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.