Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Katha Pollitt: For Romney, Rich Women Can Stay Home, Poor Ones Need "Dignity Of Work"

Writing in The Nation, Katha Pollitt (left) considers the real issues underneath the fake controversy about Hillary Rosen. Rosen, who said that Ann Romney never worked, is a Democratic strategist and pundit. After her remark, Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom Tweeted the falsehood that she is connected to the Obama campaign. Her words also gave Romney–who wants to defund Planned Parenthood, supports employers denying contraception coverage and can't commit to equal pay for women–the opportunity to cynically pose as the champion of women and motherhood. Pollitt points out that Romney's views of motherhood are class-based. When married, affluent women like his wife stay home, they're performing noble work. When single women on welfare do so–well, that's entirely different. Excerpts from "Ann Romney, Working Woman?":

...the brouhaha over Hilary Rosen’s injudicious remarks is not really about whether what stay-home mothers do is work. Because we know the answer to that: it depends. When performed by married women in their own homes, domestic labor is work—difficult, sacred, noble work. Ann says Mitt called it more important work than his own... But here’s the real magic: when performed by low-income single mothers in their own homes, those same exact tasks—changing diapers, going to the playground and the store, making dinner, washing the dishes, giving a bath—are not only not work; they are idleness itself. Just ask Mitt Romney. In a neat catch that in a sane world would have put the Rosen gaffe to rest forever, Nation editor at large Chris Hayes aired a video clip on his weekend-morning MSNBC show displaying Romney this past January calling for parents on welfare to get jobs: “While I was governor, 85 percent of the people on a form of welfare assistance in my state had no work requirement. And I wanted to increase the work requirement. I said, for instance, that even if you have a child 2 years of age, you need to go to work. And people said, ‘Well that’s heartless,’ and I said, ‘No, no, I’m willing to spend more giving daycare to allow those parents to go back to work. It’ll cost the state more providing that daycare, but I want the individuals to have the dignity of work.’ ” (Don’t be fooled by the gender-neutral language—he’s talking about mothers.)...

...All of which goes to show that it is not really possible to disengage domestic work from its social, gendered context: the work is valuable if the woman is valuable, and what determines her value is whether a man has found her so and how much money he has.

...The extraordinary hostility aimed at low-income and single mothers shows that what’s at issue is not children—who can thrive under many different arrangements as long as they have love, safety, respect, a reasonable standard of living. It’s women. Rich ones like Ann Romney are lauded for staying home. Poor ones need the “dignity of work”—ideally “from day one.”

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