Hilary Rosen vs. Ann Romney: why the dust-up is fake

Much of the fighting over 'women's issues' feels like manufactured outrage. In the latest example, Republicans are pouncing on a comment by Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen about Ann Romney.

Steven Senne/AP
In this March 20 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife Ann hug during a victory rally in Schaumburg, Ill.

Can we just say: Enough with the fake "wars" on/about/between women?

First, it was Democrats trying to make it seem as though a serious dispute about whether the government should require insurance plans to cover birth control was actually an argument about birth control in general. When the truth is, the latter debate is settled and will almost certainly never be revisited as a matter of public policy. Even Rick Santorum has made that clear, despite his personal views on the matter. 

Now, it's Republicans pretending there's a big national fight over a subject that most women basically agree on – the decision to work or stay home. Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen unintentionally set off this fake firestorm when she commented on CNN Wednesday night that Ann Romney – whom Mitt Romney has been referring to as his top adviser on women's issues – has "never worked a day in her life." Here's the full quote:

“What you have is Mitt Romney running around the country, saying, 'Well, you know, my wife tells me that what women really care about are economic issues, and when I listen to my wife, that’s what I’m hearing.' Guess what? His wife has actually never worked a day in her life. She’s never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing, in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them to school, and why do we worry about their future.”

The Romney campaign pounced, with Ann Romney putting out her first-ever tweet: “I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work.”

So why is this a fake fight? Because first of all, we don't think there's anybody out there (with kids at least) who doesn't think raising children is hard work – as Ms. Rosen herself later said. But more to the point, because the debate over women staying home or going to work isn't really much of a debate anymore – since increasingly, it's a choice that most women simply don't get to make. For women who do get to make that choice, that's great – whatever they decide. But for the vast majority, forgoing a paycheck just isn't an option these days. 

It's clear from the context that Rosen wasn't criticizing Ann Romney for staying home. She was criticizing the Romney campaign for presenting Ann Romney as an expert on the economic concerns of women, when Romney's own economic circumstances (including the fact that she was able to stay home with all five of her sons) are not those that most women have. 

Was it a political mistake for Rosen to criticize Romney's wife, regardless of the context? Sure. Ann Romney is a gracious person, a popular presence on the campaign trail, and an immensely sympathetic figure. Obama's top advisers wasted no time condemning Rosen's remarks as "inappropriate," saying family members should be "off-limits."

But does this mean there's a debate in the public sphere between Democrats and Republicans over whether women should work or stay home? No. And the real outrage is that these fake catfights take attention away from debates about serious issues that really do affect women.  

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