For all the shameful sucking up to multimillionaire mom Ann Romney after Democratic pundit Hilary Rosen accused her of never having worked “a day in her life,” the reality is neither Republicans nor Democrats treat most parenting as work, and thousands of poor women are living in poverty today as living proof of that fact.
Do we need to state the obvious? Women of different classes are beaten with different rhetorical bats. For the college-educated and upwardly aspiring, there’s the “danger” of career ambitions. Ever since women started aspiring to have men’s jobs, backlashers have told those women that they’re enjoying their careers at the expense of their kids’ well being. They really can’t have it all. They’ll raise monsters, or worse, they’ll grow old on the shelf. Remember the Harvard/Yale mob that made headlines with a “study” showing that unmarried women over thirty had a slimmer chance of matrimony than they had of being taken out by a terrorist? Susan Faludi took them apart in Backlash! But the evil spawn of that story still circulate. The media still love stories about stay-at-home moms and professional women are still punished for wanting to succeed. For the poor, though, it’s very different.
Following Rosen’s remark, Ann Romney tweeted her first tweet: “I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work.” Her husband’s campaign hoisted that cudgel high and they have been beating Rosen and the Democrats with it for almost a week.
It was a relief, then, to see this gotcha clip from Mitt Romney at a campaign event in January, in which he said mothers on welfare should be forced to get a job outside the home or lose their government benefits. Cruel? No: “I want those individuals to have the dignity of work,” said Romney.
The remark, made to a Manchester, New Hampshire, audience, was aired during Chris Hayes’s MSNBC show Sunday. Nice. But pushing poor women out to “work” wasn’t just a Republican trick. For half a decade, from President Clinton’s pledge to “end welfare as we know it” to his signing of welfare reform (the pointedly named 1996 “Personal Responsibility Act”), pundits and politicians of both parties took aim at poor moms and skewed statistics to cast mothers on welfare—especially women of color on welfare—as dependent, lazy, greedy and breeding for benefits. For their good and ours, we were told, welfare “queens” needed to be forced out “to work.”