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by Celeste Federico Hayes
In April of 2012, Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen commented -- in a snipe heard round the world -- that stay-at-home mom and potential First Lady Ann Romney had “never worked a day in her life."
These remarks infuriated me more than anything I've heard or read in the political arena in a very long while. Why? Because Rosen attacked the role of the traditional wife -- a role that I have embraced for four years.
I can tell Rosen: this is a job and it is hard work. I made the choice not to have other career aspirations for at least the upcoming 16 years: ensuring the wellbeing of my children, their education, my home and my marriage is my career.
This is a choice of job that I consciously made. I wore the "working woman hat" earlier in my life: I succeeded professionally in many ways; I ascended to leadership positions in the workforce and travelled the world. Finally, I decided it was time for a new sombrero: my kids and family needed me.
Yes, I was lucky: I had a real choice, and made the choice to stay home. I understand that many other women do not have the same options that I did. But this isn't just about "the choice;" my anger about Rosen's disrespect for the stay-at-home parent job category has to do with something more subtle, but destructive nonetheless: society's general lack of respect for this important task.
For about two years into my embracing a stay-at-home, traditional-wife role, I would often feel embarrassed when people at my husband's work functions asked me, "So, what do you do?" My standard reply was: "Oh, I'm just at home these days." While proud of my choice, still, an insecure need to defend my identity as someone of substance, and assert that though I am not in the workforce, that doesn't mean I am unimportant, would gnaw at me. I wanted people to know that I was more than a person whose future consisted mostly of a minivan and maybe a trip to Disney World. So I'd add: "But I used to be a writer."
Why did I feel I needed to slide that career experience into the conversation, as if to save face? Because our society has "evolved" -- I would say, devolved -- to the general assumption that in order to be taken seriously, as a woman, you must earn an income. Certainly to be taken seriously politically, you must have a formal job outside the home.
I had spent eighteen years as part of the die-hard Left. In that time, I had somehow learned that to "just be at home" was a "less than" state. The message I had received was that to be "just be at home" is not enough for a modern, enlightened woman. In short, traditional wives and mothers don't have any street cred.
The truth is that being at home full time as a traditional wife and mother is harder than any directorship I've held outside the home. It takes energy, soul, wit, grit, brass, sass, tenderness, love, mindfulness, strength, surrender, spunk, punk, wisdom, and grace. In the same way the Native Americans honor their grandmothers and grandfathers, ceremoniously, I wish to honor the traditional women who came before me. Their wisdom is time-tested and has produced generations of strong families, which in turn have helped strengthen the fabric of our society.
My beloved father died unexpectedly when I was eight. For the rest of my childhood, I was raised in a single-parent family. My father didn't leave much for us to live on and my mother had to do it all. We were broke. As an adult, I finally decided: I wasn't going to live that life again. Nor did I ultimately wish to live the life of a "hurried woman." No. No. No. I wasn't going to have competing priorities.
Because I didn't have the good fortune to grow up with a traditional mom, my journey of becoming the traditional wife and mother became that much more important to me. I was going to provide my children with a traditional home life.
Enter Hilary Rosen, whose remarks made my blood boil. It wasn't the words, but rather it what she was implying about women who don't "work,” that sent my mothership sideways. Rosen's implication was that the traditional wife, who does not provide financially for others, is disqualified to speak on economic or political matters concerning the nation. What Rosen's comment revealed is the view that traditional women should necessarily be silenced on these matters.
Ms. Rosen, for your information: traditional wives and mothers aren't second-rate thinkers or less-than contributors to our society. We aren't lightweights who must stay far away from decisions about government. Indeed, these decisions benefit from our voices and experiences.
Rosen's disdain is everywhere: broad brushes are often used to categorize traditional women, usually in “less than" terms. Our voices are seen as having less power and meaning. Many people argue that so much of racism is unconscious; I'd argue that these negative attitudes toward traditional women too are often unconscious. What I hear, and categorically reject, is that the traditional woman has no modern aptitude, is a mindless twit, and thus must not be taken seriously, let alone looked up to.
Well... not so fast, Ms. Rosen.
In defense of the traditional wife, consider Abigail Adams, Founding Mother extraordinaire, and wife of John Adams. Mrs. Adams -- a 'stay-at-home mom' -- was nonetheless influential, strong, independent; she was a thinker, well-educated, graceful; and she was a terrific devil's advocate to her husband when he needed one. Though she was unable to influence political matters during that era directly, she most certainly did via her influence upon her husband. Their letters to each other reveal how much he relied on her judgment, and how valuable she was to his efforts.
A woman doesn't have to be a leader in the spotlight in order to wield power. If she finds herself in the spotlight, make no mistake, she'll get my respect. But, the traditional wife, too, gets my respect.
For my part, I garden and ponder Bastiat’s Economic Sophisms, a classical liberal treatise on the economics of Liberty. I fold laundry and deconstruct the fallacies of economists Paul Krugman and John Maynard Keynes. I can handle the mop-water of politics and the diapers of child rearing. I do dishes and refine a critique of today's obsession with printing money, inflating the dollar, escalating the debt, and advancing tax-based serfdom.
I have other job skills I am proud of: in my household, for instance, we don't borrow money to get out of debt; we budget and cut back -- which any one income family will tell you takes plenty of skill and foresight.
That somehow traditional women who don't earn, but instead bust their humps at home, are "less than" intellectually and politically, is more than a cheap insult. It's a way of devaluing women and women's wisdom.
Does assuming a traditional role automatically mean a woman has no skills, and thus has forfeited her right to have opinions about national concerns? I invite Ms. Rosen, who does not spend her days calming children, cleaning her own house, growing her own food, or budgeting on a shoestring, to run my household for a day. She will experience for herself that the answer is no.
:: photo courtesy of madame.furie via Creative Commons license ::
Celeste Federico Hayes is a stay-at-home mother of young twins and a home schooled 13 year old. In her spare time, she heirloom gardens, advocates for raw milk, and devours libertarian thought.