Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Monday, April 16, 2012

stay at home moms

1981 Betatakin in Arizona

In the nature of full disclosure regarding stay-at-home moms, an issue that arose in this campaign, I was one of those. I did it during an era when it was not much respected by the rising feminist movement, where they felt that only women with a career could use their full range of skills, be independent and have power.

I did it because I had a choice-- not because someone told me to do it. I had had a stay-at-home mom and liked the idea of being there for my kids. I did it because Farm Boss made a living such that my income was not required. Now I won't say it would not have bought extra luxuries for the family, but he and I talked about it that we had a good piece of the pie with the money he made. If I had taken a paying job, it'd have meant someone else wouldn't have it. Plus we both knew  I liked the freedom no job meant which is that I could be there always for the kids, I could pursue my own interests, and I always had plenty of them.

When I decided not to go to work when the kids left the home, I again had a choice. At that point I wrote (much as I do now) pretty much whole days. I was developing my skills as a writer and creating plots. I also sculpted and painted. I had the time to do research on anything that interested me-- leading to the fact that today, with Farm Boss all but retired from outside work (unlikely he'll ever totally be retired), my day isn't different than it ever was-- him around the farm or not.

Now I had no hired help during the years of child rearing. Babysitters only happened once in a great while. When we took a vacation, we all went. Once when our daughter was small, I hired a woman to do our ironing (remember the days when everything had to be ironed). It was quite a luxury, but I never did it again. Never have had professionals clean our home nor wash our windows nor do the gardening.

I stayed home by choice. No religion dictated it. No husband demanded-- or demanded the opposite way. It's not the case with many women. Some want the challenges of the career and nothing wrong with that. If someone doesn't feel fulfilled, they won't be happy. An unhappy person won't make anybody else happy either. Some women work because they are the only ones with a job, or both partners are underpaid or have jobs that aren't always steady.

There is a big difference in why a woman would decide to not work outside the home. There is a big difference in how she can use that time when she is freed from outside restraints. Staying at home doesn't mean lack of intelligence nor ambition. It might not mean a person is more capable of being self-motivated. Likely there are stay-at-home moms who sit in front of a TV all day. I just haven't known any. She or he (these days there are stay-at-home dads too) can be informed, stay productive and basically make from that freedom whatever she/he chooses.

I speak of my own history in the matter because it was another of those issues last week, you know the ones that don't matter compared to health care, tax rates, income inequality, legal system inequality, racism, gun laws, gas prices, abortion rights, contraceptive availability, equal pay for equal work, equality of marriage, and so forth. The dignity or not, of stay-at-home moms, of making a choice to stay home, became the topic of the week.

The party, which does not believe women have the emotional intelligence to decide on an abortion, should be protected from contraceptives, the ones they do not think deserve equal pay as a legal right, yes, that party got very sanctimonious as it jumped on Hilary Rosen's statement that Ann Romney had no right to talk about economic issues for women as she had never worked a day in her life.

Romney himself, of course, could not resist jumping on it, setting himself up once again as this holier than thou figure as he got up on the podium with that look on his face and said all moms work. He had a great time-- while forgetting in January he had said mothers on welfare need the dignity of outside work and should not be permitted to stay at home and care for two-year olds. That man needs a better memory or possibly should stick to the canned speeches his handlers write for him to avoid these things.

Oh how the words flowed as the pundits latched on as though finally something deep they could cover-- do Democrats disdain women who do not hold down outside jobs?

Democrats tried to distance themselves from the kerfuffle. Rosen apologized. But Republicans all but rubbed their hands in glee as they found a possible way to divert from the accusations that they are engaging in a war on women.  If they aren't into an assault on women, I don't know what you'd call it. It really does seem to be that they want to take us back to the 1950s if not the 1450s.

This was handy for Romney who knows he has a gender gap problem. He's been trying to prove he'd be good to women because after all a rising tide carries all boats-- except of course, it doesn't as the Bush administration proved conclusively to all but strident Republicans.

On the stump, Romney began using a statistic that shows women lost the most jobs during Obama's time in office. He had his 'facts' and was jumping on them. The fact that he has said he loved firing people, did a lot of it when he took over companies, that won't be noted by the right wing but it should. Also that his statistic is meaningless as you have to look at the whole recession but hey numbers don't lie-- except when they do. [Geithner weighs in]

Republicans can say what they want, but for anybody who cares to note what they have actually done, it's pretty obvious that they are not the friend of women-- including those in the work place. They do not favor any laws to help women be sure they get equal pay. Their governors have immediately gone after abortion rights and even contraceptive availability. Their attacks on unions will injure all working people. If workers can't go as a group, as a single person, they have little bargaining power for working conditions or salaries. When you add in the Republican assault on public education, men and women will have a harder time breaking through class barriers.

Romney pretends to care about women's issues but when reporters asked, at one his campaign's own planned events on women's issues, his spokespeople didn't even know what he thought about the Lilly Ledbetter Act even though this was supposed to be a meeting about economics and women. When Romney himself weighed in, he said he would not try to repeal it. That pretty well says he would not have signed it. What is complicated about equal pay for equal work???

Republican Pete Hoekstra labels Ledbetter Act a nuisance -- Sure he does. He doesn't want women getting equal pay or when they discover they are not, being able to sue to receive compensation (the threat of that helping to discourage it even happening). Only if corporations are held accountable (by their own ethics or our collective power i.e. unions and government) will women get equal pay for the same job. This is complicated?

 Romney is a man who clearly says whatever the times require.  Here's what he said in January on mothers staying home to care for children if they are poor [Get to work and government pay for childcare to do it].

Mitt obviously has no moral compunction about lying because he thinks it's all about him and his higher goals. Listen to anything he says and you hear the same thing. Right now he pretends to care about women. His own history and that his policies would make job loss even more entrenched, says otherwise. His concern for the poor (which disproportionately are women and children) he himself stated was negligible as we already had programs for poverty (which he then says in speeches that he would eliminate if he gets the power to do so).

But the reason Hilary Rosen's statement took wings isn't just because of Republicans. Early feminists, generally Democrats, did show disdain for women who stayed home to raise children. However she meant it, Rosen said something a lot of them (excepting Betty Friedan) have said at one time or another. They frequently implied women who didn't work outside the home were leeches and not developing their full powers. They saw a woman working out of the home as the only way she could attain security.

Rosen wasn't so much saying it's not work to raise five boys (even with a multimillionaire as a husband), but instead that if a woman stays home, she won't have had the experiences of women who are trying to squeeze multitasking in a hundred ways into a set of hours every day.

Now there are reasons to question Ann Romney's ability to understand economic issues and how women are impacted by them. The first would be her privileged life in so far as money can make for privilege. Ann Romney had the choice to stay home (assuming her husband would have let her work outside). She didn't witness her children not having what others did because she was there.

She has not though led a totally protected life as in she has suffered big health issues with MS and breast cancer, but she has had the best care possible for fighting those-- something Mitt would deny poor or really any other women.

Interestingly Ann Romney did donate to Planned Parenthood at one time; so whether she's like Laura Bush with a mind of her own, I don't know. She might have her own ideas on a lot; but if so, they aren't drifting through the ether to her husband (unless he likewise has other ideas but is lying to the Republican party). To add to the questions about Mitt's positions, there are those among his advisers who say his own personal opinions differ from what he is saying to get elected evidently on pretty much everything-- hence the etch-a-sketch president.

Mitt Romney really is a pig in a poke as to what people will get if he attains the presidency. Is he trying to fool the right wing or the independents? I think his lying is one of the aspects that scares me most about his gaining the power of the presidency. Lots of presidents cannot do what they promised when they were candidates but some have a deliberate swindle in mind -- think compassionate conservative.

We aren't supposed to mention religion in considering who Ann Romney is, what her knowledge might be about economics, but she lives in a Mormon household, became Mormon to marry Mitt, and frankly Mormons are not exactly noted for their equality toward women. A Mormon man can rise to the level of a god. A Mormon woman could become a god's wife but that's about it. Only men can lead their religion or, as I understand it, even lead the wards or stakes. Their infallible-on-such-matters President did end polygamy but because of politics in the United States which was the same reason they ended the belief that blacks were the descendents of Cain and hence not eligible for godhood either.  Does Ann believe all a true-believing Mormon woman would, if so, she's got a male fixation on leadership (true of fundamentalists also, of course).

She is a wealthy woman with the ability to hire whatever help her husband permits or wishes. She doesn't experience what it's like for single moms or poor women and for her to imply or him to say that she can advise him on women's issues, is basically a good example of his cluelessness.

She is, as was Laura Bush, a very appealing woman and an asset to his campaign in that sense, but her understanding of what it would mean to poor women to eliminate Planned Parenthood (which he has said he would do-- if we can believe what he says), if she has an understanding of that, she's not permitted to speak out on it.

So, Democrats got some of this on them because of their own history where it came to denigrating women who did not work outside the home as though they weren't fully developed.

I think, based on my own experience, that women can be informed as stay-at-home moms, they can be developing skills that would be marketable should they need them. BUT the important thing here to remember is that Ann Romney, as did I, had a choice. I would add that women who raise children with a full time job or even career, can be fully engaged in our culture, know what's going on politically, be there for their kids. It's just harder.


Kay Dennison said...

Thank you!!!!! I spent a lot of years as a stay-at-home mom and those were really the best years of my life.

Rain Trueax said...

I likely should have added that some women do want to work outside the home and they should have that respected also. I can see advantages to it but as I have always said, all of life is a trade off. You pays your money and takes your chances with whether you made the right choice.

Kay Dennison said...

Yes, it is a choice. And yeah, it's a gamble. I kinda resented those who told me that to be fulfilled I needed a career. Raising the Dynamic Duo was a career.

Rubye Jack said...

Personally, I never found staying at home with my son to be any kind of work. Of course I only had one kid but half the time I was taking care of a friend's child 24/7. I still found nothing difficult about it. I wasn't working.

Now for those moms who have to work a regular job, God bless them. It's hard. I've done both. Lack of money is what makes it hard. I'm sorry that Rosen apologized. I'm even more sorry that there is no voice of reason in either party.

Rain Trueax said...

I think she 'apologized' because her words weren't taken as she meant them. She did not know that Ann Romney didn't work hard with five boys at home. She wasn't saying that. She was saying that the woman had no idea what it's like for the average working mom. She didn't want to be tied to something she didn't mean. There's nothing wrong with having the dignity and power to be willing to say I spoke that not as I meant it. I have heard her on many news shows and to me she is a credible voice. But she was also not wanting to become the issue. She's not a strategist for the Obama campaign. Maybe it would have been wiser had he not said anything but frankly he likes to say what he thinks. I like that.

Hattie said...

My cousin stayed at home with her three girls, but she was busy as a volunteer and did a lot of work for her husband's business, too. She has always handled the family finances, and they have prospered.
I always worked as much as I could, because I was never particularly home centered except insofar as that was a necessity when I had small children. I was never able to have the career I wanted, because my husband's career came first. I have greatly benefited in the long run from his success, however.
That's the problem. A woman can never "have it all." Although I must say my daughters are doing quite well with careers and families. They are very very busy, but I think that's the way life should be for the young and energetic.

Rain Trueax said...

And that, Hattie, is what I feel the feminist movement did for us. It took time and felt its way but today it's about women having a choice. Not all women do for economic reasons but it's the thing for which we strive for future generations-- that they can do what is best for their family and themselves. It won't be the same thing

joared said...

I stayed home for a few years, but also had my share of years with children and my add'l schooling. Can only imagine how harried life would have been adding work outside the home. Part of that time it was difficult enough being in a "sandwiched" situation (before that term got coined) and a few other situations were happening, too.

Life is filled with sacrifices if that's how we want to interpret our choices. I, too, made choices differently than I would have had it not been for family issues beginning when I was a young single woman.

I guess I was fortunate in that the feminists I came in contact with and my own view did not belittle "stay at home Moms." I think the vast majority of feminists believed as I did, so I proudly said I was a feminist and explained to those who would listen that feminism was not a bad word. Feminists I knew didn't hate men and we discounted a bunch of other negative stereotypes some put forth and others tried to paint us with.

I'd had some employment where salaries weren't equitable between sexes; encountered a glass ceiling, so I was motivated for change.

I do think anyone who has never worked outside the home is going to have a different view of what that sort of working life is like, compared to their work in the home. That's not to say transitions between the two settings can't be successful.

Likewise, a woman who has never had to cope with financial concerns, and is able to stay home with family might have difficulty realistically perceiving the challenges of a mother who has to work, married or single.

I think every effort will be made to play up this verbal faux pas and try to incite the "stay at home Moms" vs "working women." I think there's little doubt that speaker goofed by not adding "...outside the home" to her work comment about Romney's wife. His wife is as out of touch as he is with ordinary Americans. The same could have been said about the Kennedys, certainly Jackie, though Jack seemed to be able to connect with people in ways Romney doesn't.

Anne said...

I am older than you, Rain, so when I had to work because we didn't have enough money unless I earned some I was criticized because in my time a "good" mother stayed home and took care of her children.

I bet Ann Romney didn't do a lot of house cleaning or ironing.

Robert the Skeptic said...

My wife gets pretty miffed at the often spouted myth that being a stay-at-home-mom is like having two full-time jobs! People like Oprah promote this mythology. In my wife's first marriage she stayed at home; she had the house cleaned by 10:00 every day, tea with her neighbor at noon, by the afternoon she was bored to death. She went out and got a job to have something more to do.

After the birth of her second child, then following her divorce left her in poverty, she was on Welfare for a few months until she got a job. But even then she says that having a full-time job was like having a full-time job, NOT raising kids.

She has pride in the family she has raised and the accomplishments of her children. She feels she led by example and is proud also in her career.

That these issues are even being brought up during a presidential campaign again go to show that distractions from the real issues are a way to simply garner thoughtless support. Government-Business interests have acted decisively over the last 30 years to make it more difficult, if not impossible, for women today to be stay-at-home-moms; the Republicans are eviscerating their own conservative base.

Taradharma said...

I WISH I could have been a stay at home mom. Partly it was economics, partly it was the peer-pressure to work at a paying job, like Romney said, for the "dignity" of it. I was always grateful to the full-time moms at my daughter's school: they ran the place and put in all the volunteer hours us working moms couldn't. Yes, I do wonder where the heck the fathers were.

Feminism at it's core is all about women's empowerment and CHOICE. It's sad to see women in particular criticize women for their life choices -- isn't this what it's all about?

And I agree with the fellow who commented that this discussion within the Romney campaign is just one big distraction.