Background: So Romney and the Republicans have gone completely, sexist-ly nuts over the last 4 years. Then somebody called it a War on Women (WoW!).
Which was no big deal to the Rs, they mostly kept on keeping on passing and signing bills to torture women who want abortions and trying to outlaw the pill, while secretly undoing fair pay laws (Scott Walker, I'm looking at your hopefully recalled ass). The WoW was even compared to a fictional War on Caterpillars by the head of the RNC. But then there were polls that showed that Romney (presumptive nominee at this point) had a "gender gap" on the order of 18 percentage points in swing states. Suddenly, Romney and the Republicans cared.
And then Democratic strategist Hillary Rosen opened the door to a fabulous opportunity for Republicans to divide women and try to pick a few off, calculating that indignation would outweigh, you know, rights, freedoms, and being considered a legal adult by your state and country. Rosen was pretty clearly trying to say that Ann Romney is very rich and has not worked outside the home (as Gloria Steinem pointed out, effectively), but she ended up sounding a bit like she was denigrating the choice some women are able to make to Stay At Home Mother (yes, it's Mom, but Mom isn't a verb and my mom was an English teacher before she retired).
So Romney and Fox and every Republican and reporter who felt the need to ask about it went nuts and declared "Mommy Wars" (I'm not making this up, Bob Schieffer said it). And THEN after Romney talked about how awful it was to say mothering isn't work anywhere anybody would pretend to listen, a clip turned up of Romney saying that he changed the law in Massachusetts by requiring mothers of kids as young as two to work outside the home in order to qualify for public assistance (welfare), because he wanted them to have "the dignity of work."
My Point (and I do have one): Forget the optics, most women don't really divide over working outside the home vs. SAHMing. We torture ourselves about it, we feel bad to some extent no matter what we do, but we don't really think women who do the opposite are jerks or WRONG or whatever. In my experience, we learn to just have our own deeply held, complex views about parenting and work, and we do the best we can to live up to the unrealistic expectations and goals we have for ourselves.
And because all these male politicians and pundits and reporters are wading into this and taking sides in the most patronizing, superficial of ways, I don't think they will move women in the long run.
But I do think this superficial, wholly-male way of talking about mothering and working and women's choices underscores how much we need more women in politics and the media. And because I'm a loud mouth, I'll just wade right in...
Hey, Male-People-Running-for-Office or Reporting-About-Politics: Instead of trying to validate or criticize our life choices while simultaneously trying to limit them, why don't you think about/ask about policies that could help us and our families to thrive?
Let's unpack this for the male politicians in our audience:
Public schools don't start until 4 or 5 years old. The Family and Medical Leave Act (which doesn't apply to all employers) only allows for up to 3 months of maternity leave (unpaid). Assuming that you don't have complications, or a bed-rest order (which is more common than you might think), that means most women have from 3 months after giving birth to age 4 or 5 - for each child they have - to deal with some kind of child care.
And while conservatives often say that women choose to make less over their lives when they choose to have kids, and that that makes up the difference in pay between men and women (it doesn't); it takes two to tango, and so both men and women who have kids have to deal with child care, of some kind, for a significant part of their lives. But the federal government has done just about jack about that. And at a time when women make up the majority of the work force (yes, Mitt and Don Draper, women work more than men), it's pretty important to most families to deal with child care.
So why don't you think about alternative work schedules and telecommuting and job-sharing and public funding for child care and other ways to help families? Which include women. Women who vote. 8 million more votes in 2008. About the same in 2004.