The Ann Romney-Hillary Rosen flap over working moms points to two clichés about women that are worth exploring in the presidential campaign. One is that most moms have no choice but to work full time. The other is the pay gap between women and men. Both are not what they seem.
The latest battle in the ongoing war over the women’s vote occurred Monday evening as Ann Romney spoke extensively about her choice to be a stay-at-home mom and the hard work it involved. She was countering Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen, who described the would-be first lady as out of touch with women voters because she “has actually never worked a day in her life.” This, according to Ms. Rosen, disqualifies her from giving advice on women’s economic issues.
As Rosen herself noted, the latest fight is partially fake – no one disputes that raising children is incredibly hard work, and everyone recognizes that a range of factors weigh in a parent’s decision about whether and how much to work for pay.
But issues concerning women, work, and family are far from settled. Consider the summary results of a recent Pew Research Center report:
“The American public is sharply divided in its judgments about the sweeping changes in the structure of the American family that have unfolded over the past half century,” – changes such as more mothers of young children working outside the home. “About a third generally accepts the changes; a third is tolerant but skeptical; and a third considers them bad for society,” the report says.
Simplistic typecasting from both sides of the aisle frustrates the search for meaningful solutions. Let’s reexamine two of the common clichés that distort the public debate over women in the workforce.
Cliché No. 1: A vast majority of mothers have no choice but to work full time.
Of course many American women have little choice but to seek full-time employment. Single mothers, for example, have few viable alternatives. And 3 of 5 mothers who work full time would prefer a part-time job, according to a 2009 Pew Research Center survey.