Hilary Rosen let the mask slip and the ugly truth was revealed. Flying Twitter fingers from the highest places could not erase the image.
The Democratic operative must have been shocked by the titanic response to her comments about Ann Romney, and by extension all women who choose to raise their own children. Wasn’t she just being honest, saying what everyone around her really thinks?
To charge Ann Romney and the rest of us with choosing Easy Street is bad enough. But to suggest we are unqualified to participate in the discussion of the nation’s economic perils is vulgar, outmoded, mid-century feminism. I suspect there’s a lot of it on the Left.
Remember when presidential candidate Rick Santorum was accused of anti-women views over a section in his book, It Takes a Family? Former Democrat official George Stephanopolous and others in the media made great hay out of his point that “radical feminists” undermine families by telling women they can find fulfillment only in the workplace. The “Santorum Hates Women” narrative lasted for days. No Twitter defense for this Republican Party leader.
The modern feminist script was careers optimum, husbands optional, conception avoided and the unplanned products thereof aborted. But American women rejected that script a long time ago.
Hardly had the new century dawned when even The New York Times got the message. In 2003 the Times Magazine profiled several highly-educated, professional women on the upper rungs of the proverbial corporate ladder who had decided to get off, stay home and raise their kids (“The Opt-Out Revolution,” Oct. 26, 2003).
The women were members of an Atlanta book club, with degrees from Princeton and postgraduate degrees from Harvard and Columbia. They expressed deep satisfaction with their life changes and none had regrets. Author Lisa Belkin reported they were not, in fact, unique. After talking with dozens of professional women over four years, she could not avoid coming to the “explosive” conclusion that the very women who had succeeded in becoming “the professional equals of men” were rejecting the workplace.
I can relate to these women. I am a lawyer, and when pregnant with my first child I learned that my employer would not allow me to work part time. So I left, and today work very part-time, from home, so I can be a full-time mother to my two young girls.
I give an annual lecture to female law students on this topic, and what they appreciate most is hearing first-hand about female lawyers who found happiness without sacrificing their dreams of marriage and family. I do not tell them stories about mothers who are happily working full-time legal jobs because I don’t know any. They may exist, but in nearly 25 years of being a lawyer I’ve never met one.
It goes without saying that not every woman can make the choice to stay home to raise her children. Financial circumstances compel many women to forgo it. And even where possible, leaving the workforce can mean financial sacrifices as well as cerebral. Exchanging the calm of an orderly office for the relative chaos of a child-centered world can be very difficult.
So why on earth do it? Well, Ms. Rosen, because many women are not satisfied putting themselves at the center of their universe. Giving time to and losing money for our children is our chosen sacrifice.
And that is why Rosen’s comments sting.
Why can’t the freedom to choose this lifestyle be seen not as a rejection but an affirmation, or fulfillment, of the feminist impulse? Twentieth-century feminists defined success as becoming a man. Maybe 21st-century feminism will let women define it their own way.