This past week in Washington a big kerfuffle broke out over comments of political commentator Hilary Rosen. Rosen said on TV that “Ann Romney never worked a day in her life,” when talking about how Mitt Romney -Republican Presidential nominee -was using his wife Ann as a campaign surrogate to try to appeal to women voters. Ann Romney was always a stay-at-home mom who had five sons after marrying Mitt at age 19.
After Rosen’s comment; the right wing blogosphere went wild, claiming that Rosen didn’t respect as “work” the job of being a mother of five children. President Obama rushed to distance himself from Rosen’s comments, assuring voters that he thought taking care of kids was real work, while Obama aide, David Axelrod, said “I thought we had an obligation to speak and speak very, very quickly to make clear that this didn’t reflect our point of view and that we thought Hilary should apologize. She did do that.”
Yes, she did apologize, but I think her comment was unfairly taken out of context and the rush to stem any damage obscured the larger and very important point she was making. Sure, Rosen might have edited her comment by saying “Ann Romney never worked a day – outside the home – in her life,” but it’s clear that Rosen was talking about how working women – those who go to a job outside the home every day – have to juggle a lot of responsibilities – if they have children, they have to find care for them while they work, most women, married or not, still do the majority of house work – shopping for food and clothing, cleaning the house, doing laundry. Finding affordable child care alone is a huge challenge for many women who earn modest wages. Then there is the ongoing battle for equal pay that women face in the workplace each day.
Labor and consumer activist Esther Peterson, when she worked at the Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor, called it “The Double Day:” Women worked at a job and then went home and worked to shop, cook, and put dinner on the table.
Yes, Ann Romney raised five children, but her husband made a lot of money and she surely had household help with those five boys –someone to do laundry, clean the house, care for the boys, cook meals, etc.
Florence Kelley, who lead the NCL for our first 33 years, wrote about the plight of working woman who were burdened with raising children and keeping house while holding down a job. Indeed, she had three children of her own whom she adored but was forced to house them with friends in suburban Chicago so she could live at Hull House and do her reform work. She had little money of her own, and her NCL wages were meager; benefactors helped pay the tuition for her children’s education.
I think Florence Kelley would have understood all too well what Hilary Rosen was trying to say: while raising children surely is work, it’s not the same as going to a job outside the home each day and Ann Romney – given her affluence – is hardly the average working American woman who balances the job with raising children and keeping house.