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I Am Not Ann Romney

Vivia Chen

April 16, 2012

 AnnRomeny© 2011GageSkidmoreI swore, swore, swore that I was not going to enter the fray. But I can't help myself.

I'm talking about the dustup over political consultant Hilary Rosen's comment that Ann Romney "never worked a day in her life." As you undoubtedly heard, Rosen made the comment on CNN, reacting to Mitt Romney's statement that his wife keeps in touch with the concerns of working women.

Almost immediately, Republicans seized on the issue as an indication of Democrats' contempt for stay-at-home moms. And almost as immediately, Democrats (including President Obama) jumped in, condemning Rosen's comment. All of this was fueled by Ann Romney's first-ever tweet: "I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work."

Do I think raising five kids is a lot of work? Of course. But do I think Rosen's comment is dead wrong? No. Rosen's mistake is that she didn't say it in a technically correct way. What she should have said is this: "Ann Romney never worked at a paying job a day in her life."

And therein lies the distinction that politically correct people (on the left and right) dodge when it comes to women's work: Working for a paycheck is different. And doing so while juggling home and work demands—particularly in pressure professions like law—adds another layer of complexity to the equation.

To me, it's crystal clear that being a woman who works outside of the home brings a different set of perspectives and experiences to the table. It's certainly an anachronism these days to have never worked at a paying job—which apparently is Ann Romney's situation.

No, I'm not going into how some women have to work to support their families—because that opens up a whole can of worms about class and economics. Too often, we hear: "A lot of women would love to stay home if they could afford it"—as if staying home is what women truly aspire to do. These arguments make working women look self-righteous, which I find almost as nauseating as stay-at-home moms who claim they're the ones who have their priorities straight.

My point is that it's ridiculous to collapse all of "women's work" into one big pot. And it's also ridiculous when President Obama says there's "no tougher job than being a mom." Really? Isn't being the leader of the free world just a tad tougher?

Being a mother—actually, can we make that "parent"?—is always tough. But must we always put motherhood on a pedestal?

Ann Romney seems like a perfectly nice person, but I don't think that someone who hasn't worked outside of the home can really speak empathetically or knowledgeably about the concerns of working women. I certainly wouldn't try to pretend to know what it's like to stay home with five kids.

So can we stop the pretense and admit there's a difference?

Related post: The Rich Husband.

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.


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I've read a few comments in here that state that sahms are "looked down upon" by large segments of the population. Try being the only full time working woman with no kids in a family full of sahms! I get marginalized, scoffed at and belittled at every family function from these "ladies" who have cleaning ladies, pool boys, regular appts at the nail & hair salon; homes in a much better zip code than mine; yet I am constantly told that I have no idea of what "real" work is. Believe me, I will not feel one iota of sympathy for these gals when they're middle aged husbands kick they're lazy, sorry asses to the curb, and replace them with someone who actually appreciates the lifestyle they have been GIVEN!!!

I say let's stop defending poor little rich-girl Annie. Who's to know that she didn't have a nanny and a wet nurse for every single kid? They can certainly afford it! Maybe she really hasn't worked a day in her life! I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that she raised those kids all on her lonesome while Mittens was out golfing at the Country Club.

To WBJ, you don,t get it, do you? When you are rich like Romney, you don't have to "choose to be a wage earner and caretaker." In fact, the whole idea of "wage earning is beneath you" just like all the little people are.

I think that people on both sides of this issue have jumped the gun and taken the comments of Hillary Rosen and President Obama out of context. Obviously Rosen was referring to a paying job, and I believe that Obama was referring to working mothers that have to work and raise children at the same time,perhaps drawing on his experience with his own wife Michelle trying to juggle motherhood with a law career. So why don't we all stop being ridiculous.

Denise, Please check your facts before spouting talking points. Obama worked at the University of Chicago Law School for 12 years. He also worked at Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, a law firm.

Am I the only one who thought the comment was directed at the Romneys' immense wealth? As in, Ann Romeny doesn't know sh*t about what the bad economy means to working women (or anyone) because she is so fabulously wealthy that there is no chance it will affect her. She doesn't have to work (outside the home or otherwise), because her husband is crazy rich, and she can roll around in a bathtub full of money all day if she wants. on a related point, let's not forget that being a mother is only "noble" and "hard work" to republicans if the mother in question is rich, white and married. not talking about you, welfare queens!

It is a great article, and as a working mother of 3 kids, with a husband who also works full time, I know with 100% certainty that Mrs. Romney's role as a SAHM with a very wealthy husband and access to cleaning ladies, babysitters, etc., is cake compared to mine. I watch my SAHM friends drop their kids off in their sweat pants, go to Starbucks for a leisurely coffee, then to pilates, and back home where they have plenty of time to watch TV, take a shower in peace, get dinner prepared before the kids come home instead of after a long day of work, with your heels and coat still on, and kids tugging on your leg. Let's get real. Maybe I am jealous, but when your kids are in school, your job as a SAHM is pretty easy compared to working and cramming in all the stuff that you still have to do as a mom at the end of a long day when all you want to do is collapse on the couch. I do not get to sit until after 9:00 when kids are asleep and the house is cleaned up. So, while SAHM might be educted and former professional women in tune with the economic crisis, for most, especially with professional husbands, their day to day jobs are much less difficult. It is what it is.

There IS a difference. You get the security of a career to fall back on if needed, the material trappings and financial security of a salary, the social status of being a professional, and the sanctimony that comes with deluding yourself that you CAN have it all.

Is Ann Romney the best example of today's woman? No. But please dismount your high horse. Choosing to be a working mother has bestowed upon you a great many benefits in exchange for the added burden of attempting to be a caretaker and wage-earner. Being a stay-at-home mother means sacrificing those benefits, along with many others, as well as being looked down on by large segments of the population, including you.

Does anyone else but me see Rosen's remarks as a criticism of MITT Romney rather than ANN Romney? Mr. Romney's assertion that he relies on his wife's advice--he knows all about women's real concerns because he asked Ann a few times-- was shallow pandering in a typically clumsy attempt to deflect women's legitimate concerns about his and his party's views on issues regarding both health and economic polices. Perhaps Ms. Rosen's point was poorly phrased, but surely MISTER Romney should face criticism for his dismissive and condescending response. He cannot address substance, because he will lose votes, so he hides behind his wife's status. What a guy.

Actually, Hilary Rosen should stop trying to marginalize Ann Romney for political gain. If she hadn't felt the need to tear into Ann for political expediency, this never would have happened.

The reality is whether or not someone is a millionaire has nothing to do with whether they can relate to people. Or else all those wealthy people, like Hilary Rosen, would have to admit that they are equally out of touch with the common person.

Can't we ever focus on the issues and leave the cheap personal attacks out of politics?

I love this article, especially the second to the last paragarph, which says it all!

Vivia, the issues your blog discusses, and the events that inspired it, are quite emotional. They are also complicated and difficult. I want to mention, and perhaps introduce, some excellent works that deal with this issue in serious ways. My longtime personal favorite on this subject is Dorothy Dinnerstein’s “The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements and Human Malaise.” On a more scholarly, but less profound, front is “The Good Mother / Contemporary Motherhoods in Australia” edited by Susan Goodwin and Kate Huppatz. (It happens to be about Australia, but speaks to most places.) Both of these books are in print and available.

By the way, who is the other KC? If KC wants to let me know you can find me on the web.

Here's what Vivia says Hilary Rosen really meant deep down: "Women who are stay at home moms are less capable of understanding the workplace issues of those working outside of the home."

But Hilary's comments were that women who stay at home cannot understand the economy and/or women's roles in the economy. There is nothing there about "workplace issues" or anything like that. Hilary and many others believe that stay at home moms are less capable of understanding the economy.

Now stack this up against the facts. 1) A plurality of women are stay at home moms (not an anachronistic role as suggested by another commenter). 2) Many, perhaps most, stay at home moms are the primary shoppers and economic decision-makers in the home, and 3) those women who work outside of the home are gaining valuable insight only into how their specific job works.

So how is Vivia right again?

Thank you for entering the fray. You're the only commentator I've read who's gotten it right. As a former widow/single mother of two kids, lawyer, second marriage, two more kids, believe me . . . I know you got it right. And I was fortunate enough to be in a profession to support my kids. Hilary Rosen committed a huge gaffe. That one missing adjective was critical. She gave the Republicans just what they were waiting for. Ann Romney has certainly had her struggles. I'm sure she can speak about the challenges of fighting breast cancer and living with MS, but juggling kids, career, single motherhood, putting food on the table--those are NOT HER struggles. She is not qualified to act as an expert on the economic realities of most women's lives.

The point Hillary Rosen was trying to drive home was that Ann Romney being stay at home Mom(and a millionaire's wife) doesn't make her the best qualified to make a case for the class of working women. It is self - evident that she probably has not faced the same challenges that most American women do. But this does not automatically disqualify her from being able to work for the betterment of women. That's like discounting the ability of a person to work for Africa on the basis that he/she hasnt been a victim of starvation. However, had Hillary been more subtle and artful with her comments she could have been tipped the scales against Ann Romney.

Generalizing from the particular is rarely useful -- regardless of your job. My wife is a SAHM who 100% runs our house -- paying bills, budgeting, scheduling, shopping, not to mention running around two busy kids. She certainly has a better understanding of economic pressures than I do (I haven't touched our check book in years), and a better understanding than some of my women partner friends, who are wholly dependent on SAHH's. So, even if Hilary Rosen was trying to say what you think she was (who knows for sure), its still a mindless comment.

Vivia, I think you nailed this one. There truly are differences and some of these differences are probably difficult for many men to fully understand. Good, bad, right or wrong, even today, societal norms and expectations place different pressures about what it means to be a good "parent" on men than it does on women. (After all, why else do we say "stay-at-home-mom" and "stay-at-home-dad," and not just "stay-at-home-parent.") These expecattions oftentimes put additional pressures principally on working professional women because, goodness knows, enough magazines talk about it. So, while Ann Romney seems like a nice person and we really do have to grant her some "props" for a being a profile in courage as both a cancer survivor and for her ongoing battle with MS, she with her coterie of "help", is simply not an incon for working women. Lets move on to something more relevant like, why some folks thought that the Ledbetter case was good policy.

Can we stop the pretense, admit there is a difference and recognize that each choice brings its own challenges and rewards? I have had an 8 year stint as as full time lawyer in private practice with no children,10 years as a full time stay at home parent with two children, and now a job as a full time lawyer in private practice with (same two) children. Each has its own particular difficulties and joys. In my opinion, a fair amount of intellect, creativity and savvy are required for each of these ventures. Lets support each other rather than engaging in the tired, old game "my job is harder than your job".

Denise, did you know that the government is the public sector?

The point should be made that millions of women not only raise children (which we know is hard work), but that they do so while also working at a paying job outside the home...not by choice, but out of necessity. This I believe was Rosen's point...albeit inelegantly expressed by her.

Vivia - I'm so glad someone finally articulated, so very well, what I've been feeling as a mom in the workplace for the past 17 years. My stay-at-home-mom friends truly are different. Even if it's hard work staying home to raise children, it's a different story altogether when you can't simply get in your car and drive your child to their after-school practice, lesson, friend's house, or stay home whenever they're ill, have a doctor, dentist, orthodontist appointment... And I've found that rich husbands, often Big Law partners, with stay-at-home-wives are the absolute biggest defenders of the old guard - that mothers who also hold a paying job are harming their children. But then, I've always wanted a stay-at-home wife myself...

Thank you, Denise...very well framed.

An imressive majority (dare I say, all) of Ms. Chen's viewpoints seem to arrive through this perfectly formed gauntlet of liberal echo chamber constructs. I have never read an opinion of hers that couldn't have been relayed by a State-approved leftist robot.

Denise, that was incredibly well said.

Matt, she has been battling cancer and multiple sclerosis.

Anachronistic is probably a good word to describe the rigid roles of breadwinner dad/stay-at-home mom. Many younger women - and some men as well - have lives that include periods of paid work and periods of unpaid caregiving. While not a majority, there are increasing numbers of men (typically not lawyers) who have wives with professional earnings that outstrip theirs. At those early points in childhood when daycare is at its maximum expense, these couples choose a solution that fits them: the stay-at-home dad. Once the kids are school age, there is often still a parent with a more flexible job setting for the inevItable sick days.

I swore, swore, swore that I was not going to enter the fray. But I can't help myself.

Barack Obama seems like a perfectly nice person, but I don't think that someone who hasn't worked outside of the public sector can really speak empathetically or knowledgeably about the concerns of those in the private sector. I certainly wouldn't try to pretend to know what it's like to organize a bunch of kids to demand money from those who earned it.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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