Ann Romney "loved it," when Democratic adviser Hilary Rosin said she hadn't worked a day in her life, Mrs. Romney said in comments at a fundraiser overheard by NBC.
Despite a week spent pumping up false outrage over Ann Romney's injured dignity as a mother of five, maligned by the heartless Rosin's impolitic remark (that Ann Romney never worked a day in her life), the Romney campaign and Republicans viewed the whole thing as a huge political gift.
Stirring up a cat fight between stay-at-home moms and working women is just what Republicans wanted, to try to deflect attention from policies that are so damaging and outright insulting to women they have opened up huge gender gaps between Democratic and Republican candidates all over the country.
But the Republicans' phony battle over stay-at-home motherhood is hopelessly outdated, just like their opposition to equal pay protections for women, their push to close down Planned Parenthood clinics across the country, their failed federal effort to let women's bosses decide whether or not to allow birth control coverage, and their infamous state laws that make women seeking abortions submit to intrusive and paternalistic screenings and barriers.
Women are not so distracted by the "mom wars" that we don't notice who supports policies that make our lives better, and who would like to take away both equal pay and birth control coverage--leaving us completely stuck.
Apparently, the Republicans still haven't noticed that it's not 1963.
Women now make up nearly half of the workforce, and 75 percent of women are employed. Like birth control, women in the workplace is a completely normal, culturally accepted part of modern life.
The Ann Romneys of the world--women whose husbands are so rich they can drive two Cadillacs, hire multiple nannies, live in multiple homes, all while not having to get a paying job--are a tiny, tiny elite.
Ann Romney's life is not a reality for the vast majority of mothers. And we know it.
The ladies’ lunch vote is just not big enough to make up for the Republicans' massive gender gap.
Most parents today scramble to cobble together full- or part-time work, and a patchwork of parental leave and child care options in a country that doesn't provide much of either. (Only half of employers offer paid parental leave, and there is still no regulated system of high quality child care in this country).
That's why the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed by President Obama, and the Family and Medical Leave Act, signed by President Clinton, were such good politics. Although they don't put us anywhere near the rest of the industrialized world in terms of allowing people to hold down their jobs and still do right by their families, they at least gave stressed-out parents some measure of relief.
The Republicans, in contrast, continue to argue that the pay gap is entirely a matter of women's "choice" to take time out of the workforce to care for children.
But that "choice" isn't voluntary for most of us.
Women pay a hefty price for becoming mothers. Studies, including comprehensive research by the American Academy of University Women, show that, while young, single men and women have relatively equal pay, older women, particularly those who have children, suffer major setbacks to their careers. The fact that family life is privatized in this country--compared with, say, Norway or France, where you can take a year off to care for a child and count on great, full-time child care when you go back to work--hits women the hardest.
But Republicans don't care about that.
There is no more graphic illustration than Mitt Romney's comments about women on welfare, whom he pushed to get jobs when he was governor of Massachusetts, unearthed this week by Chris Hayes of MSNBC: "I said for instance that even if you have a child two years of age, you need to go to work . . . I want the individuals to have the dignity of work."
The double standard could not be clearer. Work is a matter of "dignity" for poor women. After all, they are just the help. But not for rich women, whose husbands, like Mitt, can afford to keep them at home.
This is not a winning attitude for women as a group.
The Republicans don't sympathize with the vast majority of women who work caring for their small children and also have to struggle to support their families at the same time.
Women make up slightly less than half the labor force overall, by the way, but are the large majority of workers earning less than $8 an hour.
If it's a matter of "dignity" for maids and nannies and landscapers to leave their own kids behind as they get up early to come clean and cook and take care of the kids for Ann Romney, the least the Republicans could do is give their employees a fair day's pay, adequate health care, and good child care for their kids.
Don’t hold your breath.
If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Wisconsinites Start Turning Back School Privatization."
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