Catching up with Conservatism: Women, Work and the Campaign

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Hilary Rosen, political pundit and Democratic sometimes-strategist, earned a place in the news cycle’s version of “time out” when she issued the churlish charge that Ann Romney “has actually never worked a day in her life.”

The comment came after weeks of volleying for women voters, when the Romney campaign deployed Mrs. Romney to emphasize what her husband’s economic expertise offers for independent women. Most mainstream commentators, and even President Obama, quickly denounced Rosen’s tactless smear of Mrs. Romney.

I’m of the political persuasion that voting comes down to individuals and their priorities, not demographic subgroups based on x chromosomes, religion, ethnicity, etc. I’m more than a little exhausted by the various faux-battles staged on behalf of the “War on Women,” especially since responding to Rosen’s comments seemingly centers me in a blitz of identity contradictions.

I am, in no discernible order, a woman, a conservative, and a student working toward a professional career. I’ll vote for the candidate who makes the most sense for the country, not the guy who utters the word “contraception” the most times or has a wife with the widest mini-van.

In some far off personal future, I would like a family, although asking me if I will stay home when my children are young seems akin to asking what color my countertops will be: I haven’t the slightest idea.  What I do know is that, when it comes to raising children, my decision will probably be based on my career, job flexibility, my husband’s career, my children’s health, my income, and the proximity of supportive relatives–not some hazy Hollywood rerun of Meryl Streep’s character in Kramer v. Kramer or abstract allegiance to the a National Organization of Women.

Some of my fondest childhood memories include Sunday afternoons spent, after church and grilled cheese, napping under the desk of my mom’s office as she polished off after-hours audiology reports. My mother, like countless working women, is immensely proud to have maintained a professional career while also raising two daughters. She kiddingly brags about working full-time up to the hour she gave birth to me, while acknowledging she may have set a world record in the number of times she read Goodnight Moon aloud.

Still, as someone so familiar with daycare culture that I still wish a few of my old “woddler” pals a happy birthday, I’m probably an odd person to rise to Ann Romney’s defense. Rosen’s remarks were double-barbed in that they attempted to dismiss both Ann Romney’s elitism and somewhat old-fashioned priorities. Yet you don’t have to have access Mrs. Romney’s number of homes or grandchildren to sense that parenting choices are worth respecting.

On the Left, supporters of Rosen repeat that most women don’t share Mrs. Romney privileged option to stay home. Economically pinched mothers, the thinking goes, have no choice but to leave the home for their jobs. But outsourcing childcare is expensive. It requires a real give-and-take between salary and time. Obviously countless single moms depend on child care support, but perhaps women whose skill sets or ambitions don’t correlate with robust earning power are making a reasonable cost-benefit analysis when they, at least in the early years, stay home with their kids.

The word “economy” actually stems from the Greek word for household. As Kevin Williamson points out in “The Economics of Ann Romney,” the Romneys, regardless of their incredible wealth and large family, faced two universal sources of household scarcity: income and parental time. No matter how rich you are, there’s a ceiling on both your net-worth and the hours in the day. Mrs. Romney did receive a BA from Harvard’s extension program, yet she possesses almost none of the employment credentials that would lead us to believe she could make the kind of cash her husband earned at Bain Capital. Mrs. Romney might have secured a mid-level managerial position, but even a successful full time job would render her addition to the family income quite marginal. Meanwhile, Williamson underscores her role in the Romney household was anything but on the margins and almost certainly bolstered her five sons’ childhoods and quality of life.

Combining their mothering instinct with an entrepreneurial creativity, many women have become incredibly adaptive in their approach to work-life duties, whether it be by increasing freelance work, talking different shifts, or returning to their full-time job once the kids are aboard the yellow bus to grade school. In fact, W. Bradford Wilcox at the University of Virginia makes the term “adaptive” central to his extensive research on the working patterns of mothers.

Now, I understand that the President out-polls Romney by up to 10 percentage points among female voters, and it’s tempting for GOP leaders to compete for those numbers. It’s true that Republicans have always fared worse with women, but the latest CBS data actually shows Romney leading Obama among married women, 49-42 percent. Some preliminary polling shows the Rosen debacle probably helped Romney’s stats. In the end of this long cycle, I hope women will show that they, like any voters, go for the best political arguments and personal opportunities, not the most overtly pink campaign signs.


  1. Two things:

    1. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the rhetoric of the “war on women” but I’m pretty sure that the facts support the idea that recent laws/politics have increased against women’s rights issues. For example, the recent incredible increase in laws that restrict abortion–laws that overwhelmingly affect women and their right to make decisions about their own bodies–certainly support that claim. (Information and a handy-dandy graph can be found here.)

    2. Women, women, women, women…sometimes men stay home. And let’s be careful about attributing a natural nurturing instinct to women, as though women inherently have that and men do not.

    • While I completely agree with the rest of your points, I would be careful about saying outright that women don’t have nurturing instincts that men do not have. I have not read any of the literature on this, so to be honest I have no idea if this is true or not, but it seems reasonable that things like hormones/genes could potentially generate nurturing impulses in women. (If you know of studies to the contrary, please tell me, I’d be really interested in knowing about them!).

      But really, whether women have that impulse or not is kind of irrelevant; as countless bio classes have reminded me, biology teaches us how living organisms work, not how human society should be. We have lots of subconscious instincts, but we certainly don’t act on all of them. In many ways, social structures probably shape our behavior more significantly than some of those instincts (which actually seems like the point you were making)

      • Don, contracts make the rest of the female instinct. I say read the impulse of growth hormone really reasonable. ( really know the opposite of interest! ). Really? In fact women relatives; _ bio technology education class _, is to promote the myriad forms of human biology, biological mechanisms, and calls. All Don t Act is certainly a lot of potential instinct we. Was going to how social structure (point): forming a part of the behavior of those instincts.

  2. Daniel, with all due respect I think you, like most conservatives who have jumped to Mrs. Romney’s defense, have entirely missed the point.

    Rosen was not criticizing Ann’s decision to say home. She was saying that, given that she made that choice, she has less credibility than a working mother to take to the campaign trail and talk to women voters (the majority of whom, if they have children, work as well) about the real issue of this campaign– their personal economic struggles.

    It was well within Ann’s aristocratic right never to work, but conservatives should be the first to tell us that we must take responsibility for our action. The unavoidable consequence of Ann’s decision not to work –especially given that she grew up extraordinarily wealthy, and never worked BEFORE marriage either– is that she has zero credibility to talk to working mothers about personal economic struggle.

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