Monday, April 16, 2012

They're trying to divide people

I've heard the Hilary Rosen commentary about Ann Romney, and other commentators' additions to/extrapolations from what she said.(I guess Hilary Rosen did apologize, but still....when something like that is said, it often gets at what is in a person's heart/mind. You don't say that kind of thing without believing it on some level.)

It seems to me there are two factors being conflated here: first: working moms vs. stay at home moms. Second: "the rich" vs. "everyone else."

The whole working-mom vs. stay-at-home-mom argument makes me frustrated. For one thing, it's a tired argument. I remember the "mommy wars" being hashed out in the 1980s. We've been arguing about this for thirty years, people. Isn't it time to let it go? There will ALWAYS be some women who prefer to stay at home and raise their children, and some women who know they are happier having childcare and working outside the home. But I guess there's that old "Let's make people feel guilty for their choices" factor coming into play...I remember back in the earlier days, the pendulum was towards the stay-at-home moms: working moms were supposed to feel guilty because they were missing their kids' milestones. Or God knows how awful that nanny REALLY is when you can't see her. Or kids in day care are more disposed to be violent. Or whatever other scare story.

Now, the pendulum has swung...and stay-at-home moms are supposed to feel guilty. Because they aren't "contributing." Now, I realize that "data" is not the plural of "anecdote" - but when I was growing up, my mom was a stay at home mom. Several of her friends were as well. I do not remember ANY of them sitting on the sofa watching soap operas and eating chocolates. (My mom did watch "Guiding Light," but usually it was while she was either dusting or doing dinner preparation). In addition to being there for us kids and keeping the house up, my mom (and several of her friends) also had large gardens (contributing to the family food budget by raising some of the food - and my mom was hardcore; most of the stuff she grew she started from seeds). My mom also baked bread. And she sewed some of the clothes my brother and I wore (at least until I got old enough to get pissy and upset about it...I feel bad about that now, but peer pressure is an ugly thing).

And my mom and her friends did volunteer work - at their churches, for the PTA, for other groups. My mom taught several classes in different things through the local continuing-ed center (I guess that would count as "working outside the home," though it was at times when my dad was home to watch over my brother and me).

One thing I've noticed as an adult involved in volunteer work: it's increasingly hard to get people to take part. Or to take part in groups like the church women's group or the AAUW. And I think part of that is that so many women work now...women who might have, 40 or 50 years ago, done lots of volunteer work are now so taken up with what they have to do for their careers (and at home) that they don't have time.

And I think it's wrong, very wrong, for the people criticizing stay-at-home moms to discount the fact of the woman BEING THERE at home...I remember how my mom was there every day I came home from school. So, if I had an upsetting day, she was there to try to make things better. Or if I had homework I'd rather not do, she was there to push me to do it. And if I got sick at school...a phone call home was all it took to get her to be able to help me.Even beyond the logistics of it, KNOWING she was there for me was important and valuable to me. But you can't put a dollar value on that, I guess. You can't treat it as "income" and tax it. (Hm. I wonder if in some cases that's the root of the uneasiness some have with stay at home moms - they're not participating in the "economy" in the same way by generating taxable income. And perhaps they consume to less of a degree...)

But the bigger thing than "My mom was a stay at home mom and it was really great for me" is the whole idea of criticizing and belittling someone for a choice they make - a choice that is morally neutral, a choice that is individual. I've said before how I HATE the "the personal is always political" attitude. This is part of it. I  dislike busybodies and to me, someone criticizing a woman for choosing to stay at home (or, conversely, for choosing to work outside the home) smacks of busybodiness - someone who wants to tell other people how to live their lives, who wants to impose a one-size-fits-all solution on the world.

I wonder if some of this - though not all the commentators on the issue have been female - but if some of it is something I've noticed in some women. (Not all women. And probably some men do this too, but I've mainly seen it from women in my life). This is: instead of saying "I've made my choices, I accept that I have given some things up for those choices in return for gaining some things, and I am not going to regret my choices," they try to justify their choices  - make themselves feel good about them - by putting down everyone who chooses differently.

And that's so damn junior high. I'm sorry, but it is. Judging someone based on their chosen lifestyle, when it's one that's perfectly legal and moral (I would not, for example, be so accepting of someone whose chosen lifestyle was robbing banks) is just...annoying. Maybe it's because I have issues with feeling judged by people myself, but I want to scream at Hilary Rosen and anyone else who would put people down, "Try walking a mile in her shoes."

(I wonder what the reaction would be to a stay at home DAD. They DO exist.)

The other divisive factor that's gotten rolled in here - I suppose to make the Mommy Wars seem fresh and new - is the whole "The Rich" vs. "Everyone Else" argument. Ann Romney knows nothing about what "ordinary" people go through, because she's rich. Mitt Romney is "too rich" to be president. (Um, like Obama and his family are ordinary middle-class people? I think it would be interesting to know the last "non rich" president. I'd speculate Truman, but maybe he even qualified as rich....)

I don't know. The whole hate-the-rich argument bugs me. I'm not rich....though in some situations, making $60K a year and having investments and having money put aside for retirement, I'd be considered to be. I certainly consider myself to be materially successful. But I don't feel like I should feel guilty for earning what I do...I work pretty hard (as I noted in an earlier post). With the investments, I had plenty times when they tanked (a few that even went to 0)...there's risk involved in investing money and some of the hate-the-people-with-investments types sometimes seem to overlook that.

I don't really care that some people make hugely more money than I do. In some cases, the high wage-earners work awful hours. Or they do face a lot of risk - one bad year, and they're out of a job. Again, it comes down to trying to walk in the other person's shoes.

And even at that: being fabulously wealthy is not necessarily something to envy. I went to school (high school and college) with some kids from uber-rich families, and some of those kids were pretty messed up, or had really sad family dynamics. Money can't buy a functional family.

But it distresses me that there seem to be factions in our society who want to divide - who want to pit people against each other, instead of encouraging people to find solutions to things like our governmental spending problems. I sometimes, in my darker moments, wonder if pitting people against each other is intended as a distraction from other things.

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