“Mom wars”: Motherhood is labour, time to recognise it

Been reading about the “Mom wars” over in the US. There is a summary here http://goo.gl/DhNDC , but to cut a long story short, a Democrat (Hilary Rosen) made the following comments about Republican Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann:

“What you have is Mitt Romney running around the country saying, well, you know, my wife tells me that what women really care about are economic issues. And when I listen to my wife, that’s what I’m hearing.

Guess what, his wife has actually never worked a day in her life. She’s never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them to school and how do we — why do we worry about their future?”


Basically I think there are two issues here.

Issue 1: Rosen is right to say that women who have a privileged lifestyle are not in a good position to be speaking on behalf of women from a much more economically difficult position. Also, why isn’t Romney talking to women himself? But the issue Rosen has missed is that the barrier is their economic status, not their workload.

Issue 2: Rosen is wrong to equate staying at home to raise children with “never working a day” – basically, when you are caring for a child, you are working. It seems that motherhood is either dismissed as idleness or, when it is recognised as work, romanticised as some sort of magical process in mainstream culture. There have been days, for me, when parenthood has been exhausting, but the difference on those days from hard days at work is really in terms of hours and rest periods. When a newborn won’t settle or a child is sick, you often don’t get comfort breaks and it is a long shift. It is tough work, often isolated early on, and not something you get much training for.

Feminism needs to fight for care work, including parenting (which I can say from experience having split a lot of it with my partner is not some exclusively female instinctive drive), to be recognised as labour. Dismissing the work parents do does nothing for this, and neither does romanticisation.

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