by: Valerie Elverton-Dixon on April 13th, 2012 | 6 Comments »
The flash controversy sparked by comments made by Democratic strategist Hillary Rosen saying that presumptive Republican nominees for President Mitt Romney’s reliance on his wife’s reports regarding women and the economy were meaningless because Ann Romney had never worked “a day in her life” has taken us back to an old discussion that in my opinion misses the point.
I must confess that it took me a long time to warm to feminism, especially to the writings of Betty Friedan and the ideas of the “Feminine Mystique” that argued for women leaving the ennui of a suburban housewife’s life to employ her mind and talents in the paid workforce. I was the first generation of women in my family who had a choice about whether or not to work outside of the home. My mother was a school teacher; my grandmother was a cook in white homes in the south; and my great-grandmother was a share cropper. Her foremothers were slaves.
I also did not warm immediately to this idea because my question was then as it is now: what about the rights of the women who will do the housework and raise the children while women are working outside the home?
I have been a married stay at home mom. I have been a married work outside the home mom. I have been a single work outside the home mom. And, in every instance, my family and I needed help. We depended upon community. Hillary Rosen told the truth when she pointed out that Ann Romney may not be the best source of information on the economic difficulties that most women in this society face. I have no doubt that Ann Romney has household help. I do not picture her dusting the inside of the car elevator in the Romney’s house. My questions: Is the household staff paid a decent wage? Do they receive benefits such as social security and health care? How much vacation time do they receive?
When I was a married mom working outside the house, it was difficult. My husband’s work schedule was such that I found myself having to wash, dress and feed my two young children and myself and get the children to two different day care situations all before I went to work to start my day. I relied heavily on our extended family during those days. My mother-in-law and sisters and brothers-in-law pitched in to help.
When I was a stay at home mom, I relied on my husband to take care of the children from time to time so that I could do something outside the home just for me, taking a class or doing volunteer work. It was necessary for my mental health. When the children were old enough for school, I used my time to volunteer at church with the food pantry or with the Missionary Society to visit the sick or to shop for food to stock the food pantry. I enjoyed this time because of the company of retired elder women who also had free time during the day. During this part of my life, I also accompanied my children’s classes on school trips. I could attend their various school activities.
When I was a single working mom, this was the most difficult situation of all. My children were old enough to let themselves in the house after school and do their homework until I returned from work. Again, I needed the help of an extended community of people. One day, the lock on one of the doors to our house broke and the children could not get in. They waited. When it was nearly dark, they went around to the community center at Grace Baptist Church of Germantown. The director called one of the elder women who was my friend from the Missionary Society and she fed them sweet potato pie and milk. The children had left me a note, so I could find them. I will always be grateful for the community of support that I received during those days.
I have always advocated for better child care options for families. This should include after school enrichment programs both public and private. The real issue here is not whether or not women who stay at home with their children work or how hard they work. Let us not forget The Help. The question here is Mitt Romney’s POLICIES. He has given tepid support to equal pay for equal work laws. Republicans in the Congress opposed the law. The Paul Ryan budget that he favors would cut taxes on the rich, but not so much for middle and working class families. It does nothing to address the gross income inequality in the nation. This inequality falls heavily on women who do not receive equal pay. The tax cuts and the budget cuts would leave little federal money to support after school programs that would help women who work outside the home and their families. He ridicules western European nations, but they have better child care arrangements and more help for families than does the United States.
Further, his positions on defunding Planned Parenthood, his support for the idea that employers ought to have the right to refuse to pay insurance coverage for any drug or medical procedure that the employer finds objectionable – the Blunt/Rubio Amendment – and his idea that a zygote ought to enjoy legal personhood to the disadvantage of a full grown tax-paying woman are policy positions that are anathema to women whether or not his wife worked inside the home.
This will be an election of a communal vision of responsibility against the idea that the individual and their nuclear family are on their own. The latter is just not the truth.