It was the tweet that transformed the ever-simmering Mommy Wars into a holy crusade.
First, on April 11, DNC advisor Hilary Rosen told Anderson Cooper:
What you have is Mitt Romney running around the country saying, well, you know, my wife tells me that what women really care about are economic issues, and when I listen to my wife, that’s what I’m hearing. Guess what, his wife has actually never worked a day in her life. She’s never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them to school and how do we — why do we worry about their future.
That same day, Ann Romney joined Twitter. Her first 140 characters: “I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work.” The same message appeared as her Facebook status update. The Romney campaign even took out Facebook ads to get people to “like” it.
“Like” doesn’t begin to capture the reaction of Mormon women to Ann Romney’s salvo in the Romney-Rosen mommy wars. Her tweet (and all the spin that followed) captured the righteous indignation of Mormons for whom stay-at-home motherhood is viewed as a sacred responsibility.
Over the last several decades, statements by LDS Church leaders have presented nurturing children is an essential and divinely-established role for women. In 1987, Church President Ezra Taft Benson spoke “To The Mothers in Zion,” an address heard by many Mormon women as a call to leave the workplace and come home to spend their full-time with their children.
In recent years, church leaders have been more explicitly accepting of the reality and diversity of women’s working lives, but stay-at-home motherhood continues to hold a place of privilege in official church discourse. Among Mormons in North America, it certainly remains the cultural ideal. That’s the ideal Ann Romney embodies, and observant and conservative LDS women came to their digital barricades late last week to defend it in their status updates, tweets, Pinterest boards, and texts.
But on Friday, Feminist Mormon Housewives blog founder Lisa Butterworth (herself a stay-at-home mom with three kids) blew the whistle on the mounting “mommy armageddon” and called for a “smidge less outrage and a smidge more actual substance.” Economic realities make motherhood, as Butterworth described it, “the number one risk factor for poverty in America.”
Pointing out the incredible economic vulnerability of stay-at-home mothers, Butterworth wrote:
“We invest time and money and energy and resources into things we truly value. We build museums to house valuable works of art. We build giant sports complexes to house our valuable entertainment opportunities. We build giant road systems to transport our valuable consumer items from coast to coast. We invest almost nothing in making sure that mothers are secure and have the time energy and education they need to do the (MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL) work of mothering.
“I do realize that this is an incredibly complex and difficult problem, not so simple as building a museum or a functioning sewer system. But it’s a dirty darn lie that ‘we’ collectively value mothering. It’s a lie if you’re a Democrat and it’s a lie if you’re a Republican. Mothering is all about individual sacrifice, individual risk, individual success or failure. Society benefits greatly for that individual success. Society suffers greatly from that individual failure. In return society gives us: ‘your work is the MOST valuable,’ which is hard to make soup with.
“Rosen was wrong to say Ann Romney hasn’t worked a day in her life (and she admitted as much), but she reflected more deeply the reality of how we truly view the work of mothering/fathering/parenting/homemaking/nurturing/caretaking. And that ‘we’ very much includes the outraged Republicans jumping in to defend my ‘choices,’ the Republicans whose only investment in my life is in defending my choice to raise my children from home, but not in making it secure or feasible to do so (should my husband get hit by a bus on the way home from work today)(or leave me for a younger prettier woman)(or go insane and try to kill me)(or crush his leg and lose his job and need me to take care of him 24/7) where will the Republicans be then? Or the darn Democrats for that matter.”
Mormon feminist blogger Jana Remy followed Butterworth in calling for a little policy reality, comparing her own experiences first as a stay at home mother of two young children and then, later, as a working mother of older children:
“Instead of spinning into endless cycles of finger-pointing, I’d like for politicians to work harder to make mothering valued–by, say, making it possible for SAHMs to earn social security benefits or to contribute to Roth retirement plans, and to make workplaces more caregiver-friendly by facilitating flexible work schedules or on-site childcare. If, as Mitt Romney says, his wife’s job is more important than his, I would like to know how he will translate that into family-friendly policies that support the important work of caregivers (especially those not married to billionaires).”
A little less piety, a little more actual policy—and a little more awareness that the pious defense of stay-at-home-parenthood rarely extends to families in poverty, as coverage this week of the impacts of Clinton-era welfare reform reminded us. In fact, Romney himself recently took pride in policies he instituted as Massachusetts state governor that required parents of young children to go to work, as Chris Hayes revealed this morning:
While I was governor, 85% of the people on a form of welfare assistance in my state, had no work requirement. And I wanted to increase the work requirement. I said, for instance, that even if you have a child two years of age, you need to go to work. And people said, well that’s heartless. And I said no, no, I’m willing to spend more giving day care to allow those parents to go back to work. It will cost the state more, providing that day care. But I want the individuals to have the dignity of work.
Why should the defense of stay-at-home motherhood not extend to working-class and impoverished women? Is parental caregiving not just as valuable for children living below the poverty line? As Mormon feminist housewives (and former housewives and working moms) weighed in this week, political spin is “hard to make soup with.”