise five boys, which is not an easy task.

All those things are true. No one can honestly believe that Rosen, a parent herself, was suggesting Ann Romney had never lifted a finger or that raising children is not work. No one can have misunderstood the reference to paid employment. The economic issue is jobs, and the political issue is that every candidate needs to have a broad understanding of economic forces that affect rank-and-file Americans.

No one can honestly believe that Ann Romney doesn’t realize that her life has been made immensely easier by her husband’s wealth. She is privileged, not ignorant. She knows that the need to earn a living adds a layer of complexity to parenting that she has never experienced.

After the initial shrill cries of disbelief from both sides that women could be so horribly disrespected — sob! — came a wave of condescension cloaked in saccharine: “Of course raising children is hard work, dearie!” “It’s too bad you can’t stay home to raise your children.”

Let’s get over the partisan weeping and wailing and get to the point. The Romneys are right in one regard. Women really care about a lot of issues, but when the economy is poor, it certainly looms large in everyone’s mind.

If Mitt Romney wants women to vote for him, he has to convince them that he understands the realities of life for American families. He needs to listen directly to women who have to work to feed their families, and he needs not to filter their concerns through his wife. He needs to promote policies that benefit women and families.

Those proposed policies, and Barack Obama’s, are what women should be debating, not whose life is harder. They should continue talking about income equality and job security, about health care, about reproductive choice, about education, about opportunity for all their children.

They should not be pretending that one dismissive statement by a candidate, a candidate’s wife or a pundit represents an entire party or platform, and they especially should not be pretending that their feelings are hurt by those statements. That behavior is demeaning to women everywhere. Don’t waste a golden opportunity to engage on the issues by resorting to fingerpointing: “No, it’s YOUR party that’s waging the war on women.”

And men should not be egging on their respective sides: “Ooh, look, here’s an emotional issue for you gals to bicker over while we run the country.”

The issues are real, they are universal, and they are intractable — especially if Americans waste energy bickering over intentional misunderstandings.