Finally! Now that Hilary Rosen has brought up the issue of "women's work," a topic that I've been writing about for years has finally becomes front and center in the buzz over Campaign 2012. The danger, however, is that we won't move beyond the easily sensationalized "Mommy Wars" of the past, in which the devaluing of what women do, leads mothers to turn against each other, rather than against the system that they find themselves in.
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Chris Hayes' uncovering
of Mitt Romney talking about poor women needing the "dignity of work" highlighted the hypocrisy of the right on the issue of the value of moms: they're heroes when they have a husband to support them, lazy drains on society when they don't.
It was not, however, the first time that the "dignity of work" argument has ben used. Remember when Newt Gingrich assailed poor families for not teaching the children the value of work (necessitating, according to Gingrich, the overhauling of child labor laws)? At the time, I wondered why no one in the MSM asked what Gingrich thought the mothers in those poor neighborhoods were doing. And, of course, this argument is used by Democrats
as well, the most famous example
being the 1996 Welfare Reform Act under President Clinton.
As those who have read my past writings know, I have often distinguished between academic and radical feminists, on the one hand, and liberal (or what Hester Eisenstein calls "hegemonic feminists") on the other. Academic and radical feminists have long pointed out this hypocrisy in policy making, arguing for the economic benefits of women's unpaid work. Liberal and "hegemonic" feminists have tended to focus on expanding opportunities for women in the workforce outside of the home.
If the Hilary Rosen controversy forces people to think about the unpaid work of child care, community volunteerism, elder care and household management that is often the taken-for-granted work of women, then that is a good thing. But if the conversation stays at the level of woman-vs.-woman, then we will have missed the point.
As George Lakoff has often made us aware, much of the rhetoric on the right has been obsessed with the idea of virtue - as defined by the conservative "Strict Father" worldview - and its need to be rewarded, while punishing those who are seen as not virtuous. Most prominent among those meriting reward, according to the increasingly radical right Republican Party, are the so-called "job creators." Conveniently, no one has really bothered to actually document - for the purposes of tax or other policy purposes - whether this idealized group actually creates jobs. No, rather, wealth has been a shortcut for this group, which must of course be rewarded with greater and greater tax cuts. And, of course, rather than subjecting this theory to empirical test, it is rather assumed in a circular fashion, that if "x" amount of tax cuts don't work to open up hiring, then we must add more! At no point in this process does it seem to occur to the advocates of this theory that the profit motive should suffice for rewarding this group - or the role that consumers create in ultimately create jobs.
Meanwhile, these champions of virtue are oblivious to the fact that while they are handing out kudos to their fellow elites, they rest comfortably on a bedrock of security that - in many
cases - women provide. As a result, Campaign 2012 - despite all talk of jobs - has been totally devoid of talk about who is taking care of sick and well children, taking care of elderly parents and the disabled, doing a variety of household tasks, helping to run the public schools (in an era of dwindling public funds), and otherwise organizing households across the country. Even talk of child care, which Romney engaged in, in the video Hayes highlighted, ignores the difference between unpaid moms - who tend to be on-call 24/7, with no sick leave, vacations, lunch breaks, or overtime pay - and paid care-givers.
Anyone who spends even a little bit of time with women who work in traditionally male-dominated occupations will likely be exposed to the consequences of those differences in labor environments. You're likely to hear stories of day care centers that won't take sick children, high turnover of nannies, or employers who schedule mandatory meetings that conflict with care-giver's hours.
And anyone who has been a stay-at-home mom, has probably felt subtle - or not-so-subtle - pressure to volunteer in various capacities, either in the public schools, religious communities, or just filling in for other moms.
As I have written previously, there is a long history of advocacy for greater recognition - and reward - for the economic contribution of the unpaid labor of women. Let's not waste this opening that Hilary Rosen has (unwittingly) created, focusing on the "Mommy Wars," rather than what could be called the "Mommy Dividend."
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