Rosen’s comments were cynical and partisan, but way too familiar — it’s all too socially acceptable to say such things about stay-at-home moms. If the GOP hadn’t made such an issue of it – in other words, if this weren’t in the midst of a presidential election — her comment might have come and gone without much comment. We’re living in a culture that expects certain things of a woman — namely, to find fulfillment in a career and never to rely on a man to provide anything at all, from an open door to a life together with her.
Rosen’s comment is worth meditating on not because it’s a Democrat-versus-Republican thing but because it cuts to the heart of who we are as a culture.
Anyone wanting to have a constructive public-policy conversation today should be reading W. Bradford Wilcox, a scholar at the University of Virginia. He’ll point out to you that 74 percent of married mothers working full-time outside the home would prefer not to be away from home so much — or even at all.
“Adaptive” is a word Wilcox uses
in his research analysis to describe about half of American women who approach their work-life decisions in shifts, “according to the needs of their children.” When they have infants and toddlers, they may stay home. When the children are older than that, they may work outside the home on a part- or full-time basis.
So many of us were schooled to be professionals of some sort. We were prepped and we excelled. Our education ignored some of the deepest human longings and biological timetables, but men and women still do meet and fall in love and marry, and the “mommy wars” graphics that the media reached for when the Rosen frenzy hit don’t do justice to the reality of life in America today.
That degreed and résuméd woman doesn’t cease being who she was before she had a baby. Increasingly, we see women doing freelance work or opening a practice with flexible hours, perhaps because within or outside the home there is a need that she is helping to meet. It’s a beautiful, legitimate, healthy choice — one we ought to be affirming instead of dismissing. It is a most unnatural posture that considers fertility a right but its fruits a burden.
When they bypass a real conversation about these issues — and the real things that women want — the chattering class betrays an elitism that misses the poor and working-class families that are more likely to have wives and mothers who work more hours than they would like, and to break up at higher rates.
We are given choices not by the government but by virtue of our existence. (“Endowed by our Creator” would be a good way of putting it.) Rather than wield the word “choice” as a political and cultural bludgeon, how about acknowledging that government exists to protect the liberty that allows women and men to pursue the choices that are healthiest for the foundational unit of a flourishing society: the family?
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through United Media.