The Mommy Wars usually slip into a de facto truce during economic downturns, just because choices are so difficult to come by. Last week, any truce that might have existed was broken by not only by tone-deaf statements by two women on opposite sides of the presidential race but by American women downplaying issues on the other side of the employment divide.
The kerfluffle started out with a legitimate topic. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that he relies upon his wife, Ann Romney, to help him understand womens concerns, and that the economy tops the list.
Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen dismissively opined that Ann Romney had never worked a day in her life.
Ann Romney, wide eyed, responded that she chose to stay home and raise five boys, which is not an easy task.
All those things are true. No one can honestly believe that Rosen, a parent herself, was suggesting Ann Romney had never lifted a finger or that raising children is not work. No one can have misunderstood the reference to paid employment. The economic issue is jobs, and the political issue is that every candidate needs to have a broad understanding of economic forces that affect rank-and-file Americans.
No one can honestly believe that Ann Romney doesnt realize that her life has been made immensely easier by her husbands wealth. She is privileged, not ignorant. She knows that the need to earn a living adds a layer of complexity to parenting that she has never experienced.
After the initial shrill cries of disbelief from both sides that women could be so horribly disrespected sob! came a wave of condescension cloaked in saccharine: Of course raising children is hard work, dearie! Its too bad you cant stay home to raise your children.
Lets get over the partisan weeping and wailing and get to the point. The Romneys are right in one regard. Women really care about a lot of issues, but when the economy is poor, it certainly looms large in everyones mind.
If Mitt Romney wants women to vote for him, he has to convince them that he understands the realities of life for American families. He needs to listen directly to women who have to work to feed their families, and he needs not to filter their concerns through his wife. He needs to promote policies that benefit women and families.
Those proposed policies, and Barack Obamas, are what women should be debating, not whose life is harder. They should continue talking about income equality and job security, about health care, about reproductive choice, about education, about opportunity for all their children.
They should not be pretending that one dismissive statement by a candidate, a candidates wife or a pundit represents an entire party or platform, and they especially should not be pretending that their feelings are hurt by those statements. That behavior is demeaning to women everywhere. Dont waste a golden opportunity to engage on the issues by resorting to fingerpointing: No, its YOUR party thats waging the war on women.
And men should not be egging on their respective sides: Ooh, look, heres an emotional issue for you gals to bicker over while we run the country.
The issues are real, they are universal, and they are intractable especially if Americans waste energy bickering over intentional misunderstandings.