A lot of Romney supporters were outraged over Hilary Rosen’s recent claim that Ann Romney “has actually never worked a day in her life” during a discussion about women and the economy on CNN. While Hilary was clearly referring to a regular 9-to-5 job, many thought that the liberal lobbyist was attacking Mrs. Romney’s choice to stay at home and raise her five sons while her husband worked to provide for the family.
I’m not all that interested in what Ms. Rosen has to say about anything, and I’m willing to bet that more women in this country can identify with a married mother of five who has battled cancer and MS than they can with a lesbian activist who broke up with her partner after they were fortunate enough to adopt twins together. Moreover, if women who are struggling to juggle their many responsibilities could schedule a counseling session with either Ann or Hilary to improve their situation, whose schedule would fill up first?
Ann Romney was married to a man who spent many years of his life counseling people with problems while serving as an LDS bishop and stake president in Boston. She went to church every week with people living normal lives, the same people whom Rosen claims Ann doesn’t understand because she doesn’t work in an office. It’s not surprising that Rosen’s bio reveals no similar period of selfless service to others. In short, Ann, like her husband, is a role model for all Americans in the family department, while Hilary Rosen is not.
In the end, while I hardly think that Rosen is in a position to be criticizing a woman like Ann Romney, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt on her statement for only one reason: she’s Jewish. I may be naïve, but it’s hard to believe that a woman from a faith and culture that are so success- and family-centered would question the ability of a wealthy woman who has successfully raised five sons to comment on the economic lives of other women. While most Jewish women I know have chosen to work while raising their children, they respect others’ choice to stay home.
In the ideal LDS arrangement, which the Romneys have, a married man and woman have different divinely-ordained roles to play in the rearing of children. The man is expected to work to support the family, while the woman stays at home to raise the children. Both serve in the church, with women called to serve and teach children, young women, and other women (they are also called to be organists, choir directors, etc.). Most married Mormons with children pattern their lives after this ideal. I have known exactly two active Mormon husbands who are stay-at-home dads. I respect their choice, but it’s not a common one in the LDS community. A few years ago I dated an LDS girl, a new convert, who thought it was important that a parent stay at home with our future children. Unfortunately, she wanted to succeed in her career so badly that she asked me to agree to be a house husband so that she could continue working after having the kids. I love kids, but once I found out that she wasn’t going to change her mind, she became my ex-girlfriend. I suspect that most LDS men would have done the same thing.
Of course, some couples’ work/home arrangements are difficult to understand. During my first week of conducting visas interviews at the American Embassy in Israel, I met an unforgettable applicant who was an ultra-Orthodox rabbi with seven kids. Having spent the previous two years interviewing Mexican applicants, I immediately asked him what he did for a living. His answer? Study Torah. In his world, the wife had to work to support the kids so that he could study Torah all day. I told him that his lack of a job rendered him ineligible for a visa (which is what I would have told an able-bodied Mexican man of his age), but that I would be happy to consider the applications of his wife and minor children. He in turn told me that I would “join Jesus in hell.”
As a newlywed LDS man, I’m very glad that I don’t have to choose between staying home and working. I respect women (and men) who do both, though I will admit to having a hard time relating to men who believe that God doesn’t want them to get a job. Part of this respect involves acknowledging that women who stay home are as credible as their sisters in the workforce when they voice their opinions on the issues of the day. As much as Hilary Rosen hates to admit it, this even holds true for wives of Republicans.