Calling for a Cease Fire in the War on Women

Gage Skidmore

Ann Romney never worked a day in her life.

It was the phrase that launched a thousand Twitter wars, became a talking point on countless cable news shows, and dominated talk radio this past week. Hilary Rosen, advisor to the DNC and the woman behind the comment, was attempting to explain why she took issue with Mitt Romney–the clear frontrunner in the GOP race right now–stating he consults with his wife to get a woman’s take on the state of our economy. I don’t believe she intentionally set out to slight stay-at-home-moms (SAHMs), but that’s almost more telling, isn’t it? Without even thinking about it, her feelings came to the surface: stay-at-home-moms don’t really work.

Photo courtesy of Peter Baker

Reading hundreds of Twitter feeds and “Comments” sections on articles about Rosen’s statement, I was saddened to see that many women jumped on this “bash the SAHM” bandwagon. This led me to further research, which in turn led me to a 2010 New York Times interview with Gloria Feldt–outspoken feminist, author, and former president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood from 1996-2005. In the course of this interview, Ms. Feldt made several comments which I found quite divisive. First, Ms. Feldt stated, regarding SAHMs, “It should be acceptable criticism to point out that, although everyone has the right to make their own life decisions, choosing to “opt out” reinforces stereotypes about women’s priorities that we’ve been working for decades to shatter, so just cut it out.” Feldt went on to say, “If we could see child-rearing as a necessary task and not an identity, and if we could collectively recognize that facilitating it benefits us all, we would go much further in guaranteeing women’s choices than we do when we are expected to uncritically celebrate every individual’s decisions.” In a more recent blog post reacting to Rosen’s jab at Ann Romney, Ms. Feldt shares that she found the comment “ill-chosen”. However, she goes on to say that Romney “can't hide behind the "it took a lot of work" excuse to justify relinquishing whatever career aspirations she might have had as a young woman.”

Photo courtesy of Evil Erin

This sentiment left me with several questions: Is the worth of a woman’s work defined by the size of her paycheck? Does a woman who works outside the home work harder than a woman who works inside the home? Do women who work outside the home have negative opinions of those who choose to stay at home, and vice versa?

Personally, I do not believe that a woman’s worth should be measured by her W-2. That’s as judgmental as saying her worth should be measured by her dress size or her IQ. All women should be valued and respected, not just those who rise to the top in terms of career success. I have been a SAHM (twice), a ‘sandwich artist’ at Subway, a nanny, a substitute teacher, a director of a Sylvan Learning Center, and a classroom teacher. My pay has ranged from nothing, to $2.79/hr (wait staff minimum wage), to the upper $30K range. Still I personally feel that for me, being a mom has been the ‘job’ that paid me the most. Honestly, the afternoon naps spent snuggled under the covers with my son were as much of a bonus as the box tickets to St. Louis Cardinals games that I regularly earned from my Sylvan job. Over the years I spent at home, I was the recipient of many hugs, sticky-mouthed kisses, and scribbled masterpieces from my kids. Try and tell me those don’t hold value. Honestly, if not for my divorce, I would have been thrilled to continue being a SAHM until both kids were in school full-time.

Victor1558

As for whether ‘career women’ work harder than SAHMs, I don’t see how that could possibly be quantified. Do we count the actual hours worked? The number of tasks accomplished? The physical nature of the job itself, or the mental fortitude required? In my experience, I would not say that the higher paying positions have necessarily meant working harder. Holding my wailing 8-month-old son on the gurney at the hospital while the nurses tried FOUR times to insert an IV, after being awake all night with my screaming child battling an ear infection and dehydration? That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. At the same time, anyone who’s tried to reach me late at night, only to find me still (!) at school working on lesson plans or student files, knows that my current job is frequently demanding, too. Which supports my point–we can’t compare apples to oranges. Every woman is a unique being, and every woman’s job has its own demands. Why try to compare them? Why must it be a competition? If one woman spends her days caring for her children, another spends hers fighting fires, and another spends hers operating on people’s brains, aren’t they all doing valuable work? How dare Ms. Feldt decide for all women that child rearing is a “necessary task” that should be “facilitated” by someone else, and not any woman’s “identity”? Isn’t that for each woman to decide?

This brings me to my final question: Do women who stay at home and women who are in the workplace really have negative opinions of each other? The media often tries to paint that picture, but I don’t think it’s accurate. If anything I would say a more honest assessment would be that each sees something desirable in the other’s life choice. When I was a SAHM I longed for the chance to go OUT to lunch, without my children; I wanted a reason to get dressed up and go out and have complex adult conversations. As a working mom, I am more than a little jealous of the moms who can go to all of their kids’ class parties, field trips, etc. No matter what career path a woman chooses, there are always trade-offs.

Photo courtesy of WeNews

Ultimately, the discussion comes back to one word: choice. For a woman who wrote a book called “The War on Choice”, Ms. Feldt is certainly critical of a woman’s choice to stay at home and raise her children. This criticism is evident when she says Ann Romney has no excuse that can “justify relinquishing” her career aspirations to be home with her kids. Why must she justify her aspirations? Furthermore, isn’t it possible that some women did not relinquish any aspirations, because their chief desire in adulthood was to become a mom who stayed home with her children? Just because that is not the choice of all women doesn’t mean it is not a valid choice for some, Ms. Feldt, so don’t tell them to “cut it out”. Of course, there are women who work outside the home not by choice, but by financial necessity. Shouldn’t these women also be supportive of those who ‘get’ to stay home, because, after all, they would do the same thing if they could? Finally, those who always knew they wanted to be ‘career women’ should respect women who chose a different path. That respect goes both ways; women who chose to be SAHMs should also support women who decided not to take that route, because both are valid choices. We are all women; we gain nothing attacking one another. Instead of tearing each other down we should be supporting each other and celebrating the freedom we have to pursue our own individual aspirations. Let’s call a cease-fire in this supposed ‘war on women’. As we learned from the classic '80s movie War Games, when it comes to war, the only winning move is not to play.