(originally posted Thursday, 12 April 2012)
…And, here we go.
Mitt Romney is incapable of giving a straight answer on whether he supports the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. For those who don’t know what that is, President Obama’s first act as president was to protect equal pay for women, and give them more avenues to sue for back pay in situations where they feel they have been treated unfairly. So, to try to rebuff concerns that Romney’s lack of ability to give a straight answer means that he doesn’t support fair pay for women, he trots out his wife, Ann, to reassure us and try to deflect the issue. So, some Democratic party talking heads come out and attack Ann Romney for not supporting fair pay legislation because she’s never worked a day in her life and has had the luxury of “only” raising her children. So then Fox news trots out the military wives, the working class moms who sacrifice to stay at home with their kids, and Laura Bush, to claim the high ground. Next thing you know, there’s a narrative that “we” are pitted against “them”. The Democrats and Republicans are both pointing fingers at each other for being “anti-woman” and for dividing mothers and pitting them against each other to try and peel off votes.
Yes, that’s right. We are having the SAHM/WOHM argument. Again. Or rather, still. And this time, it’s not just personal, it’s political.
For those unfamiliar with those acronyms, that means Stay at Home Mom and Work Outside the Home Mom, respectively. Anyone who spends any time at all on the mommy forums has seen, if not been directly involved in, some knock-down drag-out online fight where the SAHMs are calling the WOHMs bad mothers and the WOHMs are calling the SAHMs self-sacrificial doormats. Usually there’s a few testy posts about breast feeding and some epithets hurled and everyone just winds up angrily reassuring themselves of the superiority of their own choices while grumbling about it to friends at the park or the water cooler.
And now here it is, on the national stage. On CNN. On Fox News. As an actual (or “actual”) factor in our presidential politics. If I wanted to see this shit, I’d be hanging out on the mommy forums.
I’m a human being and a work in progress and still very much working out what exactly it means to be a feminist. But it seems to me that one of the very basic things about it is that it is, or ought to be, about choice. Choice of whether and when to have a family, and whether and what career to pursue, and whether to put it on hold or not if and when you do decide to have a family. I sincerely hate, and I mean HATE, being put in a position of having to defend Ann Romney. I don’t especially like her husband, and I think he is pretty much trotting her out as a prop to prove he isn’t as dismissive of women’s rights as we all know he is. But I know a lot of working-class moms who would have made the same choice she did if it had been available to them. And I know plenty who love their work, and derive some sense of identity from it, who would not. There are moms who can’t really afford to stay home but they work it out for a few years so that they can do what they feel is the right thing and maybe that means struggling and a little debt. The point is, it’s nobody’s right to judge anyone else’s decision about this. Being a mom is work no matter what, and it comes with decisions that someone else going to judge you for, no matter what.
So, let’s not get sucked into this. If we allow the argument to become about whose mommying choices are the right ones, and how if you’re on whichever side of the mommying debate, you should be voting for the Republican or the Democrat. It’s judging someone else’s choices, except this time it has public policy consequences.
Now, back to fair pay. Is Ann Romney the best spokesperson for this? As someone who has never had a J-O-B (and I’m not saying that being a mother isn’t work, even if you are ridiculously wealthy), probably not. And probably, neither are the two Republican congresswomen Mitt asked to come out and support his image, being that both of them voted against the Ledbetter Act. So let me just say this: You’re a stay at home mom? Good for you! You’re a mom with a job? Good for you! You finagled a work at home situation? Congratulations! You’re all awesome moms. You all made the right choice, for YOUR family. I’m not going to lie, I am a registered Democrat and have been since I could vote, but the reason is simple. They’re the only ones supporting me when it comes to making choices for my family. This isn’t the 1950s anymore; CNN reported recently that women are the primary breadwinners in 40% of American households now. Like so many things that we who call ourselves feminists are fighting for now, it boils down to choice. And let me tell you, it’s amazing how much freedom of choice comes with being paid fairly. And yes, there’s only one party voting against that. You know it’s not the Democrats.
So you don’t like Obama? You don’t like the Afghan War, the NDAA, his big ears, whatever? Fine. But vote on what matters. Fairness. Freedom of choice. Don’t get suckered into voting in some version of the online forum SAHM/WOHM fistfights writ large. Or else the next time you find yourself grumbling around the water cooler or to your friends at the park, it might be because you just don’t have any other choice.