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April 16, 2012 posted by Lindsay Ferrier

The Phony Wars?

The Phony Wars?

If you tuned into the news at all last week, you probably heard an earful about the brouhaha over Democratic strategist Hillary Rosen’s comments on Anderson Cooper 360.

During a conversation about Ann Romney, who’s been dispatched to help her husband bridge the gender gap on the campaign trail, Rosen said that Mrs. Romney, a stay-at-home mom of five now-grown boys, wasn’t qualified to talk about women and the economy, since she had “never worked a day in her life.”

*Cue explosion of millions of heads across the country.*

Of course, after outrage was expressed from everyone from Republicans and Democrats to moms to the Obamas themselves, Rosen apologized… but what stood out to me was the wording of her apology.

“I apologize to Ann Romney and anyone else who was offended,” she said in a statement. “Let’s declare peace in this phony war and go back to focus on the substance.”

I’ve been a stepmom and mom for ten years now, and during that time I’ve worked outside the home, stayed at home, and worked from home. I can tell you unequivocally that the “Mommy Wars,” though hyped by the media to the point where we’re all sick of hearing the term, are far from phony. But they’re certainly not limited to working moms calling out stay-at-home moms, as in the very public case of Hillary Rosen.

The truth is that there’s a deeply ingrained negative view of SAHMs and WAHMs in particular that permeates our entire society.

The amount of ignorance and disrespect I’ve faced over the years simply because I decided to have kids and quit working in an actual office has been, frankly, unbelievable. In fact, this very blog was started in part because I was struggling to come to terms with the difference in the way people seemed to view me after I took time off in order to raise my infant daughter and 12 and 14-year-old stepkids. Here’s a line from my very first post:

After a year of staying home, I’m starting to see myself the way others see those in my position. Boring. Marginal. Gray.

I read back over that post today and the memory of that time came rushing back. Going from a job where I was traveling the country interviewing celebrities and writing and producing a national television show to one where even supermarket bag boys were condescending, merely because I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt and had a baby on my hip, was a tough transition for me. It was degrading. Infuriating. I mean c’mon, I pushed out a baby, not brain cells.

I’m pretty proud of what I’ve managed to accomplish in my seven years as a “stay-at-home mom.” Read my bio and it’s clear that I’ve done a lot more since leaving my job than clean the house and watch soap operas. But I realized as I thought about the Hillary Rosen controversy that even though I feel like I’m now doing the most important work of my life both with my children and in my career, I’ve become so used to being treated as “less-than” by those in my community who see only a SAHM when they look at me that I don’t even flinch when it happens.

And it happens a lot.

Home repairmen practically get dollar signs in their eyes when I open the door surrounded by kids, and the rate for what should be a simple repair often doubles or triples. Acquaintances at cocktail parties innocently ask if I’ll ever go back to work, or if I “miss working.” My neighbors inquire from time to time whether I’m still writing my “little mommy blog.” PR e-mails arrive in my inbox each day with condescending pitches inviting me to tell all my “mommy friends” about a new diaper ointment in exchange for a $.50 off coupon! And just the other day, a colleague e-mailed to say it must be “fun” to be “dabbling in journalism” again. I read that one and laughed out loud. Yes, I enjoy it, but I’m also putting in hours and hours of hard work on the number one moms’ site on the Internet. What she calls “dabbling,” I call “trying to empower millions of moms to vote knowledgeably in November.” Also, “putting my stepdaughters through college.”

But what do I know? I’m just a mommy! Dabble, dabble! Hee hee!

I’m writing about my own experience here, but I’m sure that every mom reading right now has a variation on this theme. SAHMs endure offhand remarks about how easy they’ve got it and how much time they must have on their hands. WAHMs’ very real careers aren’t taken seriously by the people around them because they do it from home, often while simultaneously taking care of their kids. Even moms who work outside the home have to put up with comments from child-free coworkers who question their commitment or their abilities, as well as comments from well-meaning SAHM and WAHM friends who gasp that they could NEVER leave their child all day long and go off to work!

These wars sure don’t feel phony to me.

I marvel that I’ve grown so accustomed to condescending mommy treatment, and I sometimes laugh privately or roll my eyes at the things that are said, but I try not to let myself get upset about it. Generally, people mean well and would be horrified to know how their words sound from my perspective. I do think it’s interesting, though, that the simple act of being a mother turns us in society’s eyes from productive, intelligent individuals into simpering simpletons, capable only of discussing the latest episode of Real Housewives. When Hillary Rosen puts down Ann Romney, she’s only using labels that others have unfairly been ascribing to moms for decades. And before we can even begin to change others’ thinking about moms and their intelligence, their capabilities, and their importance to society no matter what work choices they make…

We have to change our own.

Comments

comments

  • Salote

    It is amazing to me how women will still put each other down. I can expect condescension from men but to see how women have bought into this argument about ‘working’ or ‘not working’ is sad. Perhaps things will change as more and more of us (men and women) begin working at home or from non-brick and mortar sites. 

    • suburbanturmoil

       I think that the first step may be for us to step back and start NOTICING when it happens to us. I think, as I said, that we’ve become so accustomed to the stereotypes that are placed on us that we begin using them ourselves against other moms. And that’s really tragic.

  • My brother thinks that my job is some kind of joke. One of my new friends thought I was lying when I talked about working from home for the first time. Still others tell me that I shouldn’t complain about workload or work-life-balance since I have “the best of both worlds.” Like it’s not allowed to sometimes be really hard? The comments over the years have been… interesting.  But real. Not phony.

    • suburbanturmoil

       Being a mom is never easy, no matter how rich you are or where or when or how you work. I think this reality is given lip service now in our hyper-politically correct society, but I think too many people still don’t REALLY believe it deep inside.

  • Cooperone

    Everything you wrote is so true, Lindsay.  As a 51 year old who is still raising children, “working” – and wearing many hats, I tell you I seethe when I am asked “So what do you do with your day?”  and “Since you have so much time on your hands, could you do a couple of errands for me?  Aaarrrgghh! 

    • suburbanturmoil

       YES! I can’t tell you how often I’m pressed to volunteer to do something, and the looks of doubt when I have to say no because I don’t have the time…

  • I don’t think anything is as difficult when you are as rich as the Romneys.  Whether it’s working outside the home, raising healthy kids, getting health care, following your dreams of education, planning a family vacation, or running for president, I think millions of dollars in expendable income oils the gears. 

    • suburbanturmoil

      Well of course, money helps, but Ann Romney has also battled cancer and multiple sclerosis and all the money in the world can’t help you feel any better about facing those challenges. Given her health problems, I think she’s intimately acquainted with what it’s like to struggle.

      I also think that in her roles as First Lady of Massachusetts and the wife of a presidential candidate (and I say this as a reporter who’s seen both roles up close- I’m not a Republican), Ann Romney actually IS something of an expert on women in our economy. She has talked to more women from all walks of life than probably any of the pundits in Washington who are yammering on about women right now.

  • jaimewellsnash

    Yes. Yes. And Yes. Tears are in my eyes after reading. I’m just so tired of the judging. Whether you work at home, stay at home, or work outside the home, as a mom, when you make choices, sacrifices, and plans to do what you think is best for your family, you are doing an amazing job. That alone is what matters. I wrote a post about why I work the other day and immediately some people (trolls, I’d guess – as I have no idea who those people are and they’ve never read or commented on my tiny blog) commented that staying home with your children was the only “best” solution. The comments from those people don’t bother me so much – I know they’re just being hateful – but comments from people I know in “real life” – ouch.
    I have to remind myself that people who criticize the way we run our family are simply working with false assumptions or being hateful.
    Although it stings, the negative comments are good for me. I learn from it. My beliefs are strengthened, I become more confident, and am able to say with confidence that my choice is the right choice for my family.

    Meanwhile, I make it a goal to treat every mother (and everyone for that matter) with respect – regardless of how they choose to raise they children – because respect is an ideal we are trying to teach our children from the beginning.

    • suburbanturmoil

       I’m so glad you chimed in on this, Jaime. I edited your Blissdom interview over the weekend and you were right on the money on so many points when it comes to working moms. I can’t wait until it’s ready!  🙂

  • amyvolskd

    When I worked and did not have kids I was jealous of SAHM and also WAHM.  Now that I have gotten my “eyes adjusted” and can see more clearly I realize nothing is perfect and nothing is easy.  Some days I have threatened to go back to work just to get a break.  I do get sick of the “must be nice to be able to stay at home” comments.  My response, it is.  BUT, we make sacrifices.  LOTS of them.  And I have no regrets about it because even as difficult as it was for quite a while I cannot imagine working all of these years just to have stuff and take more trips.  I have so much respect for everyone and their PERSONAL decisions, it takes a lot to decide to go back to work and put your child in full time daycare, it also takes a lot to decide to give things up to stay at home full time and it is just as crazy to decide to work from home and maintain a balance between work and taking care of your children.  I guess I have just made it to the stage in my life where I don’t really care what others think, I know we made the best decision for our family!  
    Lindsay, I honestly don’t see how you do it and if this is dabbling I hate to see what you accomplish when you work “full time”.  🙂

    • suburbanturmoil

       Well, I feel like I fail royally at SOME aspect of all my roles every single day. My challenge has been to come to terms with that and realize that I can’t do everything well 100% of the time.

      I remember when I was single and working for peanuts as a TV reporter, I’d fantasize about being a SAHM some day, blissfully pushing my grocery cart at Harris Teeter with all the time in the world to spare.  LOL.

  • Kimberly

    So true.  And the judgements do come from all sides.  No matter what you choose you will be judged for it by someone.  I wonder how much change we as women could accomplish if we banded together instead of judging one another?  If we pushed as a unit for the benefits that women in other developed countries take for granted?   Could we make a difference?  It would certainly be more productive. 
    Also, the comments made by Ms. Rosen do have some truth to them although her word choice was terrible.  After all, how many stay at home moms are incredibly wealthy and have all the help they could imagine from nannies to housekeepers?  It is a little absurd that Ms. Romney would be chosen as a spokesperson for women in the workplace.  I doubt she has a clue what an average SAHM does much less what a WAHM or a WOHM does with all due respect…. 

    • suburbanturmoil

       I said this in another comment, but I actually believe she’s every bit as qualified to talk about women and the economy as any pundit who’s talking about it now on cable news. She was First Lady of Massachusetts and now she’s on the campaign trial with a presidential candidate. She has doubtless talked by now to tens of thousands of women about their lives and their concerns- far more than any pundit.

      I keep hearing the argument that she can’t be an “expert” because she hasn’t experienced the problems firsthand, but really, how many experts have actually experienced what they’ve studied? Not too many, when you think about it…

      And full disclosure– I’m not a Republican!  🙂  I would say the same things if she were a Democrat’s wife.

      • Kimberly

         You make a very good point 🙂

  • bereccah5

    I said it already on FB but I’m still fired up! This whole country needs a whopping dose of MYOB! Do your personal best, love your kids and be NICE to each other. That’s all we can do, imo. Hmph.

    • suburbanturmoil

       Ha ha. YES!!!

  • bereccah5

    Now that my blood pressure has returned to normal, the amateur sociologist in me wonders WHY this goes on. Must ponder this. (rubs chin absentmindedly)

    • suburbanturmoil

      I think we criticize others in order to make ourselves feel better about our own failings.

  • marshacwp

    The comment belittling SAHMs was irritating, but even more irritating is the idea that ANYONE can be an expert on “women and the economy.”  I dislike being treated like a voting bloc just because I’m female!  That’s the only thing I have in common with most women–my basic biology.  The same thing is true about being a mommy or a SAHM or a work-outside-the-home mom.  We’re not all alike.  We are individuals with our own needs, problems, challenges, and opinions.  You don’t hear a lot about men being put in a group all together as if they all think the same!

  • Melissa

    Y’know what I think? I think at the end of the day, we’re all just MOMS and we’re all just doing the best we can with what we’ve got, flying by the seat of our pants praying we don’t screw our kids up. 

    We’ve gotta have each other’s backs more. Because if we don’t, who does? Why are we each other’s worst enemies? It makes no sense. 

    • suburbanturmoil

       I think part of the problem is that, as I wrote in the post, people generally don’t even realize that what’s coming out of their mouths may be offensive. We’ve got to change our thinking in order to change our words. I don’t think Hillary Rosen had any idea she was going to start a firestorm with what she said- The problem, though, was that she even had that idea (and it’s a very common one) in her mind… that being a SAHM means “not working.”

  • guest

    I acknowledge your efforts in trying to ‘see both sides’ of the issue.  The small nod about the zingers that WOHM receive are from ‘well-meaning SAHM and WAHM friends’.  The comments that SAHM and WAHM receive are from a place of ignorance and disrespect or were condescending, degrading, infuriating, treating you as “less-than”, etc. You are an active participant in the wars.

    Time for you to change your thinking, too.

    • suburbanturmoil

       Apparently, you didn’t get to the end of the post. This is from the last paragraph:

      “I marvel that I’ve grown so accustomed to condescending mommy treatment,
      and I sometimes laugh privately or roll my eyes at the things that are
      said, but I try not to let myself get upset about it. Generally, people
      mean well and would be horrified to know how their words sound from my
      perspective.”

      I can’t write any personal experiences about how it feels to be a mom working outside the home because I don’t have any at this point… although from what my friends tell me, WOHMs put up with plenty of digs as well.

      I do invite you to share some of the “condescending, degrading, infuriating” things that are said to you, if you’re a mom, in your work at Vanderbilt. We could all benefit from hearing the experiences of others.  🙂

      • guest

        Thanks for the invite, but I’m not interested. Of course I’m a working mom at Vandy, and my life works great for me.

        Best to you-

  • Joemicarelli

    Ann Romney raising 5 sons? Huge full-time job. Ann Romney raising 5 sons without a financial care in the world? Totally unlike what most women have to experience. That’s the problem people have with her advising about women and the economy.

    • suburbanturmoil

       But by that token, you’re saying that MEN aren’t qualified to talk about women and the economy either, and do you really want to go there?

  • I was so pleasantly surprised when I joined a mom’s group after our move. One of the first questions a mom asked me was if I worked outside of the home. I liked that. We were able to have a conversation about my vocation without making me feel like I should be doing something more. She knew that staying home was a job in itself.

    And, somewhat related, I have to ask those who don’t appreciate SAHMs:  Why do you think there ARE mom’s groups? Because we’re bored? Heck no! We need all the support we can get 🙂

  • The problem is, she wasn’t talking about Ann Romney being a stay-at-home parent. She was talking about her coming from incredible wealth. Listen to what she says after the “never worked a day in her life” sentence:

    “she’s never dealt with the
    kinds of economic issues that the majority of women in this country are
    facing in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them do
    school and why do we worry…how do we worry about their future?”

    Her statement was NOT about SAHM vs. WOHM. It was about rich vs. poor, and that Ann Romney is possibly one of the worst people for Mitt to consult with about what women are concerned with because she does not have to be concerned with the day-to-day worries of the average American woman.

    • suburbanturmoil

       I would argue (and I’d say this if Ann Romney were a Democratic candidate’s wife, too) that a large number of political strategists and advisors also do not personally have to be concerned with the day-to-day worries of the average American woman– and yet, they’re still out there advising politicians and helping to shape policy that affects all of us. As I’ve written before, having been around governors’ wives and presidential candidates’ wives, I feel very confident that Ann Romney has gotten an earful from plenty of “average American women” — thousands of them– and is as competent to talk about their concerns as anyone we see talking about them on cable news.

      •  Well, step one was Romney saying that all he needs on women’s issues is his wife’s input.

        Step two was Rosen inartfully pointing out that Ann Romney’s experience isn’t that of the average American woman.

        Step three is the world exploding taking Rosen’s statement as being against SAHM.

        She wasn’t talking about SAHMs. It’s obvious from the context of her full quote.

        Frankly, I’m upset that people are taking it as SAHM vs. WOHM when, in reality, none of Romney’s platform, and very little of Obama’s is good for ANY mom. Women in general need to join together and demand healthcare for our families, good schools for our kids, affordable college for the future, and investments in US-based jobs.

  • Sally Rogers

    Why can’t people understand that just because something is different doesn’t mean it’s easier or harder, just different.  Whether you’re staying at home, working at home or working outside the home, the fact of the matter is none of them are a cakewalk!  We need to get over ourselves.

  • Earth Girl

    I now know that those years when “the simple act of being a mother turns us in society’s eyes from
    productive, intelligent individuals into simpering simpletons,” only prepares us for when the simple act of getting older “turns us in society’s eyes from
    productive, intelligent individuals into simpering simpletons.”  At 62, I am becoming invisible, but I can have fun with that too.

    • suburbanturmoil

       Now THAT’S an interesting perspective. And sad, and not surprising in a culture that’s obsessed with youth.

  • I just started following you and this was the first essay I read! (my favorite so far!) I am hell-bent on changing the attitude about SAH and WAHM’s. It has taken me about 4 years, but I no longer get offended when family members send me job posts b/c “freelance writing isn’t really work, is it?”
    We as parents need to change our attitudes from being on the defensive when it comes to our child rearing duties and start unconditionally supporting each other in our parenting community.

    I look forward to reading more from you!
    -Elizabeth

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